Author Archives: jojoal
I wrote recently about the important distinction that Collins made between Crime stories and Mystery stories – important to them, that is. It had its origins in the exclusivity of the Collins Crime Club series, so when Collins launched a new series of Crime Club paperbacks in March 1936 – the series that eventually became the White Circle paperbacks – it was natural that to start with, it excluded ‘mystery’ stories.
But once a parallel series of western paperbacks was added a few months later in a similar format and also with a large white circle as the title panel on the front cover, it was perhaps inevitable that mystery stories would follow. The westerns started in August 1936 with numbering from 101, leaving the first 100 numbers for crime titles, and mystery stories launched in January 1937, starting from number 201.
Where the Crime Club titles had featured two mysterious figures in green and black, and the westerns were in yellow with a cowboy on a rearing horse, the mystery titles used purple and a policeman blowing a whistle as their design motif.
The back cover of the first six titles explained what the mystery classification meant: ‘While the Crime Club issues books based on a definite detective process, Collins’ famous series of Mystery Novels sponsor equally exciting books of a different kind – mainly Secret Service stories and thrillers of the type for which Edgar Wallace was famous. The Mystery Novels now published in this new pocket format have been selected from the most successful in this series.’
I still struggle to understand why, to take one example – ‘Unnatural death’ by Dorothy L. Sayers (published as one of those first six mystery titles), is not a Crime novel, or not considered as being ‘based on a definite detective process’, but it matters little. By the time the next batch of 6 mystery novels, numbered 207 to 212, appeared in September / October 1937, the White Circle name had been adopted for the overall series, with crime stories, westerns, mysteries and romances identified as sub-series, each with their own identity, but clearly part of a larger whole. The series continued with this structure for the next 20 years.
The pattern of issuing books in batches of six at a time gradually broke down, but new books continued to be added at a steady rate throughout 1938 and 1939, so that over 40 mystery titles had been published by the time war broke out in September 1939. That inevitably slowed things down a bit and by 1943, with the constraints of paper rationing, the overall series more or less ground to a halt. It effectively continued in a different form through the Collins series of Services Editions, but that’s another story.
Wartime restrictions also killed off the dustwrappers that had been used on the early volumes up to the end of 1939 – the first 45 volumes in the mystery series.
The main authors in those early years included J.M. Walsh / Stephen Maddock, David Hume, Arthur Mills, Sydney Horler and Edgar Wallace. Peter Cheyney, who came to dominate the list later on, made his first appearance in 1939 and gradually rose in prominence through the 1940s. So far as I can tell, none of the authors other than Dorothy L. Sayers are much read or much collected today, and again with the exception of Sayers, none of the individual titles have become anything resembling classics of the genre.
By 1943, just over 80 mystery titles had been published, numbered from 201 to 282, and a handful of further titles after the war took the numbering up to 300 by 1950. Numbers from 301 onwards had earlier been allocated to an odd mix of Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga novels and romantic fiction, but a precedent for dealing with this had already been set by the crime sub-series. Numbers 98 and 99 had been followed by 100c, 101c etc,, so that 101c (crime) could be distinguished from 101 (western). On this basis, the mystery titles should have gone from 299 or 300 on to 301m, 302m etc. They did eventually adopt this format, but only from 308m, so that the numbers from 301 to 307 are used twice. There’s a more detailed look at some of the numbering peculiarities of the White Circle series on this link.
The post-war revival of the series didn’t really get going again until about 1950, but from then on around 10 mystery titles were added each year, reaching number 350m by 1955 and continuing up to a final 397m in 1959. However not all were entirely new, as several titles were re-issued under a new number. Throughout the final decade of the series, the list was dominated by two authors – Peter Cheyney and Edwy Searles Brooks, who wrote under the pseudonyms of Berkeley Gray and Victor Gunn. Cheyney was the undoubted star, and many of his books featured a special front cover with his image replacing the usual policeman. But Brooks was prolific too and between them these two authors accounted for around 60 of the approximately 100 titles published between 1950 and 1959.
