Category Archives: Vintage Paperbacks

John Long Four-Square Thrillers

Yet another new paperback series launched in the busy three or four years after Penguin’s launch in July 1935. Yet another in the Penguin format that I’ve repeatedly referred to – same size, same price (sixpence), typographical cover design with no cover art, dustwrapper in the same design as the cover, and so on. Yet another series from a part of the Hutchinson Group.

Volume No. 1 ‘The Gunner’

It completely baffles me why Hutchinson felt the need to launch another Penguin-style series in addition to the half dozen they already had, and perhaps particularly why they needed another series for thrillers from authors such as Edgar Wallace. The first four books in the John Long Four-Square Thrillers series, launched in September 1938, were all by Edgar Wallace (who had died in 1932). To highlight the point, the back cover of all the books featured an advert for Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society, with a list of titles in the series, including three by Edgar Wallace. Why could the new books not have appeared in that series?

Anyway they did launch another series and had to find a name for it, as usual employing little originality. Previous series from Hutchinson had followed Penguin in using a bird name – Jarrold’s Jackdaw Books and the Toucan Novels. After Penguin’s three coloured bands, Collins had introduced the White Circle and now John Long opted for four squares. Presumably they were attracted by the sense of solidity that four-square evokes, as well as by the prosaic description of the cover design. Except that the design does not really have four squares on it. You don’t need to be a mathematician to recognise that these are four rectangles, but certainly not squares.

Starting with four books by Edgar Wallace was a fairly clear statement of intent about the type of books that was to be expected from this series. The next batch of titles, in January 1939, was more varied in terms of authors, but much the same in terms of style, including titles from Sydney Horler and John Creasey. The 24 volumes in the numbered series from September 1938 to March 1940 included six by Edgar Wallace, five by John Creasey and four by Brian Flynn.

By 1940 of course wartime conditions were starting to bite, publishing programmes were reducing, paper was becoming more scarce and prices were rising. The volumes issued in March 1940 were priced at 7d rather than 6d and later (unnumbered) volumes increased further in price.

The lack of numbering after March 1940, in common with other Hutchinson series in this period, makes it difficult to be sure about exactly how many books were published. The checklist by Richard Williams lists 22 volumes at a shilling, published between September 1940 and around June 1941, but there are question marks against some of them and the books themselves now are very difficult to find. A quick internet search shows not a single copy of any of them currently offered for sale.

Possibly another six appeared around 1942 at 1s 3d, and then the series went into hibernation for the rest of the war, although two books described as John Long Four Square Thrillers appeared in 1945 in the Hutchinson Series of Services Editions, in the normal branding of that series.

Around 1948 to 1949 other books in John Long Four-Square branding appeared at 1s 6d in what was by then effectively a combined series of Hutchinson paperbacks. Again it’s difficult to say exactly how many, but possibly around 15 different titles, again mostly by John Creasey and Edgar Wallace, but also with several horse racing stories by Nat Gould described as John Long Four-Square Racing Thrillers.

The early Tauchnitz Editions of Mary Elizabeth Braddon

The Tauchnitz Edition over its 100 year history included many both famous and prolific authors – Dickens, Trollope, Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw among them. But no single author accounted for more volumes than the rather less well known Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

Rather less well known nowadays, is of course what I mean. In her lifetime she was extremely well known and popular. Although her reputation may have waned, there is still a good deal of interest in her works amongst academics and collectors as well as simply readers. Since 2013 the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association has existed to promote interest in her life and works, and many of her books have been re-published.

Her breakthrough novel (when she was barely 27 years old) was ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’, first published in book form in 1862 after magazine serialisation. It was in the then popular ‘sensation’ style, usually based on some dreadful secret that is being hidden, before it inevitably comes out. In this case Lady Audley is a secret bigamist who has abandoned her child and doubles down on this by twice attempting murder.

The first Tauchnitz Edition – no list of other works on the half title verso

It was phenomenally successful in Britain and inevitably attracted the attention of Tauchnitz, which brought out a continental edition at the end of 1862. The first printing in two volumes (vols. 635 and 636) should list no other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title. Braddon quickly followed it up with another sensation novel, ‘Aurora Floyd’, which surprise, surprise has another young lady heroine who turns out to be a bigamist. The Tauchnitz edition followed almost immediately as volumes 646 and 647, only three months after ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’.

Identification of the first printing is however fraught with difficulty. It would normally be expected to show one other title by the same author (i.e. ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’) on the back of the half-title, and certainly copies in this format exist (see below). Indeed one such paperback copy at the University of Western Ontario has wrappers that identify it as at least very close to a first printing.

