Category Archives: Vintage Paperbacks

Charles Dickens – The lost Leipzig letters

The relationship between Charles Dickens and Bernhard Tauchnitz was much closer and friendlier than is often the case between authors and publishers.  The letters between the two men were both very numerous and very cordial.   They were also preserved for a long time.  But where are they now?

“I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.’, writes Dickens in 1846, “But I have every reason to rely upon your honourable intentions; and if you will do me the favour to state your own proposal, I have little doubt that I shall be willing to assent to it …”.   Then in 1854, “… It was a matter of real regret to me that I was abroad when you were in London.  For it would have given me true pleasure to have taken your hand and thanked you with all heartiness for your friendship.  I hope to do so on the occasion of your next visit, and also that it will not be long before you return here.  Mrs. Dickens and her sister unite with me in best regards to yourself and family.”.

    Tauchnitz 2 frontispiece

Bernhard Tauchnitz and Charles Dickens

The two men had known each other since 1843, when Dickens was 31 and Tauchnitz just 26.  Dickens was undoubtedly the star author in the Tauchnitz series.  The Tauchnitz Editions were the only authorised editions of Dickens’ work to be published in continental Europe in English, and covered all of his novels, as well as a long series of volumes reprinted from ‘Household Words’.  So the correspondence between the two men is evidence of a long and trusting relationship.

The letters from Dickens were kept by Tauchnitz, along with correspondence from other authors.  When the firm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1887 by publishing an anniversary history and catalogue, the book included excerpts from letters sent to Tauchnitz from various authors who had by then died, including Dickens.   A shorter anniversary publication 25 years later in 1912 gave even greater prominence to the correspondence.  This time a dedicated section on letters from Dickens preceded a general section on letters from all other authors.

Letter from Dickens in The Harvest

Facsimile letter from the Centenary publication

In 1937 the Centenary publication contained facsimiles of a small number of author letters, with pride of place again going to a letter from Dickens.   This was followed by a selection of contemporary letters of congratulation on the centenary from prominent people such as the British Prime Minister and the Archbishop of York.  At that point it seems clear that the archive of author correspondence was still in existence.  Presumably it remained the property of Tauchnitz, by then legally owned by Brandstetter, the firm that printed both Tauchnitz and Albatross books.  However Albatross, based in Paris, exercised editorial control over both firms, so it’s certainly possible that some or all correspondence had moved location.

In December 1943, the printing works of Brandstetter in Leipzig were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, and it has since been widely assumed that the archive was destroyed at that time.  On the 125th anniversary of Tauchnitz in 1962 what remained of the Tauchnitz firm, by then based in Stuttgart, published a final short Festschrift.  It again quoted extracts from two letters from Dickens, but as both of these had already been published in the earlier anniversary histories, they do not provide evidence that the archive was still in existence.  Instead, rather ominously the Festschrift (roughly translated) says that ‘… most of the documents relating to the history and development of the firm in its old home town of Leipzig were destroyed in 1943, or are currently unobtainable as a result of the unhappy division of our country’.

125th Anniversary publication

The 125th anniversary Festschrift

That unhappy division came to an end in 1990 and with it the first evidence that at least some of the documents had survived.  For that evidence we are indebted to Gunter Böhnke, who discovered and transcribed some of the letters from Dickens to Tauchnitz, and to his son, Dietmar Böhnke, a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, who has more recently published them.  Gunter Böhnke in 1991 discovered 34 of Dickens’ letters to Tauchnitz and about 30 others by various Dickens family members and other publishers, in the archive of one of the state owned publishing and printing firms that were about to be dismantled following German reunification.  He photocopied and transcribed them before handing them back.   Unfortunately they have since been lost and there is now no record of what has happened to them.

Other evidence that the archive may have survived comes from a single letter that I was able to buy at auction several years ago – see my post on A letter from Charles Dickens.  This letter was not one of those transcribed by Gunter Böhnke, and was not acknowledged in the auction as being from Dickens, so presumably it must have been separated from other letters, probably before 1991.

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One stray letter, separated from the archive

It appears that at some stage the Tauchnitz archive was broken up.  Large parts of it may by now have been lost or destroyed, even if they survived the 1943 attack.  But there does remain the intriguing possibility that other letters, including those seen in 1991, still exist and may turn up again some day.   That could include not only multiple letters from Dickens, but a treasure trove of letters from other leading authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

 

White Circle Westerns in Services Editions

By the time war broke out in 1939, the Collins White Circle series was well established as a serious competitor to Penguin, particularly in the area of genre fiction – crime, mystery, westerns and romantic novels.   The Crime Club section of the series had published around 80 titles and the Westerns were up to 30 or more.  Titles continued to be added throughout 1940 and 1941, but gradually paper rationing started to bite.  Books had to meet the War Economy standard and the flow of new titles slowed to a trickle.