The final book in the Mystery sub-series was ‘The lady is poison’ by Berkeley Gray, number 397m, published in August 1959 shortly before the end of the overall White Circle series. Over a period of almost 25 years it had included almost 200 ‘mystery’ books and certainly made its mark as a leader in this area.
The RSC are giving Shakespeare a rest this Christmas. While the main theatre has its usual family-friendly show with David Edgar’s adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, the Swan Theatre hosts Imperium – Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Robert Harris’s Cicero novels. At over 6 hours of theatre, spread over two shows, this one is perhaps a little less family-friendly. But it has three long books to cover, not just a slim volume of Dickens.
‘A Christmas Carol’ is of course a treat, and particularly a visual treat, although not because of lavish scenery. At times it needs only a top hat and a dress coat here, a couple of doors there, to summon up Victorian London, or perhaps more specifically Dickensian London. The scene with Mr. Fezziwig in Scrooge’s youth is probably not really Victorian, but captured so perfectly the Dickensian image of a slightly earlier period that it seemed to bring the original book illustration to life.
Phil Davis is well cast as Scrooge, surely partly on the basis of his earlier role as Smallweed in the TV adaptation of Bleak House. I didn’t find his personal journey to greater empathy and happiness entirely convincing though. There’s neither a gradual process of understanding, nor a sudden epiphany – more just a feeling of well yes, of course I see that, which is difficult to square with his earlier attitudes.
But the bigger difficulty I have with this production is the role of Dickens, who wanders in and out of the action with his friend, and later biographer, John Forster. David Edgar and the Director, Rachel Kavanaugh, seem to have decided that the story doesn’t stand well enough on its own. It risks being seen as – well, a feel-good family-friendly Christmas show. So they rather ram down our throats the message that Dickens was not just writing a Christmas ghost story – he was a campaigner trying to draw attention to some of the social evils of the time. Slightly bizarrely they show Forster having to convince Dickens, the great storyteller, that a story might be the best way to get his political and social message across.
But in doing so they seem to be denying this very premise. They don’t trust the storyteller to get his message across through the story – they have to give him a second chance to air his views by talking directly to the audience as well. Dickens didn’t have to do that – he could just publish the story and let it stand on its own – and the RSC shouldn’t need to either.
‘Imperium’ too has a narrator, who both takes part in the action and stands back from it to pass comment on it, but at least here it’s a device that comes directly from the book. Joseph Kloska plays Tiro, Cicero’s secretary and biographer. He’s very likeable in the role, although it’s slightly odd that he seems not to age, while his master does. The role works much better than with Dickens in a Christmas Carol, and partly because it’s treated a little less earnestly and more tongue in cheek.
There’s still a feeling though that the RSC isn’t quite prepared to trust its audience to draw their own conclusions. As one example, at a key point in the first play they plant in the audience’s mind the idea that perhaps it was Cicero himself who wrote some forged letters. They then reinforce the idea with muttering from one of his slaves about the role he had to play in the affair. But that’s not enough – at the end of the play, as though delivering the final coup, they reveal that, surprise surprise, Cicero wrote the letters.
It felt similar in the second play when Mark Anthony’s continual drunken staggering seemed mainly designed to reinforce the point, repeated several times, that his wife was the real power behind the throne. A few lines of carefully crafted dialogue, or perhaps even a single raised finger, could have made the point far more effectively. Or given that the plays were very light on female roles, we could perhaps have heard more directly from Fulvia herself, with less focus on her alleged puppet (compare Shakespeare’s treatment of Lady Macbeth for example). As it is, the women in the play are little more than caricatures, there for sentimentality or for cheap jokes about licentiousness or avarice.
And what on earth was going on with the apparent appearance of Julius Caesar’s ghost, screaming ‘Avenge me’, at his state funeral? Were Mark Anthony’s words not enough indication that were those who would be seeking revenge? I don’t recall Shakespeare having to make the point quite so unsubtly. Subtlety was not really the strong point of this version, certainly not when it came to a perma-tanned, bouffant-haired Pompey declaring “I’m a Republican”.
