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I’ve been collecting UK Services Editions for around thirty years. I can remember the moment I started, when I was looking for something else and came across a couple of Guild Books Services Editions in the Hay Cinema bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. I can remember other important moments along the way as well, when I suddenly found one I’d been particularly looking for, or found a whole batch of Services Editions together. After thirty years, I have put together a collection of around 400 different titles, but there are probably about 500 altogether, so I still have 100 to find. And I’ve ground to a halt. Almost nothing new for a couple of years now.
So I need help. I should say that the books are certainly rare, but sadly not very valuable, at least in monetary terms. Most of the copies I have, cost me no more than two or three pounds each. A few were more expensive, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that I’d have wanted to buy, but didn’t because it was overpriced. The problem is not that I can’t afford to buy copies that come up for sale. The problem is more that when copies turn up, they’re more likely to be thrown away as worthless, rather than even offered for sale.
These are thin paperbacks, printed on poor quality wartime paper (sometimes apparently made from barley, instead of esparto grass, which was more or less unobtainable in wartime) and often in poor condition, tattered and written on. But there is no collection of them in the British Library, or the Imperial War Museum, or the Bodleian Library. Collins, who published over 150 of them, have no record of them in their archives. There is not even a comprehensive list of what exists, so far as I know, although I’m doing my best to compile one. I have come across one other collector interested in them, but that’s it. I really feel that if I can’t find the remaining titles, they will be lost forever.
The longest series of Services Editions came from Guild Books. They’re very recognisable, as ‘Services Edition’ is scrawled right across the front of the covers, but they do come in two different formats, narrow and wide, as illustrated below. The wide format ones are all from 1946 and are mostly reprints, although not marked as such, so are of less interest, although there are a few I’m looking for – ‘Death in the doll’s house’, ‘Those Sinning girls’ and ‘Men of Branber’.
I still need far more of the narrow format Guild Books editions. They’re too many to list, and in many cases I don’t even know the titles. But any narrow format book dated 1943, many dated 1944 and almost any with red covers are difficult to find, and there’s a fair chance I’m looking for them.
The other long series came from Collins and are less easy to spot. They’re distinguished from other Collins White Circle paperbacks by having ‘Services Edition’ printed on the cover, but this is often quite small and easily overlooked. There are still fifty or sixty I’m looking for, particularly any dated 1943 or 1944 and any yellow westerns of whatever date.
Between them those two series account for almost 400 titles and the other series are relatively short. I have all the red-striped Hutchinson editions and all the Penguin Services Editions (although Penguin Forces Book Club editions are always welcome). I’m a bit less sure what exists from Hammond, Hammond & Co., Nicholson & Watson and Methuen, but I may well have all of these too. But there are certainly more of the H&S Services Yellow Jackets than I’ve been able to find, including ‘Greenmantle’, ‘Riders of the plains’ and ‘The range boss’.
Perhaps slightly outside the strict definition of Services Editions, I’m also keen to find copies of the Hutchinson ‘Free Victory Gift’ paperbacks, almost any of them, but certainly including ‘Feud at Silver Bend’, ‘Amazing Spectacles’, ‘The banner of the bull’, ‘Further adventures of Dr. Syn’, ‘Team work’, ‘The gentle knight’, ‘Contraband’, ‘Crime at Crooked Gables’ and ‘Keep it dark’.
And finally, the rarest of them all, in my experience, are the Indian editions, produced for the Army and the RAF in India and South East Asia. Around 40 different titles were produced for this series, but I have only been able to find copies of five, and I know of no other collection of them anywhere.
So I need help. If you have any of these books that you can offer to me, or can point me in the direction of where I might find some, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me through the ‘About Al’ page. And if you have hard-to-find books you’re searching for yourself, do let me know, particularly if they’re paperbacks.
Before the Tauchnitz series started in 1841, there was a flourishing market of pirate editions of English language novels in continental Europe. Indeed Bernard Tauchnitz himself started off as a pirate before eventually turning to the straight and narrow. The novels of writers such as Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and Bulwer Lytton were widely published in France and in Germany, both in English and in translation, without any authorisation and with no payment to the author.
Jane Austen however seems to have been of little interest to the pirates. Her novels were translated into French and later into German, but I can find no evidence of her work being published by any of the main English language publishers in Germany or France. The copyright on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ expired in 1841, so after that she could have been published freely anyway, even with the introduction of international copyright agreements. But still there seems to have been little interest.