A paper quota was available though for the paperback Services Editions, and this was one area where Penguin had got it wrong, launching the misconceived ‘Forces Book Club’ and then withdrawing from the market. It was an opportunity for Collins to make an impression, and their product was in some ways ideal for it.  Romantic fiction was not going to work, for what were then almost exclusively male armed forces, but the other categories in their White Circle series could carry straight across.  Crime novels and Westerns were just what the Services wanted.

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White Circle Westerns in standard format and in Services Edition

Over the period from 1943 to 1946 the Collins series of Services Editions published 164 titles, including at least 33 Westerns, and probably 36.  I don’t know exactly how many because I have no idea of the titles of the books numbered c327, c328 and c330.  If anyone does know, or even better has a copy of any of these books, I’d be delighted to hear from them.  The other books with similar numbers are Westerns, so it seems likely that these are too, but I can’t be sure.

Certainly the series started with eight Westerns in the first sixteen titles.  See my post on the early Collins Services Editions for more detail.  It’s enough for now to say that those first eight Westerns have almost disappeared without trace.  In over 25 years of searching for them, I have found only one in first printing and two others in reprints.

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An almost unique example of a Wild West Services Edition from 1943

The next batch through to the end of 1944 is not much better.  I have found copies of just four of the twelve books, but I do at least know the titles of the others, although not their series numbers.  Any evidence of the books below in Services Editions would be welcome.

Curran, Tex Riding fool
Dawson, Peter Time to ride
Ermine, Will Watchdog of Thunder River
Lee, Ranger Red shirt
Lee, Ranger The silver train
Robertson, F. C. Rustlers on the loose
Robertson, F. C. Kingdom for a horse
Short, Luke Ride the man down

That leaves a further thirteen, possibly sixteen, Westerns published in 1945 and 1946.  I have copies of seven of them, some of which I’ve seen more than once, so I suppose they’re a little more common, which is what you’d expect, but they’re still frustratingly difficult to find.

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That’s true of almost all Services Editions, but Westerns do seem to be particularly rare.  It’s true for the smaller number of Westerns in the Guild Books series of Services Editions as well.  I’m pretty sure that the Westerns were printed in at least as large quantities as other titles, but they seem to have survived less well.   I can only assume that’s because they had more use, they were read more avidly and more often, passed around more or borrowed more often from unit libraries.  Services Editions were printed on poor quality paper, and often stored and read in battlefield conditions, and in hot damp climates, so they wouldn’t survive repeated use for long.

Or possibly Westerns were just seen as more disposable, and have continued to be seen in that way.  When service libraries were being cleared out, were Westerns more likely to be thrown away?  If they survived that clear-out and were accepted into somebody’s home, were they still more likely to end up in the bin than other types of fiction?  If they got as far as a second-hand bookshop, would bookdealers have considered them worthy of a place on the shelf?  Or would they have ended up in a box in a dark corner or have been consigned to a cellar to moulder and die?

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Most of the Westerns in the series were written under pseudonyms, and around a third of the books came from a single author, Charles Horace Snow.  He contributed books under three different names – four books as Ranger Lee, four as Gary Marshall and three as Wade Smith. Another eight books came from two brothers – four by Frederick Glidden under the name of Luke Short, and four by his brother Jonathan under the name of Peter Dawson.

I don’t think any of them are much read now.  Westerns were enormously popular in wartime and in the postwar years, but interest in them seems to have gone down and down.  Finding copies of these books, or even any information about them, is a race against time.

What’s in a name? That flaming Jun.

On the title page of early Tauchnitz Editions, the publisher’s name is shown as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’  On any edition published after 1852 it is shown as ‘Bernard Tauchnitz’.  That added Jun. is an important indicator of the age of the book.  But why and how?

EPSON MFP image

When Bernhard Tauchnitz started his own publishing firm in 1837, he was not even 21 years old.  He was certainly young, but’junior’ usually means younger, rather than young. So who was he younger than?   I haven’t been able to find any evidence of his father’s name, but it would make some sense if his father had also been Bernhard Tauchnitz.

However, according to an article written by Tighe Hopkins in 1901, Bernhard’s father had died while his son was quite young, so even if he was called Bernhard, there was probably no need to add ‘Jun.’ to distinguish the son from his father.  But if not needed to distinguish the two, it may still have been a way of referencing and paying respect to his father.

Tighe Hopkins article extract

Extract from an article by Tighe Hopkins in 1901

Or was it more a way of distinguishing Bernhard from his uncle Karl Tauchnitz, whose name was already well known as a printer and publisher in Leipzig?  Bernhard had been apprenticed to his uncle Karl for several years before launching his own firm.  It was where he had learned the publishing business.  The firm of Karl Tauchnitz published cheap editions of Latin and Greek classics, and had introduced to Germany the stereotype method of printing.