Perhaps I protest too much. No-one is claiming that this is Shakespeare. For all the lack of subtlety, these were two wonderfully enjoyable evenings of theatre. Richard McCabe held them together with a strong performance as Cicero and impressive stamina, channelling his inner Tony Hancock into moments of world-weary cynicism inbetween his oratorical triumphs and disasters. I enjoyed too the performance of Peter de Jersey as Julius Caesar, convincing both as a military leader and as a smooth politician, where you could always sense the steel hand beneath his velvet glove.
I’ve looked in earlier posts at the first publication of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Tauchnitz in December 1843 (possibly the first printing worldwide of the book), and also at the Schools Edition of the story that followed in 1847. Both editions are scarce today in first printing or even in early printings, although the book continued to sell for so long that later printings are not too difficult to find.
The individual issue of ‘A Christmas Carol’ remained in print with Tauchnitz for many decades, but it was also combined with the next two Christmas stories by Dickens, ‘The chimes’ and ‘The cricket on the hearth’, to form volume 91 of the Tauchnitz main series in 1846. That volume too remained in print right up until the Second World War.
As the Schools Edition was also sold over a long period, Tauchnitz had three different editions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for sale simultaneously. The Schools Edition was probably sold right through until the 1880s, when Tauchnitz expanded the concept into the ‘Students Series’. Not surprisingly ‘A Christmas Carol’ appeared again in this series, as volume 25 in 1888 and remained in print in this format at least through until the First World War in 1914.
During the war, the firm was unable to publish much new material, but instead raided its back catalogue for shorter works or excerpts that could be published in a new series of slim paperbacks. The series started life as ‘English Text-books’ and was later renamed as the ‘Tauchnitz Pocket Library’. And sure enough, there was ‘A Christmas Carol’ again, as volume 45 in the series.
I have no idea how many copies of the story Tauchnitz sold in total between 1843 and 1943, but it must have been an enormous number by the standards of the company. A more normal Tauchnitz novel might only have sold 2,000 copies, but it seems possible that sales of ‘A Christmas Carol’ could have been a hundred times that figure, or more.
It’s worth remembering that Tauchnitz did not pay royalties. He typically paid a fixed lump sum for the continental rights to a novel, a practice he followed right from the start, when there was no international copyright agreement. As there was no obligation on him to pay anything at that time, his offer of a lump sum payment was gratefully received, and he was able to define the terms of business for the future.
The gesture certainly bought him a lot of goodwill with Dickens, who forever after regarded him as a friend and as a trustworthy business partner. It also gave Tauchnitz privileged early access to new work by Dickens, so that his editions were sometimes published ahead of the UK editions. And the terms of the deals were determined by Tauchnitz, not only in terms of the price paid, which Dickens always allowed him to propose, but also in terms of the structure.
A lump sum payment left Tauchnitz open to the risk of lower than expected sales, but with Dickens that was hardly a risk at all. If on the other hand, sales were higher, Tauchnitz would make additional payments, at his discretion. In this way he was able to extend his reputation for fair dealing and for generosity, while still managing his costs and his profits.
In the case of ‘A Christmas Carol’, he could certainly afford to be generous. He had a very valuable property on his hands, particularly after copyright treaties restricted the issue by any other European publishers. So he made the most of it. There’s no record, so far as I know, of what Tauchnitz paid for the initial right to publish ‘A Christmas Carol’, or what later payments he may have made, but for a full length work by Dickens some 20 years later, he offered £35. On that basis, the initial payment for ‘A Christmas Carol’ could possibly have been £20 or less. If so, it must surely have been one of the best bits of business ever done. I feel sure that Tauchnitz would have made regular additional payments to reflect its success, at least over the rest of Dickens’ lifetime. Whether he continued to be as generous to Dickens’ estate after his death may be a little more doubtful.
The phrase ‘Todd & Bowden’ means only one thing for me. It’s a large red 1000+ page book that is practically the Bible of my book-collecting – the bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions. For other people, the same phrase may refer to another 1000+ page tome, the bibliography of Walter Scott editions. Underlying these two monumental works though, there are the two authors, William Todd and Ann Bowden, a husband and wife team of bibliographers, who spent years of their lives producing these two works.