Possibly a first printing, but not shown as such by the Todd & Bowden bibliography

However a hardback copy elsewhere is recorded as showing no other titles by the same author, and this is classified in the Tauchnitz bibliography as the first printing. That’s on the principle, generally applicable in other cases, that the fewer other titles listed, the earlier the edition.

Where the list shows all titles published to date that clearly makes sense. But in this case and in several other similar cases around this period, including other Braddon titles, the absence of any list of titles, when in fact Tauchnitz had already published other titles by the author, doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the date of the edition. It just tells you that for whatever reason, Tauchnitz had decided to omit the list of titles.

My best guess from the evidence here and in other similar cases, is that around this time Tauchnitz printed copies of many books in both formats (i.e with a list of other titles and without a list) simultaneously, so that either may be considered a first printing. Possibly in some of the markets where Tauchnitz books were sold, the earlier books by the same author were unavailable or could not be advertised for some reason.

Over the next few years, new novels from Mary Braddon came thick and fast, all or almost all of them sensation novels, and all or almost all of them published in Tauchnitz, for whom she was becoming a key author. Another nine novels appeared over the next five years, each of them in two volumes and for six of them copies are known to exist with no titles listed on the back of the half-title. In five of those cases copies also exist with the ‘correct’ number of previous titles listed and these may well be first printings, although not classified as such in the bibliography.

Again possibly a first printing, with the ‘correct’ number of previous titles listed

The exception is the first of them, ‘Eleanor’s Victory’ published in 1863, for which no copies are recorded as having two other titles listed. It seems quite likely however that such copies do exist somewhere. On the other hand, no copies without a list of titles have been recorded for two books – ‘Only a clod’ (published 1865) and ‘Sir Jasper’s tenant’ (published 1866). Again it seems quite likely that copies in this format may turn up some day. From 1868 onwards though, the first printings of all Braddon’s novels have the ‘correct’ number of previously published titles listed, and no examples without a list of titles have been recorded.

There were though still many more Braddon novels to come and I’ll come back some other day to the rest of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s publishing history with Tauchnitz.

A selection of early Braddon novels in Tauchnitz, in the usual mix of bindings

Westerns for the troops

The 1920s and 1930s are often thought of as the Golden Age of crime fiction. When Britain went into the Second World War at the end of the 1930s, crime novels were enormously popular and much in demand amongst the services. Not surprisingly the Services Editions, produced for the armed forces, contain a high proportion of crime novels, mostly by British writers, although with a dash of American influence.

But the 1920s and 1930s had also seen growing popularity for westerns, a much less home-grown product – although arguably the country house settings of many British murder mysteries of the period were just as alien to the average British soldier as the Arizona desert.

Collectors of Penguin Books will know that wartime crime novels are the most difficult to find – it’s presumed because they were so avidly read that they fell to pieces. But in the Services Editions there is little doubt that Westerns are the most difficult to find – and again we can only presume that that’s because of their popularity.

Collins was the most prolific publisher of paperback westerns before the war and so was in the best position to offer them in Services Editions, and there’s a review of the thirty-five or so Collins Westerns on this post.

But they were far from the only publisher responding to the evident demand for westerns from the troops. The other main series of Services Editions, from Guild Books, included around ten to a dozen westerns, possibly more, as given their rarity, westerns may well account for several of the missing books in the series, for which no copy has been recorded.

In the Guild Books series, westerns shared a category with crime, mysteries and thrillers, all in red covers, but were identified as westerns in the bottom right corner, if it wasn’t already clear from the title. Many of the separate publishers who contributed books to the series didn’t publish westerns, but George Harrap, Cassell & Co. and Robert Hale were among those who did. There was also at least one western from Collins, although it’s slightly odd that they should have contributed books to the Guild series alongside their own series of Services Editions.

I don’t think that any of the individual titles are much remembered today, if indeed many westerns are. Authors such as George B. Rodney and James B. Hendryx are barely household names in their own households, and several of the author names, such as the unlikely sounding Bliss Lomax and Amos Moore, are pseudonyms anyway.

There is though one western story in another series of Services Editions that does claim a sort of lasting fame. The Hodder & Stoughton Services Yellow Jackets series has at least four westerns in it, including ‘Bar 20’ by Clarence E. Mulford. By 1944 when it appeared, this was already a classic of the genre – first published in 1906, and the first of a series of novels by Mulford to feature Hopalong Cassidy.

So far as I know, there are no westerns in other series of Services Editions, but there is at least one amongst the Hutchinson ‘Free Victory Gift’ books. Copies of ‘Feud at Silver Bend’ by J.E. Grinstead were given a celebratory new wrapper and included in the million books given by Hutchinsons to be distributed to troops.