There was certainly some risk of confusion between the two companies, and many of Bernhard’s early publications were also in Latin.  But they had different first names, so it’s not obvious that adding ‘Jun.’ to one of them would make much difference.  Anyway Karl Tauchitz had died in 1836 (possibly one of the factors pushing Bernhard to start his own business) and the business had passed to his son, also called Karl (or Carl).  So in some ways there would have been more justification for adding a ‘Jun.’ to Karl Tauchnitz’s name.

Karl Tauchnitz 2

The description ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ is mostly now seen on English language books, but it’s worth noting that it first appeared in 1837 or 1838, some 4 years before the start of the ‘Collection of British Authors’.  It was probably first used on Latin books and in that context makes perfect sense.   Junior may now be mostly thought of as an English word, but its origin is in Latin, as a contraction of ‘juvenior’ meaning younger.  Was that why Bernhard chose ‘Jun.’ rather than the German equivalent, ‘der Jüngere’.  I’m not sure how normal it is to use Jun. as an abbreviation in German.   It was certainly used by Tauchnitz on German books as well as on Latin and English ones, but on French books he used instead ‘Bern. Tauchnitz Jeune’.

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Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun. imprint in a Latin book (with a neat monogram as well)

Bern Tauchnitz Jeune French

Imprint from a French language edition

At the end of 1852, Tauchnitz dropped the ‘Jun.’ and styled himself simply ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ on all subsequent title pages.  He was by then 36 and a very successful publisher, so perhaps Junior was no longer appropriate.  Now, 150 years later though, it’s useful that there are these two different descriptions.   Tauchnitz Editions are very difficult to date, and they provide a quick way to distinguish early editions.

In broad terms, any book that says ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ is printed before 1853, and anything that says ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ is no earlier than late 1852.  In particular the first printings of volumes 1 to 246 in the Collection of British Authors, all (with the one exception of volume 237) say ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’.  Any copy of these books that says ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ must be a reprint, even if there is nothing else to indicate it as such.

Bernard Tauchnitz on a reprint

Bad news!  This book must be much later than 1843

It’s the very first thing I look for in any early Tauchnitz, in particular any volume dated 1852 or earlier on the title page.  A lot of these books were reprinted many times, over almost the next 100 years, and all still with the original first printing date on the title page.  So reprints vastly outnumber first printings, and it’s far more common to see ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ on the title page rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’.   But as soon as you see it, you know it’s a reprint.

Nicholas Nickleby, Tauchnitz and the pirates

Pirate publishers in Continental Europe and in America were a constant irritant to Charles Dickens.  There was probably no other author who suffered as much at their hands. Dickens’s early works were widely pirated in Europe until the first international copyright treaties, starting with the treaty in 1846 between Prussia and the United Kingdom.

Tauchnitz 2 frontispiece

Even many years after that, they were still being pirated in the US and Dickens became a very vocal campaigner for the introduction of international copyright laws.  He never succeeded in his lifetime.  It was not until 1891 that the US introduced an International Copyright Act, and even then it refused to join the international Berne Convention.   Perhaps worth remembering when Americans complain about the lack of copyright protection in China and elsewhere?  Trump will not be the first US president to co-operate with other countries only when it suits him.

All this was far into the future when Bernhard Tauchnitz first launched his series of English language novels in Germany in 1841.  He was free to publish the novels of British Authors without any restriction or any payment, and he enthusiastically joined the pirate band.  To his credit, he realised relatively quickly that the life of a pirate was not for him and set about building relationships with authors, including Dickens.  But for the first 18 months or so, Tauchnitz Editions were unauthorised pirate editions.

Dickens was the new rising star of English literature at that time, challenging the establishment of writers such as Bulwer Lytton, G.P.R. James, Captain Marryat and Walter Scott (who had died 10 years earlier).  The works of all of these authors were widely available in Europe in unauthorised editions, both in English and in translation.  So Tauchnitz was far from the first to publish ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ when it appeared as volumes 47 and 48 of his ‘Collection of British authors’ in 1843.

tauchnitz-47-nicholas-nickleby-title-page

Dickens wrote the novel in 1838 / 1839, publishing it in monthly instalments from March 1838 to October 1839.  Before the final instalment was published, possibly even before it was written, pirate versions of the earlier chapters were appearing.  In 1838, Georg Westerman in Braunchweig was already publishing ‘Leben und Abenteuer des Nicolaus Nickleby. Herausgegeben von Boz, dem Verfasser der Pickwicker‘.  By 1939 the novel had been published in English by J.J. Weber and Frederick Fleischer in Germany and from Paris had appeared in Baudry’s European Library.  In the same year it was published in the US by Lea and Blanchard in Philadelphia and apparently by two New York publishers, William H. Colyer and James Turney.  It seems fairly safe to assume that none of these publishers paid anything to Dickens.