They had the good fortune to work at the University of Texas at Austin, which through the huge collections held at its Harry Ransom Centre and the associated literary research, has become perhaps one of the best places in the world for a bibliographer to work. It was partly they who made it so, William Todd having been recruited by Ransom to work at Austin before there was such a thing as the Harry Ransom Centre.
Todd had made his name through a series of pioneering works, including the standard reference work on Edmund Burke, as well as studies of the Nixon tapes and Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book. He was already almost 60 years old and a well-respected professor and bibliographer, when he and Ann started to collect and study Tauchnitz Editions. It was the beginning of a 10 year project that led to the Todd & Bowden bibliography, published in 1988.
The two of them travelled around Europe and America to inspect all the major Tauchnitz collections that they were able to identify. They recorded in detail 25 collections in Europe, many in National Libraries, and a further 21 in North America, mostly in universities. In doing so, they were able for the first time to create a guide to distinguish different printings and editions and to start to date them. Tauchnitz were notorious for leaving the first publication date on the title page of editions published many years later, leading to widespread confusion over dating. Unfortunately for many of the libraries they visited, Todd & Bowden’s work had the effect of identifying their copies as reprints.
At the same time they were building their own collection, which eventually grew to over 6000 volumes, covering both bound editions and paperbacks, first printings and reprints. After publication of the bibliography, their collection was acquired by a German cultural foundation and presented to the British Library, which had previously held only a relatively small collection. Todd & Bowden moved on to work on the equally comprehensive Walter Scott bibliography, published in 1998, by which time they were both well into their seventies, and Todd nearly 80.
Ann Bowden died in 2001 and William Todd in 2011, at the age of 92. The two major bibliographies they worked on together serve as a monument to them. They also inspired, through their teaching and their example, generations of other bibliographers. And for me too their work has been an inspiration. I might still have been interested in Tauchnitz Editions, but without their bibliography, I would never have embarked on the project to build a collection that has occupied me for the last 25 years and more. And the collection itself is defined both in terms of scope and in terms of first printing status, by the parameters established in ‘Todd & Bowden’.
Many of the books I write about on this blog are so little known, little researched and little collected, that I can be reasonably confident that anything I write adds to the stock of recorded knowledge. That’s why I do it. No doubt I occasionally get things wrong, but the risk of being contradicted is fairly low. The bigger risk is of not being contradicted and errors surviving uncorrected.
Some other books, like Penguins, are so well researched that I can draw on the existing stock of knowledge, while trying to find an angle that adds something new.
The Canadian editions of Collins White Circle fall somewhere inbetween. As far as I can tell they’re not collected or researched by very many people, but there are certainly a few people who are far more knowledgeable than I am about them. For a comprehensive listing and identification guide, see the Wollamshram World website, or for various blog posts, see the Canadian fly-by-night blog. I can’t add much to that wealth of knowledge, but I want to put the Canadian editions into the context of the Collins White Circle editions in the UK and other countries.
The White Circle series was launched in the UK in 1936, replacing previous Collins paperback series with a new format much more similar to Penguin Books, whose own launch a few months earlier had so disrupted the UK paperback market. All the books in the UK featured a large white circle on the cover as the title panel right from the start, and this served as the unifying feature of the designs used for the various sub-series. However the White Circle name for the series only started to be used in early 1938.
The initiative to move overseas arose from the wartime conditions in Britain and the introduction of paper rationing. Exporting books from the UK no longer made any sense, so setting up local publishing operations suddenly seemed the way forward. Penguin started publishing in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Egypt, Collins in Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon as well as in Canada. All of these ventures started around 1942.
White Circle editions from Australia and India
In all these cases, the British publishers started off with what had become the market norm in the UK since the Penguin launch – standard designed covers with a strong series identity and no cover illustration. In Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon they were more or less able to impose this format, but neither Penguin in the US, nor Collins in Canada could make it work. The North American tradition of garishly illustrated covers was too strong and both companies eventually had to fall into line.
The first 50 titles for Collins White Circle in Canada, issued up until the end of 1942, were in a UK style format with standard designed covers. Oddly the design didn’t feature a white circle, other than a very small circle for the Crime Club logo. If anything it was more like the design used by Penguin in the UK, with large horizontal blocks of colour, although not I think as well designed.