Hutchinson’s Wild West Pocket Library

This feels almost like a postscript to my previous post on Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society, and maybe in the end that’s what the series was to Hutchinson. But it must have started off with much more optimism.

Hutchinson launched the Crime Book Society in June 1936 and the Wild West Pocket Library followed in October of the same year. Four books were published simultaneously to launch the series, but I can only assume that they sold badly, as no more books were added for almost two years after that. Whether it was the choice of titles or authors, or some failure of marketing, I can’t tell, but they were clearly not a success.

Perhaps it was just that Collins had launched its Wild West Club series only two months earlier and there was not enough of a market to support two apparently very similar series. Perhaps Collins had the better authors, or the better stories. Even their series was relatively slow to get going in comparison to the crime series, although it did in the end last a long time.

Whatever the reason, there was no follow up from Hutchinson to the first four titles until July 1938, when two more were published and even then the format was rather different, so that they hardly look like the same series.

The first four books had an image of a group of cowboys on horseback stretched diagonally across the front cover and came in at least two different colours, green and red. The dustwrappers were largely identical to the covers, except that the price of 6d is shown only on the dustwrappers. By the time the later two books were published in 1938, green had been generally accepted in the market as the colour for crime and yellow as the colour for westerns, so both books are in yellow and have a revised cover design with a smaller line of cowboys in silhouette and the title in a white circle. It looks to me like a bit of a mess of a design and certainly not as striking as the design of the earlier books.

The books were presumably no more successful than the first four had been as they were the last books to be added to the series. Only six books ever appeared.

By 1940 though they must have been willing to try again, as through the Leisure Library, a different part of the Hutchinson group, they launched another very similar attempt, this time branded the ‘Wild West Library’. This series did at least make it as far as twelve titles, although in the end it too was relatively short lived.

From ‘The Wild West Library’, not the ‘Wild West Pocket Library’

Hutchinson’s Crime Book Society

When Penguin launched in July 1935, Hutchinson as one of the existing publishers of 6d paperbacks, had to respond quickly. Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, in a very Penguin-like format, started just three months later in October 1935. It was followed by a rash of other series in a similar format from different parts of the Hutchinson Group over the next few years, including Jackdaw Books, Toucan Novels and Hutchinson’s Popular Pocket Library.

In June 1936, still less than a year after Penguin had started the Paperback Revolution, the Crime Book Society published its first paperbacks. This was again from the Hutchinson Group, but it was not so much a competitive response to Penguin, as a direct competitor for the Collins Crime Club paperbacks, launched in March 1936. At a time when crime novels were extraordinarily popular, Collins were the clear market leader, although they had allowed Penguin’s green crime titles to steal a march on them.

That Hutchinson saw Collins as their main competitor is clear first from the series name. Collins had their Crime Club series, so Hutchinson launched the Crime Book Society series. It was not a new name and had already been used for some hardback publications and had at least some structure of mailing lists, marketing and book selections, as the Crime Club did, but both were really book series rather than traditional clubs or societies.

It’s also very clear from the cover design. Collins had a stylised design with two masked figures holding a knife and a gun. Hutchinson opted for a single hand with a smoking gun as the main design, and a smaller hand with a dagger in the series panel and on the spine. Collins had the title and author name in a large white circle and the Crime Club logo in a small white circle. Hutchinson had the title and author name in two separate white circles and the logo and series number in smaller circles. On the dustwrappers, Hutchinson replaced the hand with a dagger with the 6d price, while Collins replaced the Crime Club logo with the 6d price.

It should be said though that it was not until a year or so later that Collins adopted ‘White Circle’ as an overall name for their various paperback series, so the use of white circles by Hutchinson was not as aggressive a marketing move as it might appear in retrospect.

Hutchinson also eventually settled on a very similar green to Collins for the colour of its covers, although it didn’t start off like that. The early titles come in a variety of colours, as used for Hutchinson’s Pocket Library, but from about volume 26 onwards they are all green. Green seems almost to have been adopted as an industry standard for paperback crime novels and gradually phased out for non-crime titles.

The one thing that Hutchinson couldn’t easily copy was the quality of authors represented in the Collins Crime Club. Where Collins had Agatha Christie, G.D.H. & M. Cole, Freeman Wills Crofts and John Rhode /Miles Burton, Hutchinson had Hugh Clevely, Seldon Truss and Grierson Dickson. Fine authors they may have been, but it has to be said that they have made little mark on literary history. Other largely forgotten authors in the series included Dawson Gratrix, Leo Grex and Peter Drax – what was it about surnames (or pseudonyms) ending in x?