Nickleby German Edition 1839 2a

A pirate German language edition of Nicholas Nickleby, already in 1839, the Second Edition

By early June 1843 when the Tauchnitz Edition of Nickleby appeared, Tauchnitz had already published ‘The Pickwick Papers’ as volumes 2 and 3 of his series, ‘American Notes for general circulation’ as volume 32 and ‘Oliver Twist’ as volume 36.  After Nickleby, ‘Sketches by Boz’ followed a month or two later, bringing the number of unauthorised Dickens volumes to seven.  But change was underway.  Dickens had returned from a six month tour of America in 1842 outraged at the piracy of his works.  In May 1843 he chaired a first meeting of the ‘Association for the Protection of Literature’.  Six weeks after that Tauchnitz made his move, proposing voluntary payment to authors.  His first authorised volume, by G.P.R. James, appeared in August 1843, and by the end of the year he was able to publish a fully authorised edition of Dickens’ latest work, ‘A Christmas Carol’.

So that first unauthorised printing of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ in a Tauchnitz Edition was one of the last few pirate editions Tauchnitz ever published.  It can be identified by the lack of any copyright notice on the title page.  All later printings still show 1843 on the title page, but say clearly ‘copyright edition’.  Any copy printed after about 1853 will also show the later form of the publisher’s name, as ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’

Nicholas Nickleby reprint title page vol I

The title page from a later reprint showing ‘Copyright Edition’  and ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’

It’s not clear  to what extent the agreement with Dickens was retrospective, offering payment for works already published and copies already sold. But it would be surprising if Tauchnitz didn’t offer some payment to wash away his previous sins.  Certainly he seems to have done enough to earn the gratitude of Dickens and to establish cordial relations with him for the rest of his life.  But however much absolution Tauchnitz later received, that first Tauchnitz printing of Nicholas Nickleby still has a tinge of piracy about it.

Just think what Toucan do

Having recently written a post about the Jarrold’s Jackdaw Library, it seems appropriate to follow it up with one about the Toucan novels.   The two series seem to go together in several ways.  They both came from the Hutchinson group of publishers, and they share a physical similarity, not only with each other, but with almost all the new paperback series launched in those few years after Penguin’s breakthrough.  They also share, with each other and with Collins, the use of a white circle as the main title panel.

And of course they both use a bird as their brand and series title.   They were far from the only series to do so in the period after the launch of Penguin Books.

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Toucans and Jackdaws – birds of a feather

In choosing a Toucan as their brand, Hutchinson may have had one eye on Penguin and on Jackdaw, but they probably had the other eye on Guinness, whose famous toucan had appeared just two years earlier.  What would previously have been a rather obscure bird, had been propelled to the centre of media attention by the Guinness advertising campaign.

guinness-toucan-advert-1

In reviewing Jackdaw, I asked the question why Hutchinson needed another paperback series in October 1936.  At that point  they already had the Hutchinson Pocket Library, the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library and the Crime Book Society series, all launched within the previous 12 months.  So it’s even more strange that just 4 months later they launched yet another new series and another new brand.  Was there really a market space left for the Toucan Novels when they appeared in February 1937?

I can’t work out whether it was a deliberate strategy not to put all their eggs in one basket, or just a lack of strategic co-ordination within the group.

 Hutchinson-PL5  hutchinson-ppl10

Other Hutchinson 6d series from 1935 / 1936

Toucan at least showed some evidence of co-ordination, as the books came from several different publishing imprints within the Hutchinson Group.  Most of the first group of titles came from Hurst & Blackett, although there were two from Hutchinson itself.  Then a group of books from Stanley Paul and another from John Long.  But like Jackdaw, and like several other new paperback series in the 1930s, there was then a pause after an initial rush of titles.  It took time for the market to adjust to yet another new paperback series, and time for the initial print run to sell out.

After volume 20 appeared in June 1937, there were no new titles for almost a year, then a small group of titles in summer 1938, but it was not until May 1939 that the series really got going again.  The main publisher in this second phase was Stanley Paul, although there were also books from Hurst & Blackett and a few from Skeffington & Son.

The covers of the early books were printed in two colours to highlight the Toucan’s yellow beak, and most of the early books were in a purply crimson colour, with a few in green. The group of books from volumes 17 to 20, all published by John Long, are missing the yellow highlighting on the book covers, although it is still there on the dust-wrappers.  Was this an economy measure, saving on two colour printing in a place where it would not normally be noticed by the purchaser?  Or was it just a mistake?