The vast majority of the early books were either Crime or Mystery novels, all with the main cover panel in green and no real distinction between the two other than the small logo. A handful of western titles were distinguished by a lighter green and blue cover, and general fiction / non-fiction titles had covers in orange.
By the beginning of 1943 though, Collins had concluded that standard designed covers could not work in the Canadian market in competition with the brightly illustrated covers of local and American paperbacks. Like Penguin in the US at much the same time, they switched to illustrated covers, at first dipping their toe in, with restrained, stylised cover illustrations. By the end of the war though, the covers were becoming noticeably brighter, usually featuring pictures of girls, often in various states of undress or submission. And any evidence of white circles on the cover seemed to become even less prominent.
Editions from 1942 and 1946
The type of book was changing too. The proportion of crime and mystery books was falling and in the post-war period there were more westerns and more romances. There was a sprinkling of American authors, particularly of course for the westerns, and the occasional Canadian author, like Roderick Haig-Brown, but still most books were by British authors. It looks as if books were almost entirely chosen from what the British parent had available, rather than being sourced locally. Two books by Canadian broadcaster Kate Aitken – a cook book and a book on beauty for women, were a rare exception.
The series continued through to 1952 before Collins called it a day. Canada could no longer be treated as a market that would naturally take what British publishers had to offer. Over a period of just over 10 years though, from 1942 to 1952, the series ran to well over 500 titles. By my count that’s about the same as the number of titles published in the main UK series up to that point (excluding Services Editions). In the end there were more UK editions, but only because the UK series continued for another 7 years, through to 1959.
It also seems to me that today there are more second-hand Canadian editions for sale than British editions, raising the possibility that print runs may actually have been higher in Canada than in the UK. Far from being the junior partner in the arrangement, the Canadian business may actually have been stronger than the UK.
I have no idea when the first wrap-around bands for books were introduced. But I do know that Tauchnitz were already using them by 1926, so their history is certainly a long one. They typically feature a short blurb about the book or a quote from a review, and are presumably intended to make the book stand out in the shop display. Just another marketing tool, but as they’re still used today, I suppose they must be reasonably effective.
The earliest band I’ve seen on a Tauchnitz book is from August 1926. It exists for volume 4743, ‘The secret that was kept’ by Elizabeth Robins, and it’s in full wrap-around style, glued together at the back. The book can only be opened by either slipping the band up and over the top of the book or by tearing it. Presumably most people tore it off and discarded it. Even those readers who carefully removed it without tearing, would hardly be tempted to put it back on later, so again would end up throwing it away. It’s surprising really that any of them have survived.
But one careful owner of a selection of books I bought a few years ago, slipped the bands in between the pages of the books, perhaps using them as bookmarks, and preserved them. Some are torn, others intact, but overall they’re in surprisingly good condition. I have eight of them, for books published between August 1926 and July 1929. The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions records one other known band in this style, so nine in total are known, but it’s possible that they existed for all 150 or so books published over this period. An alternative is that they were only used to boost sales on slower-selling volumes, but in this case it seems unlikely that they would have been so clearly dated. All the bands in this style are in white, and wrapped around an off white paperback would not have stood out particularly well.
So it was a natural next step to introduce coloured bands, which happened from around February 1930. With this change came also a change in format, so that the band was tucked in under the front and back covers, rather than glued at the back. Crucially this change meant that the book could be opened without removing the band. This allowed prospective buyers to open and look at the book in the shop, without taking the band off. If they were careful enough, they might even be able to leave it on while reading the book. Of course most were still removed and discarded, but more of these later bands survive. They’re mostly on books that were never read, which is the fate of many copies. Few buyers are so uninterested in a book that they will not even want to pick it up and flick through it, which involves taking off a full wrap-around band, but many buyers never get round to reading their book, so a tucked-in band has a better chance of survival.
The colours of the bands were not random. They were coded to indicate the genre of the book – red for crime and humour, blue for ‘serious’ books, yellow for novels and short stories of adventure, social life or historical novels, and green for love stories. The colour-coding seems to have been the brainchild of Max Christian Wegner, then Managing Director of Tauchnitz. Two years later, by then in charge of the rival Albatross Books, he developed the idea further, using the entire paperback cover for colour coding by genre, a practice also taken up by Penguin when it launched in 1935.