On the other hand, Hutchinson did have Edgar Wallace and that was almost a guarantee of popularity and of sales. It points though to a suggestion that perhaps the Hutchinson list was biased more towards thrillers than pure detective stories. Collins tended to have a purist approach to crime novels, that treated them almost as puzzles, with appropriate clues for the reader to test himself or herself against the fictional detective. Thrillers, that prioritised excitement and fast-paced adventure, were for Collins a different type of novel, but Hutchinson don’t really seem to have had this distinction.

The first batch of eight titles published in June 1936 actually had quite a distinguished and well recognisable selection of authors, including Baroness Orczy, Eden Phillpotts and Sydney Horler alongside Edgar Wallace. But none of these are really known principally as crime writers in the Collins Crime Club sense, so again the focus seems more to be on thrillers. Some other titles later in the series look to be more like ghost or horror stories than simple crime.

Whatever the genre, the books must have sold relatively well, as the series prospered, or at least lengthened steadily. By the outbreak of war in September 1939 it had reached volume 67 and over the next few months the count increased to 81 by August 1940 and later to at least 85 before the numbering stopped. A few further titles were issued during the war, in a much slimmer wartime economy standard format, first with the price increased to 9d, and later to 1s 6d. Some of these later ones were shown as published by the Readers’ Library Publishing Company in association with Hutchinson, rather than directly by Hutchinson, but I suspect the difference is fairly small.

I know of one single Crime Book Society title published as a Services Edition, although there may well be others. Then after the war, the Crime Book Society seems to have gone back to being principally a hardback series, although a small number of the paperbacks were reprinted in a format very similar to the pre-war editions. These were again priced at 1s 6d, unnumbered, and treated as part of a combined reprint programme of pre-war Hutchinson paperbacks that included books from various series.

An unusual dedication

One of my previous posts looked at the celebratory volume 500 of the Tauchnitz series in 1860, for which a special gift edition was produced. Copies exist, with dedications from Bernhard Tauchnitz to various friends or colleagues, of an edition bound in full leather with all edges gilt and a portrait of Tauchnitz bound in at the front. In comparison, the standard edition had no portrait and exists in the usual paperback and a range of other bindings, as well as in a green cloth edition produced for sale in the UK.

So what is this? A copy of the gift binding, or at least one very similar to it, with no inscription from Tauchnitz, but instead an inscription 41 years later from a Tauchnitz author. This copy has what seems to be a light-hearted dedication from Tighe Hopkins, author of six Tauchnitz works, perhaps most famously ‘The man in the iron mask’ (Tauchnitz volume 3491, first published in 1901). He inscribes it in that same year to Madge Jones as a Prize for the Ping-Pong (practice) tournament, and adds “Call this a prize!”, which he ascribes to Shakespeare, although it seems unlikely to have anything to do with the bard.

But how did Tighe Hopkins come to have this edition in any case? When the book was published, and presumably this edition was produced, he would have been only four years old, so I think we can rule out this having been presented to him at the time. He became a Tauchnitz author for the first time only in 1899, two years before this dedication and four years after the death of Bernhard Tauchnitz in 1895. Surely the firm did not still have a stock of the special gift editions 40 years on, that it was presenting to new authors? And on closer inspection of the binding, although very similar, it is not quite identical to the original gift binding. It looks like a slightly more modern version of it, so possibly bound up years later.

Luxurious, but a bit battered

A clue though comes from an article published in Pall Mall magazine in 1901. There are twelve pages on ‘”The Tauchnitz” Edition – The story of a popular publisher’, written by Tighe Hopkins and illustrated by photos of the first and second Barons Tauchnitz and their home and office buildings. It is extremely complimentary to the firm and quotes extensively from the Tauchnitz archive of letters from authors, much as the firm’s own memorial volumes do. Indeed it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that it could easily have been written by somebody from the Tauchnitz firm itself. Certainly if Tighe Hopkins was writing it, he was doing the firm a favour and he would have required personal access to the Tauchnitz archive.

So was he perhaps offered a specially bound edition of volume 500 as a thank you present? Or perhaps one of a few that had been bound up as gifts after the original stock had gone? It seems at least possible, although sadly if so, it was not signed by the second Baron. And perhaps equally sadly, Hopkins seems not to have placed great value on the gift, passing it on within months, perhaps to a young friend, or to someone who beat him at table tennis.

Elinor Glyn in Tauchnitz Editions

Elinor Glyn was not a typical Tauchnitz author. Her work had few literary pretensions. and she wrote light frothy romantic fiction. But what she did have was sex. Not of course anything very explicit – this was in the early twentieth century when Victorian attitudes still prevailed, but even underlying hints of sexual activity could be enough to excite readers in those times.