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Front cover and dust-wrapper of volume 17

It turned out, perhaps inadvertently, to be a herald of the future.  From around volume 32 onwards, possibly earlier, all or almost all books were printed with yellow covers.  This allowed the toucan’s beak to be yellow without the need for two-colour printing, although it did lose some of the earlier impact.  A little while later, dust-wrappers were dropped, and then prices started to creep up, with some volumes selling for a while at 7d, before wartime economy measures really started to bite.

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An early Toucan in green and a later one in yellow

By mid 1940 it was impossible to continue on anything like the pre-war basis, and the numbered series came to an end with volume 62.  A few more books were published during the war, effectively as one-offs, but they had to meet the war economy standard, which meant low paper quality, small fonts and small margins, making the most of the paper rationing that was hitting all publishers.   I know of two wartime Toucans at 9d, although there may well be others.  Then later, at least three books at 1s 3d, and post-war others at 1s 6d.

The books published in the Toucan series had no great literary pretensions, and few of them are much remembered today.  The authors are generally pretty obscure, although there is one Edgar Wallace title and perhaps most significantly, two of the Maigret books by Georges Simenon.  Simenon was at that time so little known in Britain that he had to be described on the book cover as ‘The Edgar Wallace of France’.

As a final comment, seven books in the Hutchinson Group series of Services Editions were also referred to as Toucan Novels in a brief mention at the top of the cover.   It’s not entirely clear what the point of this was, as there was no other Toucan branding, and only one of the books had previously appeared as a Toucan novel.  Indeed three were from a publisher, Rich and Cowan, which had not previously contributed books to the Toucan series.  But it’s one of many examples of confusion in branding within the Hutchinson Group at that time.

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Jarrold and the Jackdaws

It’s usually only people from Norwich who recognise the name Jarrold.   In that area it’s well known as the name of a big department store, and was for a time the name of a stand at Norwich City’s football ground.  The Jarrold Group that run the store was also for many years involved both in printing and in publishing.  The John Jarrold Printing Museum in Norwich is a lasting reminder of their connection with printing.

The name is less well remembered in publishing, but it has a history stretching back almost 200 years.  According to the history on the company’s website, John Jarrold had established a printing press in 1815 and was moving into publishing by 1823.  Jarrold & Sons, as the business became known, was never a major publisher, but it had some striking successes, notably publishing the first edition of ‘Black Beauty’ in 1877.

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The first printing of ‘Black Beauty’, published by Jarrold and Sons

After that the company history becomes a bit vague about what happened to the publishing business.  Wikipedia says Jarrold Publishing was sold to Sutton Publishing in 2007, but the story must be more complicated than this.   It seems clear that at least by the end of the 1930s, the publisher Jarrold & Sons was part of the Hutchinson Group, the group of companies put together by Walter Hutchinson.     The group included John Long, Hurst & Blackett, Stanley Paul, Rich & Cowan, Skeffington and others, as well as Jarrold and Hutchinson itself.  I’m not clear how separate all these companies were.  Each continued to publish books under its own imprint, but particularly in paperback, the books increasingly resembled each other, and sometimes books from different publishers appeared in the same series.

By October 1936, when Jarrold launched a new paperback series, the Jarrolds’ ‘Jackdaw’ Library, the whole paperback  publishing industry in Britain was in turmoil.  Penguin’s launch a year earlier had completely changed the basis of competition in the industry.  Illustrated covers suddenly looked either old-fashioned or down-market or possibly both.

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The Hutchinson Group had already reacted by launching a new Penguin-style series, the Hutchinson Pocket Library, just three months after Penguin.  Alongside this, it had started the companion ‘Crime Book Society’ series, and also a more down-market series of mostly romances, the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library.

So quite why it needed another paperback series competing in the same market, is far from obvious.  Perhaps Jarrold was at this point operating independently from the Hutchinson Group?  Perhaps there was some perceived distinction between the type of stories in the Hutchinson Pocket Library and the sort published by Jarrold?  In retrospect it seems surprising that they didn’t just combine the series, but at the time they no doubt had their reasons.

They were far from the only company to choose another bird’s name for a series competing with Penguin, and the choice of Jackdaw probably owed something to alliteration.  In most other respects they followed the Penguin model directly – same size, same price, same standard designed cover with a strong series branding, same variety of bold colours, same use of dustwrappers in the same design as the covers.