At Tauchnitz the colour-coded bands continued for over four years, through to mid 1934, at which point the firm more or less collapsed into the arms of Albatross. I’m aware of surviving bands for around 20 volumes, but again they may have been used on all the more than 200 volumes published over that period. The bands did their bit to brighten up the rather drab Tauchnitz books, but they were still unable to compete against the more colourful Albatross volumes.
After mid 1934 the two series were managed jointly by the Albatross management team and Tauchnitz fell into line with the Albatross practice of colour-coded covers with dustwrappers, but no wrap-around bands.
But it wasn’t quite the end of the story. After the end of the war, a number of attempts were made to revive both Tauchnitz and Albatross, one of which involved a short series of 40 volumes published from Stuttgart under the Tauchnitz brand from 1952 to 1955. Dustwrappers on paperbacks had by then gone rather out of fashion and wrap-around bands were again used. As ever, it’s impossible to verify that all volumes were issued with bands, but many of them may have been, with again only a small number surviving.
As a writer, Lucy Clifford is probably best remembered today for ‘Mrs Keith’s crime’, her 1885 novel about a mother, dying of consumption, who decides to kill her also dying daughter. In personal terms she is remembered as the wife of the mathematician and philosopher, William Kingdon Clifford. William died early at the age of 33, but was already a professor at University College, London, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and had done ground-breaking work in algebra, geometry and philosophy. There is a type of algebra, still referred to as a Clifford algebra today, in his honour.
The two lives of William and Lucy are remembered in a book by Monty Chisholm and an associated website. They were married for only four years, between 1875 and his death in 1879, but Lucy chose to publish her novels under the name of Mrs. W.K. Clifford. She may well have been writing before his death, but I can’t find any published work before then. When she was left widowed with two small children, financial pressures may then have pushed her to publication, perhaps encouraged by her many literary connections, which certainly included George Eliot, Mary Braddon and Henry James.
A collection of stories for children, ‘Anyhow stories, moral and otherwise’ was published in the UK in 1882, followed by ‘Mrs Keith’s Crime’ in 1885. But perhaps surprisingly, she didn’t achieve publication in the Tauchnitz Edition (or as far as I can tell any of its competitors in continental publishing), until 1892. This was a particularly productive time in Mrs. Clifford’s writing career and Tauchnitz backed her strongly, publishing five of her books in an eighteen month period. This may also though have had something to do with the pressure that Tauchnitz was under at the time from the rival ‘English Library’ published by Heinemann and Balestier. A significant number of authors were defecting to the new series and Tauchnitz was keen to maintain a large publishing programme, forcing it to search out and back new talent.
The first to appear was an epistolatory novel, ‘Love letters of a worldly woman’, published as volume 2803 in the Tauchnitz series in February 1892. The first printing in Tauchnitz has a quotation on the back of the half-title page, with the back of the title page blank. Later reprints list 6 other Clifford titles on the half-title verso and move the quotation to the back of the title page. I have nicely bound copies of this book and two other later books, with the signature of the author’s daughter, Margaret Clifford. As they are all first printings and Margaret would have been a teenager when they were published, they may well have been first acquired by her mother.
It was followed by ‘Aunt Anne’, published in two volumes as volumes 2857 and 2858 of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors in September 1892 and by ‘The last touches and other stories’, published in January 1893 as volume 2880. ‘Mrs Keith’s Crime’ appeared as volume 2913 in June 1893 and ‘A wild proxy’ as volume 2930 in August 1893. First printings in paperback should show the appropriate date quoted above at the top of the back wrapper, and bound copies should list only previously published titles on the back of the half-title. So ‘Aunt Anne’ should list only ‘Love letters …’, whereas ‘The last touches’ should list both ‘Love letters’ and ‘Aunt Anne’, and so on. In practice though, of these books, only ‘Mrs. Keith’s Crime’ is recorded as existing with a greater number of titles listed.