Her first work published in Tauchnitz created something of a literary sensation, becoming the sixth bestselling novel of 1901. ‘The visits of Elizabeth’ recorded the letters home of a naive young lady on a series of visits around the homes of relatives and friends. She sees a lot of goings-on, to which she is happy in her charming way, to assign the most innocent of explanations. The work appeared as volume 3504 of the Tauchnitz series and the first printing was dated June 1901 on the wrappers. For bound editions, the first printing should show no other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title.

So successful was it that it attracted imitators. Just four months later, as volume 3528, dated October 1901, Tauchnitz published ‘The letters of her mother to Elizabeth’. The book was published anonymously, but was by W.R.H. Trowbridge (a pseudonym for William Rutherford Hayes) and filled in the letters in the other direction that came between Elizabeth’s letters.

A note from the Tauchnitz Edition of W.R.H. Trowbridge’s work

Not surprisingly, Elinor Glyn was less than impressed by this. In her next work to appear in the series, ‘The reflections of Ambrosine’ (vol. 3636), she is at pains to emphasis that she had not written either the Trowbridge book or another anonymous work. She was right to be concerned about this. Even today, over a hundred years later, various internet sources cite Elinor Glyn as the author of ‘The letters of her mother to Elizabeth’.

Elinor Glyn’s response, in the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘The reflections of Ambrosine’

‘The reflections of Ambrosine’ is not written in letters, but is a similar style of first person narrative from a young woman, relating the goings-on in high society. The first printing in Tauchnitz is dated February 1903 on paperback copies, or on bound copies, should list just the one previous title by Glyn on the back of the half-title. It was followed by ‘The vicissitudes of Evangeline’ (vol. 3805, dated April 1905 and listing the two previous works on the back of the half-title) and by ‘Beyond the Rocks’ (vol. 3892, dated June 1906 and listing three previous works).

The next to come was ‘Three weeks’, published in July 1907 as volume 3978, and perhaps the work that more than any other, established Glyn’s name and reputation. It told the story of a three week affair between a young British aristocrat and a much older woman who turns out to be a mysterious foreign Queen. Their romps on a tiger skin led to the popular doggerel “Would you like to sin, with Elinor Glyn, on a tiger skin. Or would you prefer, to err with her, on some other fur’.

Aileen Pringle reclines on a tiger skin in the 1924 film of ‘Three Weeks’

Suggestions that the book was based on an affair that Glyn herself had with a much younger man (Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duxe of Roxburghe), would have done nothing to harm the sales of it. And it does seem to have sold well, with regular reprints and a continuing demand for new works.

Glyn was happy to oblige, coming back next to her first character, Elizabeth, and the same format of letters written home to her mother. ‘Elizabeth visits America’ (vol. 4124, dated June 1909 and listing five previous works) is much the same kind of thing, although Elizabeth is now older, married and a little less naive.

Lord Curzon

In the meantime, Glyn was herself pursuing another affair, with Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India and then Chancellor of Oxford University. To maintain this affair, cover her husband’s debts and keep up her standard of living, she had to keep writing. Five more works followed in the years running up to the first World War – ‘His hour’ (vol. 4230, December 1910), ‘The reason why’ (vol. 4305, January 1912), ‘Halcyone’ (vol. 4367, October 1912), ‘The Contrast (vol. 4427, July 1913) and ‘Guinevere’s Lover’ (vol. 4500, July 1914).

The war years of course interrupted any further publications in Tauchnitz and even afterwards it took several years for the firm to recover anything like its previous position. Elinor Glyn seems to have written less in this period anyway, but her career was starting to move in other directions. In 1914 a silent movie was made of ‘Three weeks’ and in 1920 she herself moved to Hollywood to become a scriptwriter. ‘Beyond the rocks’ was filmed in 1922, starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson and although Glyn did not write the screenplay for this, she was involved in the production and worked with Swanson on other films. Two years later she did write the screenplay for a remake of ‘Three weeks’, from which she allegedly made $65,000 as a 40% share of the profits.

As Tauchnitz recovered in the 1920s, it was still keen to publish any new novels by Glyn. ‘Man and Maid’ appeared as volume 4577 in May 1922, followed by ‘Six Days’ (vol. 4631, March 1924), ‘The great moment (vol. 4678, March 1925) and ‘Love’s blindness’ (vol. 4732, May 1926), all appearing relatively quickly after UK publication. Then in 1927 came ‘”It” and other stories’ (vol. 4807, November 1927). By the time it appeared in Tauchnitz, “It” had been made into a silent film earlier in 1927, making a major star of its leading lady, Clara Bow, who became the first ‘It’ girl.