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In some of the details though they were a bit quirkier.   Their title panel, a white circle on the cover, was copied directly from Collins rather than Penguin, and the choice of colours on the books seems initially to be fairly random, rather than representing genre.  Later on they came into line with almost everybody else by mostly allocating green covers to crime books.  Another quirk was the picture of the jackdaw, which varied slightly from book to book.  There were at least five different drawings, all perched on a post and creating much the same visual impact, but adopting different positions.

jackdaw-drawings

The type of book published was very similar to Penguin.  One of Jarrold’s leading authors at the time was Ethel Mannin, and they had already sold paperback rights for two of her novels to Penguin before starting their own series.  Now another five appeared in the Jackdaw Library, alongside three others by Margery Allingham, later acquired by Penguin.  The highlight of the short series though was Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s ‘Scots Quair’ trilogy.  All three volumes appeared in the series, although slightly oddly, not in the ‘right’ order.  Also included was ‘Spartacus’ written under the same author’s real name, as J. Leslie Mitchell.

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The first eight Jackdaw books appeared together in October 1936 and were followed by another eight in the first three months of 1937, bringing the series up to volume 16.  Volumes 17 to 20 were published in June 1937 before they seemed to run out of steam.   Perhaps they weren’t selling well, or perhaps it was just that as a small publisher they didn’t have enough titles to maintain such a fast pace.

A further two titles appeared a year later in June 1938, both crime titles, and after another year’s gap the series re-launched as the Jackdaw Crime Series, with the numbering starting again from one.  Presumably the crime titles were selling better than the general fiction.

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An early Jackdaw Crime Series title and a later one, unusually in yellow

But by this time war was on the horizon.  Eight Jackdaw Crime Series titles were published in 1939 and another eight by about the end of 1940.  But the books became thinner and lost their dustwrappers as wartime conditions and paper rationing started to bite.  The numbered series ended at volume 16, with a few more unnumbered books appearing later, with the price increased to ninepence.

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A wartime unnumbered title at ninepence

The Hutchinson Services Editions later included a small number of Jarrolds Jackdaw titles and there were even a few more Jackdaws published after the war, but that’s another story.   As a branded series of paperbacks, the Jarrolds Jackdaw Library really lasted only about four years, between 1936 and 1940.  I don’t imagine many people collect them today, or even remember them.  They were though an important part of the great flourishing of paperback series that occurred between the launch of Penguin and the Second World War.

How an albatross gave birth to an entire aviary

When Albatross Books was launched in 1932 to compete with Tauchnitz selling English language books in continental Europe, the name was said to have been chosen because it was almost the same word in all European languages.  The elegant silhouette of an Albatross was a nice design touch, but it seems unlikely that they started off with the idea of having a bird as a motif and then settled on an Albatross as the most suitable bird.

But that seems to be precisely what many other publishing companies did in the years that followed.  The first imitator was Penguin Books, who launched their paperback series in the UK just 3 years later.  Before the launch Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, had explored the possibility of a joint venture with Albatross.  When that didn’t work, he decided to go it alone, but copied all the principal design features of Albatross, including the use of a seabird as the logo and name of the series.

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Penguin’s launch in the UK was such a success that a large part of the UK publishing industry felt it had to respond by launching similar series, copying many of the design features that Penguin in turn had copied from Albatross.  Perhaps most importantly this meant scrapping cover art and using instead a standard cover design, mostly typographical, and designed to provide a strong identity for the series rather than the individual book.

But for several publishers, copying Penguin’s design features also meant copying their use of a bird as a logo.   The Hutchinson Group even had two goes at it, with the series of Toucan novels, and the Jarrolds Jackdaw series. When the Lutterworth Press launched a series of children’s books, it looked for a correspondingly small bird and came up with Wren Books.  Another publisher of children’s books, Juvenile Productions Ltd., started the Martyn Library, featuring a bird that is presumably meant to be a martin, although I can’t explain the slightly odd spelling.

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One publisher, Methuen, settled on the kingfisher as a logo, but resisted the temptation to call their series Kingfisher books, choosing instead the more prosaic ‘Methuen’s Sixpennies’.  Penguin meanwhile, perhaps concerned that it was losing its distinctiveness, decided to lay claim to all the other birds it could think of that began with a P.  So its non-fiction series was called Pelican Books, its children’s series was called Puffin and there was even a short-lived series of miscellaneous titles at the end of the war called Ptarmigan Books.

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I make that at least eight series of paperback books in the UK given bird logos just between 1935 and 1939, with one later on in 1945.  Not bad for the brood of a single Albatross.

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How Crime became green

The launch of Penguin in July 1935 changed many things in British paperbacks.  Most of their design innovations were copied from the continental publisher Albatross, but other publishers quickly copied them from Penguin and in just a few years they became the standard market practice.

One of these changes was the use of colour to signify the genre of the book.  For Penguin, orange meant  fiction and crime was green.  These two became the dominant colours in the Penguin series, although there was also blue for biography, cerise for travel, red for drama and so on.