Once Tauchnitz got into his stride, his interest was mainly in publishing contemporary English literature. Most of his publications came out very quickly after first UK publication, and for many of the more established authors, publication in the UK and in the Tauchnitz Edition happened almost simultaneously. But he still found room in the series for earlier novels and out of copyright works, often using them to fill gaps in the publishing schedule and keep the printing works busy. Over a period of 20 years he published almost all of the works of Walter Scott, who had died in 1832, and of course he included the works of Shakespeare in the series and other early novelists such as Swift, Smollett, Defoe and Sterne. But for the first 20 years, no Jane Austen.
Perhaps she was too English to be of interest to continental readers? That seems unlikely to be the whole story though, as a significant part of the Tauchnitz market was selling to British and American travellers on the continent. The more likely explanation is that she was simply out of fashion, even with British readers. Although her works had been reprinted several times, sales were slow in Britain and they were not yet seen as classics of English literature.
In 1864 though, Tauchnitz decided to dip a toe in the water, with publication of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ as volume 735 of his Collection of British Authors. Like all Tauchnitz Editions it was originally issued in paperback and the first printing is distinguished by reference on the wrapper to the 15th edition of the Tauchnitz English-German dictionary. Later paperback printings will generally have a date at the top of the back wrapper. Most surviving copies though have been bound and first printings can only be identified by the absence of any other works by the same author listed on the back of the half title.
Presumably sales were sufficiently encouraging, because ‘Mansfield Park’ followed in 1867 as volume 883 of the series. Publication seems to have been planned for March of that year, but the book did not appear until June, after volume 893, probably again being used to fill in a gap in the schedule of more up-to-date works. The paperback 1st printing referred to the 17th edition of the English-German dictionary and again the half-title showed no other works by Austen.
Still there was no hurry to issue ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but it did eventually appear in 1870, as volume 1112, almost 30 years into the Tauchnitz series and over 50 years after first publication in the UK. Arguably publication was long overdue, but in the end the timing was good. Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, had published ‘A memoir of Jane Austen’ in 1869 and it sparked a renewed interest in the author, with her novels being republished in Britain as well.
The paperback first printing of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is identified by its reference to the 21st edition of the English-German dictionary and the half-title lists the two other works previously published by Tauchnitz. Later printings list 4 works. As with most Tauchnitz Editions of this period, first printing copies are of course rare, and paperback first printings particularly so.
Tauchnitz followed up the increased interest in Austen by publishing a combined edition of ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ as volume 1176 in October 1871. The bibliographers were unable to find a single copy of the first printing in paperback, so I can’t confirm any identifying marks, but it might be expected to refer to either the 21st or 22nd edition of the English-German dictionary. Certainly on bound editions, the first edition should list only three (rather than four) other works by the same author on the half-title verso.
The set of Jane Austen editions in Tauchnitz was still not completed until finally ‘Emma’ was published in 1877, 13 years after ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and over 60 years after first publication of the novel in the UK. The volume number is 1645 and the first printing in paperback is dated February 1877 at the top of the back wrapper. Later printings exist dated April 1900 and December 1905, possibly amongst other dates. For bound editions though there is no easy way of distinguishing first editions. All copies list the four other books by Austen on the back of the half-title, and the only other clue to date is likely to be the binding.
I don’t quite understand why it took so long to get all of Austen’s novels published in the Tauchnitz series, but I can only assume that sales had been slow. Given Tauchnitz’s aspirations to include all the best of English literature in his series, he would surely not have passed up the opportunity to publish all the Austen novels, now well out of copyright, if the early ones he published had been selling well.
After the publication of ‘Emma’ though, the other books were all reprinted, with the reprints in each case showing all four other books on the half-title verso. Over time sales must surely have built up and been profitable for Tauchnitz. At least three of the novels were still in print in Tauchnitz Editions in the 1930s although surprisingly ‘Emma’ seems not to have been.
Reprint copies of most of the books are probably not rare now in comparison to other Tauchnitz Editions. They do though seem to be more sought after and so prices are higher, in some cases much higher. Presumably Jane Austen collectors are either very numerous, or have particularly deep pockets – perhaps both! Since the Tauchnitz Editions of Austen are effectively all reprints 50 to 60 years after first printing anyway, it’s not obvious that they should feature highly in an Austen collection.
First printings however are undoubtedly rare, as with almost all 19th Century Tauchnitz Editions. The combination of that rarity, together with the demand from Jane Austen collectors, can sometimes push prices very high. Over the last 25 years I have seen several first printings of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ offered for sale (and many more reprints masquerading as first printings), but they have never been at prices that I’ve been prepared to pay. So for the time being my Tauchnitz collection includes only a later reprint. I’ll keep looking!