But the era of silent movies was coming to an end, and with it Elinor Glyn’s particular brand of slightly risqué eroticism. She returned to England from Hollywood in 1929, and later attempts at both screenplay writing and film directing were not successful. She continued to write, but her moment had passed. The 1930s were a different era and Tauchnitz with other problems of its own, had had enough of Elinor Glyn. Reprints certainly continued into the early thirties, but there were no more new publications after “It”, so she finished on a total of 16 volumes spread over more than 25 years.

Fifteen of Elinor Glyn’s sixteen volumes in Tauchnitz

Pelicans in the US 1945 – 1948

I’ve looked in previous posts at the development of Penguin Books in the US, first from 1942 to 1945 and then from 1945 to 1948, a period that led up to the final rift with the UK business and the creation of the New American Library. That rift was probably as much as anything to do with the use of illustrated covers in the American market, although Allen Lane seems to have seen it as a much wider difference of opinion over the direction of the business. His perception was that the business was going too far downmarket, publishing too many books of dubious morality.

That perception is challenged by the development of Pelican Books in the US. Victor Weybright, who had taken charge of the US Penguin business alongside Kurt Enoch, after Ian Ballantine’s departure, had been seriously impressed by Pelican Books in the UK. He saw a gap in the US market for a non-fiction paperback series and was convinced that Penguin could fill it with an American version of Pelicans.

The US Pelican series launched at the end of 1945 or the start of 1946 with a mixture of books sourced from Penguin in the UK, and others sourced from American publishers. The first volume, P1, was ‘Public Opinion’ by Walter Lippmann, first published in 1922 and a classic American text. It was followed by ‘Patterns of Culture’ by the American anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, hardly less classic – and then by a British text, ‘You and Music’ by Christian Darnton, that had appeared in the UK Pelican series as volume A68.

Slightly oddly, these first three numbered volumes are all dated January 1946, while volume P4, George Gamow’s ‘The birth and death of the Sun’, is shown as published in December 1945. Also slightly oddly, Weybright’s autobiography recalls ‘The revolt of the masses’ by José Ortega y Gasset as one of the first titles, although it did not appear until much later, after the split with Penguin in the UK.

The volumes look very similar to the main series US Penguins in the new format introduced at that time, with a Pelican logo in a circle replacing the various shapes used for the Penguin logo. The price was the same at 25c, the covers have the same plastic laminating, now often peeling away, and the cover designs, almost all by Robert Jonas, look very similar too.

By the end of 1946 the series had reached 11 volumes, and the eleventh volume, ‘Heredity, race and society’ by L.C. Dunn & T.H. Dobzhansky, is the first one to be a new book specially written for the series, rather than a reprint. In the UK, Pelicans had started as a reprint series before moving to commission their own books, and the process was now underway in the US as well. P11 was also the first for a period to have no direct indication of price on the book. It was becoming difficult to maintain the standard price of 25c and for a few months no price was indicated, although some books carry a 35c sticker. From volume P18 onward, the price is marked as 35c.

The format of mixing UK reprints with more specifically American books continued throughout 1947, while negotiations for the separation from UK Penguin went on. In October, E.V. Rieu’s translation of ‘The Odyssey’ that had been a surprising literary success in the UK, and had sold well also in the US Penguin main series, moved across to the Pelican series as volume P21. It followed another, perhaps less surprising success, Kenneth Walker’s ‘The physiology of sex’ that had been reprinted several times in the main series before appearing as a Pelican too.

Then in November 1947, Dunn & Dobzhansky’s ‘Heredity, race and society’ was reprinted, but given a new number as volume P23. I am not aware of any of the other volumes in the series being reprinted as Pelicans, either under the same or a different number.

As far as I can tell (from not only several decades, but several thousand miles away), this series was very unusual in the US market at the time. Paperbacks were generally downmarket and seen as not very serious. For a paperback publisher to be publishing not only non-fiction, but serious intellectual non-fiction (anthropology, astronomy, modern architecture, and sex) was at least surprising, if not groundbreaking.

So did it matter that it was doing so with illustrated covers (and hardly salacious ones)? And yet, for Allen Lane it seems that it did. His US business was publishing not only this kind of serious non-fiction, but in its fiction list, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, John Steinbeck, Bernard Shaw, Pearl Buck and William Faulkner (the latter four all, sooner or later, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature). And still it seems, Lane felt it was straying too far from the traditions (little more than a decade old) of Penguin Books in the UK. Rather than focusing on The Odyssey or other Pelican titles, Lane saw novels by James M. Cain, James T. Farrell and Erskine Caldwell, and he saw, and disliked, the illustrated covers.