For Albatross though, green had meant travel, and they had used red for crime, both in the main series and in the Albatross Crime Club series, which had distinctive red and black covers.  Was red a more appropriate colour for crime?  On the other hand Collins had already issued Crime Club paperbacks in the UK, predominantly in green, so perhaps it was the more natural choice in the UK.

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Pre-Penguin crime paperbacks in the UK were often green

But for Albatross in continental Europe, crime was always red

When it became clear that Penguin’s experiment was a success, others rushed to follow, including of course Collins, who relaunched their Crime Club paperbacks in 1936 in a Penguin style format, with no cover art.  They naturally chose green, using a stylised illustration of two figures with knife and gun, later adding westerns in yellow and mysteries in purple.

Hutchinson had launched its rival Penguin-style series in October 1935, using a variety of colours, but no clear indication of genre.  In June 1936 it added an associated crime series under the ‘Crime Book Society’ brand, and again used a range of colours.

Early Crime Book Society titles used all sorts of colours

But their distinctiveness didn’t last for long.  Within a year or so they too had accepted that crime meant green.  From about September 1937 onwards, all Crime Book Society paperbacks appeared in green covers. They were soon followed by two other imprints, both related to the Hutchinson Group, the Jackdaw Crime series and the Crime Novel Library.  Both series used only green covers and the convention now seemed to be well established – green means crime.

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Tauchnitz ‘Cabinet Editions’

Tauchnitz Editions sold for around the equivalent of 1s 6d, certainly much cheaper than the typical 7s 6d price for a hardback in the UK in the 19th century, but they were not exactly cheap paperbacks.   In the UK paperbacks rarely sold for more than 6d, even for much of the first half of the twentieth century, and were often more like 3d or 4d.

Although the Tauchnitz Editions were mostly sold as paperbacks, the expectation was that many of them would be privately bound and so the quality of the paper, the printing  and the binding had to be consistent with this.  They had a delicate balance to strike between quality and price – not such high quality that they were too expensive to be bought as paperbacks, but sufficiently high to be privately bound and last for hundreds of years.

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A typical 19th century Tauchnitz paperback, selling for ½ Thaler

But doesn’t every publisher dream of being able to escape from the constraints of price and produce higher quality editions?   Tauchnitz certainly did, and the result was a very short series of gift books, known as the ‘Cabinet Edition of English Classics’, starting in 1862.

Two of the volumes, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ by Byron, and ‘The lady of the lake’ by Walter Scott, were lengthy narrative poems that had already been published by Tauchnitz as part of larger volumes of poetry.  The other two were Shakespeare plays, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, available both as individual plays and as part of longer volumes.  So all four were already sold by Tauchnitz, and at much cheaper prices. Here each is extracted to form a small gift-book on its own and is given a cloth binding with both gilt and blind-stamped decoration,  an engraved frontispiece, higher quality paper and all edges gilded.  Everything needed for them to appear like an attractive gift or keepsake.

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There is little information on the series in the Tauchnitz bibliography by Todd & Bowden, partly because the authors were able to find just a single copy of two of the books and no copy at all of the other two.  This no doubt partly reflects the low numbers produced and the even lower numbers now surviving, but also probably that being unlike most other Tauchnitz editions, they are rarely found in the standard Tauchnitz collections.  They are undoubtedly rare, but perhaps not as rare as the evidence of the bibliography would suggest.  There are now copies of all four in my own collection, and I have seen evidence of several other copies.

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The evidence of the copies I have, contradicts the numbering and the dates assigned to them by Todd & Bowden.  The books themselves are not numbered, but the bibliography gives ‘The lady of the lake’ precedence over ‘Hamlet’ on the incorrect assumption that they were published in 1862 and 1863 respectively.  In practice the dates were the other way round, so that ‘Hamlet’ was one of the first two volumes, together with ‘Childe Harold’.   The final volume was ‘Romeo and Juliet’, published in 1864.

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The frontispiece to Hamlet

Incidentally the photo above shows each in a different colour cover, but it may not be as simple as this.  I have seen ‘Childe Harold’ in bindings of two different colours and with other differences as well, so it’s not clear exactly what else may exist.

The price they were sold at, according to Todd & Bowden (referencing the 1880 German Book Catalogue) was 3 Marks (or 1 Thaler) for each of the poems, and 2 Marks (around 0.70 Thaler) for the Shakespeare plays.  As far as I can tell, this price sounds reasonable for what they are, but the individual Shakespeare plays sold in paperback for 0.1 Thaler, so they may have looked expensive in comparison.

Anyway as the series extended to only these four volumes, it seems safe to assume that they were not a success.  At least one of the books though seems to have enjoyed a second life as a tourist souvenir in Rome.  A range of Tauchnitz books with Italian themes or settings were produced by or for the Italian tourist trade in the 1870s and 1880s, bound in vellum and mostly extra-illustrated.  ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was too small to be extra-illustrated with postcards, but it is now found in a variety of vellum bindings that seem to come from Italy.  They’re likely to be quite a bit later than the original issue of the book.  Did Tauchnitz have left over copies that they were happy to recycle in this way?  Or did Italian bookbinders order new sets of printed pages for binding?

