P.G. Wodehouse in Tauchnitz Editions

By the time P.G. Wodehouse first appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition in 1924, he was already a well-established and successful writer with around 20 novels to his name.  For an author who went on to have around 40 books published by Tauchnitz, this was a surprisingly late start. But Wodehouse had started to come to prominence just as the First World War effectively took the German firm out of the market for new English language books, and the effects of the war lingered on for several years afterwards.

It was at least 1923 before Tauchnitz could get back to anything like a normal publishing programme and it never really recovered its former dominance of the market.  The ability to spot promising new writers and publish their latest works almost simultaneously with the first UK editions, had been a defining feature of the business for much of the nineteenth century, but by the mid-1920s it was a fading memory.  And Tauchnitz was entering a period that would prove to be one of the most turbulent of its existence. So we should perhaps be grateful that they were able to publish Wodehouse at all.

Tauchnitz Editions of P.G. Wodehouse eventually stretched to an entire shelf full

As usual with a new writer, Tauchnitz were keen to start with Wodehouse’s latest new work, rather than going back to earlier works.   So the first in the series was a volume of short stories, ‘Ukridge’, published in the UK in June 1924, and then two months later in Tauchnitz as volume 4651, dated August 1924 at the top of the back wrapper on the first printing.

As always with Tauchnitz paperbacks, it’s the date on the back wrapper that’s important for dating, rather than the date on the title page, which remains fixed at the first printing year, even on reprints many years later.  First printing paperbacks from this period also have a distinctive two column format for the latest volumes, which was not used on reprints.

For Tauchnitz Editions from the 1920s and 1930s far more copies do survive in paperback than is the case for 19th century novels and they’re much easier to date than bound copies, so I’ve focused on these.

Wodehouse’s next new novel was ‘Bill the Conqueror’, published in the UK in November 1924 and again following rapidly in Tauchnitz as volume 4669, dated January 1925 in the first printing (and listing only ‘Ukridge’ on the back of the half-title).  Another volume of short stories, ‘Carry on, Jeeves’, appeared in the UK in October 1925 and the novel ‘Sam the sudden’ came out in the same month.   Both were taken up by Tauchnitz – ‘Carry on, Jeeves!’ as volume 4710, dated November 1925 and ‘Sam the sudden’ as volume 4714, dated January 1926.

The pattern seemed to be set, with Tauchnitz taking each new work of Wodehouse’s as quickly as possible after UK printing.  But prolific as Wodehouse was, new works were not coming fast enough to satisfy the appetite of continental readers, and there was still a temptingly long list of older works that could be issued. So along with the next volume of short stories, ‘The heart of a goof’ (volume 4641, dated July 1926), Tauchnitz also published a much earlier work ‘ Love among the chickens’ (volume 4640, July 1926), that Wodehouse had first written in 1906 and then rewritten in 1921.

Two other older works, ‘Psmith, journalist’ (vol. 4776, April 1927) and ‘Leave it to Psmith’ (vol. 4777, April 1927) followed in 1927 and from then on two or three new volumes were added almost every year, in a mix of completely new works and older works, both novels and short story collections.  By mid 1929, when Curt Otto, the Managing Director, died, fourteen volumes of P.G. Wodehouse had been issued by Tauchnitz.

The first fourteen P.G. Wodehouse volumes published in Tauchnitz

The incoming General Manager, Christian Wegner, set about making some significant changes, starting with a modernisation of the cover design for the series. After keeping essentially the same cover design for the first 70 years of its existence, a first real change had come in 1914, and now it was entering on a period of continual change. The new design appeared on a Wodehouse novel for the first time, with publication of ‘Mr. Mulliner speaking (vol. 4963, November 1930), followed quickly by ‘Very good, Jeeves!’ (vol. 4983, March 1931) and ‘Summer lightning’ (vol. 4995, June 1931).

Fourteen books appeared in the revised design taking the total to 28 and then from 1935, there was another change. Wegner had left under a cloud, but by mid 1934 he was effectively back as one of the managers of Albatross Books, which took over editorial control of Tauchnitz. The two lists for Albatross and Tauchnitz were managed together, but with Wodehouse remaining very much a Tauchnitz writer, with no entry to the (arguably more prestigious) Albatross list. 

Another new cover design was launched in mid 1935, this time colour-coded to indicate genre. All Wodehouse volumes were coded orange, the colour for ‘tales and short stories, humorous and satirical works’. Shortly afterwards the size of the books changed to match the size of the Albatross volumes and dustwrappers in the same design as the covers were introduced, again in line with Albatross.

A further new design was introduced in 1938 that used colour more strikingly, but by this time war was approaching fast, and with it the end of the Tauchnitz series.

‘The code of the Woosters’, issued in June 1939 as volume 5357, was the last Wodehouse title to appear in the series before the outbreak of the Second World War, but it was not to be the last title of all.  Wodehouse had been living in Le Touquet in France and was interned by the Germans after the invasion of France.  He wrote ‘Money in the Bank’ on a typewriter provided by the Germans while in internment and the text was made available to Tauchnitz.  It appeared in August 1943 as the very last volume in the Tauchnitz series, volume 5370, bringing the total number of Wodehouse works published in the series up to thirty-nine.  It was the only new writing in English to be published in the Tauchnitz series after 1939.

Along with the infamous broadcasts on German radio, this was another example of Wodehouse being perhaps too willingly duped by the enemy.  Certainly for them it was a publicity coup, and the book seems to have been printed in substantial numbers, although it’s hard to imagine much market in Germany in 1943 for Wodehouse’s brand of comedy.

The mixed bag of Wodehouse titles issued from 1935 to 1954

The story should really end here. Shortly after publication of ‘Money in the bank’, the Tauchnitz premises were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid and after 100 years and 5370 volumes, the Tauchnitz Collection of British (and American) Authors came to an end.

But in fact it’s not the end of the story. After the war there were various attempts to revive Tauchnitz.  A series of books reprinted from Hamburg, included ‘Money in the Bank’ as volume 16 in 1949.  Then a short series of mostly new works published from Stuttgart, included two Wodehouse volumes -‘The mating season’ (volume 107 in 1952) and ‘Ring for Jeeves’ (volume 137 in 1954).

Neither of these post-war ventures was much of a success, and although no new volumes were published after 1955, unsold stock hung around for many years. In an attempt to shift it, more modern covers were added in the early 1960s and ‘Ring for Jeeves’ was certainly one of the books to appear in this style, at least the eighth style of wrapper to be applied to Wodehouse volumes by Tauchnitz.

A 1960s rebinding
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Posted on June 17, 2019, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. A fascinating article! Would it be possible to reprint this in Wooster Sauce, the journal of The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)? If so, please write to me at editor@pgwodehousesociety.org.uk to discuss. Thank you.

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