In ‘The Penguin Story’, published by Penguin in 1966 and, although written by Bill Williams, probably as close as we can get to Penguin history as Allen Lane wanted it to be seen, there is a remarkable attack on the position of Weybright and Enoch. After the split from Penguin in the UK, Lane is reputed to have never talked to Weybright again, and it seems that almost twenty years later, he still held a grudge.

Penguin’s ‘American associates’, writes Williams, without naming them, ‘wanted the mass market in terms of quarter million sales or more, for every title’. To achieve this they used distribution outlets ‘with no interest in books as such’ and that preferred ‘a commodity with garish and sensational eye-appeal’. ‘The contents of the book … were relatively unimportant: what mattered was that its lurid exterior should ambush the customers’. It seems to me difficult to sustain this charge against the range of titles published in the US Pelican series and their cover designs, or indeed against the US Penguins in the same period – but judge for yourself.

By October 1947 the split had been agreed and from early 1948 was being implemented. Penguins were re-branded as Signet Books and Pelicans as Mentor Books, both under the overall heading of the New American Library. For a brief period, Pelicans appeared as ‘Pelican Mentor Books’ and the numbering moved from P25 to M26, M27 etc. Volumes M26 to M29, published from March to June 1948, had the dual branding, and then traces of Pelican disappeared from the American market.

A tale of two part-issues

Most of Dickens’ novels were first issued in serial form, either as monthly parts or in some cases serialised in his journals, ‘Household Words’ or ‘All the Year Round’. ‘A tale of two cities’ combined both of these forms.

Dickens used it as the lead story when he launched ‘All the Year Round’ in April 1859, running it in 31 weekly parts from April to November 1859, and so copies of ‘All the Year Round’ represent the true first publication of the story. It was printed in huge numbers and many copies were kept, so it’s not too difficult even now to pick up copies at reasonable cost. Many surviving copies are in bound volumes, but still offer an affordable way to own a Dickens ‘first edition’.

That though is not enough of a challenge for many book collectors. Dickens followed up publication in ‘All the Year Round’ by publishing it in eight monthly parts (six single parts and a final double one) from June to December 1859 and these are much rarer. One bookseller is currently offering a full set of the parts at a mere $30,000, for what is clearly neither the first publication nor the first book edition.

Part 4 of 8 monthly parts

The first book edition followed in November 1859 and you can buy a copy for considerably less than $30,000 although maybe in the thousands rather than the hundreds of dollars.

But over the same period, the story was also being published in English in Continental Europe. Dickens was on friendly terms with the publisher Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig, and offered him the choice of taking the novel either in weekly or monthly parts. Tauchnitz chose to issue it in monthly parts and publication of the first part was announced on 30th June 1859. It’s likely that the parts appeared shortly after the UK parts, although it’s possible that the Tauchnitz part-issues were actually ahead of the equivalent parts in the UK.

The print run would have been much lower than in the UK and surviving copies of the Tauchnitz part-issues might be expected to be much rarer. It’s a meaningless question to ask how valuable such parts might be, because no copies of them have ever been publicly recorded. Until now.

Copies of the first four part-issues of ‘A tale of two cities’ have recently been discovered by a book collector in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where they had been held in a local library and were being disposed of. Some books were being offered free to local residents, but these ones had to be rescued from a dumpster, by someone who recognised their importance before they disappeared. They are now in his personal collection – a reminder of how narrow the line is between survival and destruction.

They’re certainly not pretty. Three of the four parts have been taped around the edges, which is really not a great look. Only Part 4 is untaped and only the first four parts are present. However they offer the first conclusive proof that such part-issues exist at all. The fourth part contains at the front preliminary pages so that the four parts could be taken to a bookbinder and bound up as a single book, which would be identified as volume 479 of the Tauchnitz series.

Tauchnitz itself then published ‘A tale of two cities’ in book form and it’s not entirely clear whether there’s any way of distinguishing copies issued by Tauchnitz as a single book, from copies that might have been bound up from the parts. One thing that the part-issues do make clear though, is that copies with ten preliminary pages, including a dedication and preface, are not the first printing in book form, as suggested in the Todd & Bowden bibliography. To qualify as a first printing in book form, copies must have only 6 pages of preliminaries, with the contents on pages v and vi. Sadly that means that copies in the British Library in London, the Bodleian in Oxford, in Frankfurt, Munich and in Stockholm, can no longer be considered first printings.

The first printing, whether in parts or in book form, has contents on pages v and vi

The second set of four parts could be bound up as volume 480, and Tauchnitz announced publication of the entire novel in book form in these two volumes on 22nd December 1859. This was about a month after first publication of the complete novel in the UK, although it’s likely, in line with previous practice, that the first Tauchnitz volume would have been sold on its own in advance of this, possibly from September or October.