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An Italian vellum bound edition

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Four versions in custom bindings, each one slightly different

Penguin’s highbrow reputation

I keep coming back to the launch of Penguin Books in July 1935.  In publishing terms it was an absolutely seminal event, and this blog is after all called Paperback Revolution.

But one of the reasons I keep coming back to it is that I still feel it’s an event that is often misunderstood.  Some people seem to think paperbacks didn’t even exist before Penguin, although they had already existed for centuries.  Others think they were the first to sell at 6d, although lots of paperbacks were sold at 6d before Penguin, and at cheaper prices too. There was even a series of hardback books at 7d, launched shortly before Penguin. Another claim is that Penguin’s key breakthrough was to publish contemporary literature in paperback, within a year or two of first publication.  In practice though, their first ten books were published on average 12 years after first publication, and for the second ten this rose to 17 years.

But one of the most persistent beliefs is that Penguin were the first to sell quality highbrow literature in paperback, whereas most previous paperbacks were downmarket and trashy.  There’s enough truth in this one to encourage its adherents, but it needs to be examined critically.

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Pre-Penguin Paperbacks from 1905 and from around 1930

These were the first ten Penguins, published in July 1935:

  1.  Ariel by Andre Maurois
  2. A farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway
  3. Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater
  4. Madame Claire by Susan Ertz
  5. The unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers
  6. The mysterious affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  7. Twenty-five by Beverley Nichols
  8. William by E.H. Young
  9. Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
  10. Carnival by Compton Mackenzie

There can be no doubt about ‘A farewell to arms’.  This is a genuine classic, the reputation of which was already established by 1935 and has only continued to grow since then.  But what about the rest of them?

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‘Ariel’, a biography of Shelley translated from the original French, was surely a serious highbrow book?  Well, not really.  It’s an example of a romance biography, which had been a relatively new style in the 1920s (the book was first published in France in 1923, and in Britain in 1924), combining fictionalised elements with a description of Shelley’s life.  Described by one recent reviewer as ‘a featherlite meringue of a book … Shelley’s short life as a Hollywood melodrama … Skin-deep characterisation, shamelessly invented conversations and pulse-pounding dramaturgy put the whole experience closer to Downton Abbey than anything resembling scholarly rigour’.  That doesn’t sound as if it’s a revolution from the paperbacks that were on offer before Penguin arrived.

Number 3, ‘Poet’s Pub’ is a sub-P.G. Wodehouse comic novel, while Number 4, ‘Madame Claire’ is a light romantic story, at best middlebrow.  Neither has laid any claim to literary posterity.  Numbers 5 and 6 are both crime stories, relatively classic ones, but from a genre that was widely available in paperback long before Penguin.  ‘Twenty-five’ by Beverley Nichols, is then an early ‘autobiography’ from someone now best known as a gardening writer.  In reality though it’s more an account of the various celebrities he had met.  In modern terms it’s almost celebrity journalism.

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Number 8, ‘William’ by E.H. Young, is another light romantic novel by an author who was bestselling in her day, but has been forgotten by history, as is Number 9.  Mary Webb, author of ‘Gone to Earth’ wrote what have become known as ‘loam and lovechild’ stories of rural life, aping the style of Thomas Hardy.  Webb’s style had already been parodied by Stella Gibbons in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, which might have been a more radical choice for Penguin’s ‘first ten’.  It did appear later.

That leaves ‘Carnival’ by Compton Mackenzie, the oldest book in the first batch, having been first published in 1912.  It’s the story of a dancer, her life and loves, which had been very popular in its day and twice made into a film.  Maybe a slightly more serious choice, but certainly not a revolution in terms of the type of book available in paperback.

As an aside, two of those ‘first ten’ authors,  Compton Mackenzie and Eric Linklater, were active in the Scottish National Party, formed only a few years earlier, even though Mackenzie was born in England and Linklater in Wales.  Perhaps their political legacy is greater than their literary legacy?

Overall it seems to me hard to sustain an argument that Penguin’s early success was due to publishing more highbrow literature than had previously been available in paperback.  The story is more complicated than that.  Penguin undoubtedly did go on to publish serious literature and established something of a highbrow reputation through ventures such as Pelican and the Penguin Classics.  But I’d argue their early success was more to do with getting rid of illustrated covers, than with the actual quality of the literature.  Penguin’s real trick was to make you feel you were reading serious literature, rather than another trashy paperback.  But what it actually served up within those iconic covers, was often very similar to what had gone before.