After this rush of titles (and with Heinemann and Balestier largely defeated as a serious rival), there seems to have been a pause, not just in Lucy Clifford’s appearances in the Tauchnitz series, but in her writing more generally. ‘A flash of summer’ was published in November 1896 as volume 3168 (listing five previously published works on the back of the half-title) and then nothing more until September 1901, with the publication of ‘A woman alone’ as volume 3525 (listing 6 other works). Both volumes were later reprinted. ‘Woodside Farm’ followed in June 1902 as volume 3584, ‘The modern way’ in February 1907 as volume 3945, ‘The getting well of Dorothy’ in May 1907 as volume 3967 and ‘Mere stories’, another collection of short stories, in October 1909 as volume 4146.
That brings us up to the First World War and another pause, certainly in the output of Tauchnitz volumes from 1914 onwards, but again as far as I can tell, in Lucy Clifford’s writing as well. By the time Tauchnitz was back up and running again after the war, it was in a very different political, social and literary landscape. ‘Eve’s Lover and other stories’ appeared in June 1924 as volume 4644, by which time its author was nearly 80 and from a different world to D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
But Tauchnitz was slow to recognise the changing literary fashions, and still willing to publish two further works – ‘Sir George’s objection’ in April 1925 as volume 4680, and ”Miss Fingal’ in July 1928 as volume 4840. As with all Tauchnitz Editions, these 20th Century volumes are more commonly found in the original paperback form, rather than the bound editions from the 19th Century.
Lucy Clifford died in 1929, some 50 years after her husband, leaving behind a substantial body of work. The success of most 19th Century and early 20th Century writers can almost be measured by the volume of their output in Tauchnitz Editions, and on that measure Mrs. W.K. Clifford did pretty well. Fifteen volumes of her work were published over a period of more than 35 years, and no doubt tens of thousands of copies sold in Continental Europe. Most of them though are not easy to find today.
What is a mystery story? Wikipedia defines mystery fiction as a genre usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. That seems clear enough. To take one example, ‘The girl on the train’ by Paula Hawkins, which I’m reading at the moment, is surely a mystery story. Certainly it has a mysterious death at its core and the author tries constantly to keep the reader guessing about what’s really going on.
On the other hand, you won’t find the word ‘mystery’ in the description of the book on its covers. It’s described as the author’s first thriller. Comments from reviewers describe it as ‘crime fiction’ or ‘noir’. Do authors or publishers still use the term ‘mystery story’ much, or make any distinction between a crime novel and a mystery novel, or between a thriller and a mystery story.
For Collins, long-time publisher of the Collins Crime Club, there certainly used to be a distinction. Crime novels were published in the Collins Crime Club, and in the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction there were various written and unwritten rules about what constituted a crime or detective novel. Other stories that we might think of today as crime novels, were published as ‘A Collins Mystery’. Did they meet some parallel definition of what a mystery story was, or were they just crime stories that didn’t meet the Crime Club rules?
The distinction was carried across to the Collins White Circle series of paperbacks, which contained separate sub-series for crime novels and mystery novels, each with their own distinctive covers. Crime was green and black with two mysterious figures, while mysteries were purple or magenta with a policemen in a helmet. On the face of it, the other way round might have been more appropriate?
Collins also provided most of the crime and mystery books for the Continental European Albatross series, and again kept them separate – Albatross Crime Club books in red and black, Albatross Mystery Club in grey and green.
For the most part, writers were assigned to one or other category. Agatha Christie for instance was a crime story writer, almost by definition. But there was still at least one of her books, ‘Parker Pyne investigates’, that was originally categorised as a mystery story, with its author described as an ‘unrivalled writer of mysteries’. It’s a collection of short stories that are more about romantic problems and the theft of jewels than the solving of murders, so it’s perhaps not too difficult to see why it might have been put into a different category. It was nevertheless reissued in the Collins Crime Club many years later.
Dorothy L. Sayers, on the other hand and for reasons that are not obvious to me, was categorised by Collins as a mystery writer. Three of her Lord Peter Wimsey stories were published in the White Circle mystery series, with two of them also appearing in Albatross Mystery Club editions.