When Todd & Bowden published their bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions in 1988 they were able to locate only a single Tauchnitz part-issue of any novel, in any of the major Tauchnitz collections, including those in national, state or university libraries around the world. In total 84 different parts are believed to have been published from a total of six novels, but the only remaining example they could find was a tattered copy of one part of ‘Little Dorrit’ in the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris.

Since then copies of individual parts of ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Our mutual friend’ have come to light, followed by the discovery of a full set of 20 parts of ‘Bleak House’, although the location of these is now unknown. The discovery now of part-issues of ‘A tale of two cities’ means that parts are known of, for four of the five Dickens novels published in this way. No parts of ‘Edwin Drood’ are yet known, nor any of the one non-Dickens novel to be issued in parts by Tauchnitz – ‘A strange story’ by Bulwer Lytton.

All 20 parts of ‘Bleak House’

Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum

A strange title for a blog post and a strange wording to find on the front board of a book. It turns up on various Albatross books produced in the period around 1950 when the business was casting around, looking for a way to succeed in the very different publishing conditions after the war.

Albatross had been hugely successful before the war, publishing English language paperbacks in Continental Europe, defeating and effectively taking over, the long established Tauchnitz business. But attempts to revive the brand after the war faltered in the face of difficult market conditions and strong competition from British and American paperbacks, including of course Penguin Books.

In 1948 the business seems to have tried a different approach, having a range of titles bound up in a creamy coloured card binding, almost a sort of false vellum, and probably using existing unsold paperback stock. These were then given a standard Albatross dustwrapper , which in the post-war period showed the name of the local sales partner company, varying by country. All of the copies in this style that I have seen, have a dustwrapper from either Norway, Sweden or Denmark although they may have been sold elsewhere as well.

The front and back boards have an intricate blind stamped frame with on the front the title in the middle, the date 1948 in Roman numerals at the top, and the Latin phrase ‘Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum’ at the bottom. It’s not immediately clear what this means and a quick Internet search brings up a description of a similar book and the suggestion that the phrase translates as ‘I like pie’.

That seems hardly likely, and a more promising search result shows a similar phrase ‘Io Grolierii et Amicorum’, used by Jean Grolier de Servières, a famous bibliophile from the sixteenth century. He had his books bound in a range of fine bindings with this phrase as an inscription on the front board. It translates as ‘ For the use of Jean Grolier and his friends’.

So the Albatross binding it seems is some kind of reference or tribute to Jean Grolier. That’s confirmed by the Wikipedia entry on Grolier, which shows illustrations of some of his books, including strapwork designs very similar to the Albatross cover design. That leaves little doubt that this is a ‘Grolier binding’, albeit very much a poor man’s version of it.

An original Grolier binding

But who might have produced such a binding and why? And if Diomedeæ refers to a person, who is it? In the Greek legends, Diomedes was a warrior in the Trojan War and one of the main characters in the Iliad.

Diomedes, King of Argos

The answer though is far simpler. Albatrosses are seabirds in the family Diomedeidae. The Latin name for the Wandering Albatross is Diomedea Exulans. So ‘Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum’ means ‘For the use of The Albatross and his friends’.

It’s unclear how successful or how widely used this binding was, but Albatross was certainly struggling as a business at this time. Over the next few years it tried various different things in order to survive, including other types of hard binding. In 1951 though it came back to Grolier for a rather more luxurious binding. The copy that I have is on Albatross volume 583 – ‘London belongs to me’ by Norman Collins, but it seems to have been used for other volumes as well, including volume 600.

This time the boards have a rather different strapwork design in colour, but still clearly in the Grolier style, with that same phrase at the bottom and with a central arabesque that refers back to the same source (see the image of a Grolier design above). The book has a glassine jacket, printed on the flaps, and an elaborate design of spine, with more arabesques, the albatross symbol and at the base, the name ‘Torriani’.

The Legatoria Torriani was one the largest Italian bookbinders for most of the twentieth century, based in Milan up until 1960. By 1950 the Albatross company was based in Rome and this book was printed in Verona, so Torriani would have been a natural choice of binder. The owners may well have had an interest in the history of bookbinding and Grolier had spent several years in Milan as an aide to the French Court. While there he had met Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Aldine Press and he had used local bookbinders for many of the books in his library.

Whether the suggestion to use Grolier as the inspiration for a series of Albatross bindings came in the first place from Torriani or from Albatross or from elsewhere, we may never know. But the resulting books now provide rather a nice memorial to both Grolier and Albatross.