Just to confuse things even more, Albatross also published three of the later Wimsey novels in red crime branding. These had not been published by Collins and the distinction is probably more to do with the publisher than anything in the nature of the stories themselves. ‘Busman’s honeymoon’, the last of the series, was originally described as ‘a love story with detective interruptions’, so perhaps could have been categorised, neither as crime or mystery, but as romance!
Edgar Wallace was another writer that Collins assigned to the mystery genre, although his main publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, had firmly categorised him as a writer of thrillers. ‘It is impossible not to be thrilled by Edgar Wallace’ went the tagline on many of his books.
Other writers with several books published in the mystery series included Peter Cheyney, J.M. Walsh / Stephen Maddock and David Hume. Stephen Maddock was a pseudonym for Walsh, with books under both names classified as mysteries. David Hume however was a pseudonym for J.V. Turner, whose books under his own name were classified as crime. I suspect that most people who remember these writers today would consider them all to be writers of crime novels, or perhaps thrillers.
As far as I can tell, the distinction between crime and mystery stories was specific to Collins, and not adopted by other publishers. Certainly Penguin made no distinction between them. Their iconic green banded covers were from early on described as ‘Mystery and Crime’ books, although the use of both words suggests they did recognise that they might not mean the same thing.
Anybody who collects early Penguins knows two things:
- the crime titles (in green covers) are rarer than the standard novels (in orange covers).
- The wartime editions, particularly those published from 1942 onwards, up to the end of the war, are much rarer than both earlier and later editions
Put those two things together and a third thing becomes obvious – wartime crime titles are very rare.
Rarity alone doesn’t make books valuable, but the combination of rarity and high demand does. And since there are a surprising number of people interested in early Penguins, often trying to collect the first 1000 in first printings, demand for the wartime crime titles is high, and so are prices.
Change was gradual at the start of the war, for paperbacks as for many other things, and early wartime Penguins from late 1939 and much of 1940 are not too difficult to find. But with the Battle of Britain in mid-1940 and the introduction of paper rationing around the same time, wartime conditions were really starting to bite by the end of the year. From about Penguin volume 300 onwards, the books start to get thinner and start to become much rarer. Volumes 301 to 304, all crime titles published at the end of 1940, are really the first of the rarities.
For some reason that I can’t explain, the next three or four crime titles seem to be a little easier to find, but from then on there’s no let up. The twenty-seven crime Penguins numbered between 350 and 500 and roughly published between mid-1942 and mid-1945, are unremittingly difficult to find, often expensive to buy and often in very poor condition.
Penguins from this period were printed to the ‘War Economy Standard’ on very poor quality paper. They are usually very thin, with small type and small margins to cram as much as possible onto the minimum amount of paper. They fall apart very easily and would not last long with repeated use. The popularity of crime titles at the time, and the shortage of books, meant that many of them were passed around, read and re-read and would naturally have disintegrated. Those that survived at all, usually survived in poor condition. Even reprints from this period are scarce.
Many of the books are of dubious quality. Penguin was not the leading UK publisher of crime novels at the time, and Collins probably had the pick of the best writers. Writers such as Eric Bennett, Stuart Martin, Lewis Robinson and Richard Keverne didn’t leave much of a collective mark on the history of crime writing. But there was still room in this group for two titles by Margery Allingham, three by Ngaio Marsh, and one from Mignon Eberhart, amongst writers whose reputations have stood the test of time.
There are of course differences of opinion about which are the rarest books. Some say ‘Panic Party’ by Anthony Berkeley (volume 402), but there’s a good case to be made also for the two Georgette Heyer titles – ‘The unfinished clue’ (volume 428) and ‘Why shoot a butler?’ (volume 429). Two earlier titles, ‘The general goes too far’ by Lewis Robinson and ‘William Cook – Antique dealer’ by Richard Keverne (volume 383 and 384) are certainly very rare as well, as are others from the same period.
But then others say that the rarest of all is not even a crime Penguin, but is the one Biggles book to be published by Penguin – volume 348, ‘Biggles flies again’ by W.E. Johns. There’s competition for that one from collectors of Biggles stories as well as Penguin collectors. Good luck if you’re searching for it – but you may need deep pockets as well as luck.