Category Archives: Vintage Paperbacks
It was Charles Dickens who quickly became the star writer of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, but when the series launched in 1841, Dickens was only 29 years old and had published relatively few works. He had already written ‘The Pickwick Papers’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ all of which appeared early on in the Tauchnitz series, and he was at work on ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock’. These on their own were more than enough to cement his reputation in literary terms, but in terms of quantity, they were not enough to sustain the new series.
That task fell instead in large part to Edward Bulwer Lytton, perhaps the most popular writer of the 1830s, filling the gap between Walter Scott and Dickens. His reputation has not survived in the same way, but in his time he was seen as a master storyteller (before Dickens came along to redefine the term). Bulwer Lytton’s books were widely pirated in continental Europe, and in publishing them in his new series, Tauchnitz was following in the footsteps of several other publishers. It was a natural way to keep the series going, while he prepared his revolutionary plans to pay authors for permission to publish authorised editions of their latest works.
Three of the first ten volumes in the Tauchnitz series were by Bulwer Lytton, including ‘Pelham’ as volume 1. By volume 25, he accounted for 12 volumes and by the time the series moved away from piracy to publishing editions sanctioned by the author, the tally had increased to 15 volumes. Almost all of Bulwer’s previous works had by then appeared, and later works appeared in authorised editions as they were written, over the next 30 years.
As the author most ‘pirated’ in the early years of the series, Bulwer might reasonably have borne Tauchnitz some ill will, but this seems not to have been the case. The grand gesture Tauchnitz made in offering to pay for authorisation, when there was no legal requirement to do so, seems to have silenced all his critics and established his reputation as a man of principle from then on.
In that rush of early pirate editions, one book that stands out is ‘Godolphin and Falkland’, which appeared as volume 23 of the series in 1842. It combines two works – ‘Godolphin’, a satirical novel from 1833, and ‘Falkland’, a shorter work written in the form of a series of letters.
Very unusually for Tauchnitz, the first printing is marked by a major printing error on the title page, where the title is shown as ‘Codolphin and Falkland’. As it is written correctly on the front wrappers and half-title, on the fly-title which follows the main title page, and throughout the novel, this seems to be a simple error in typesetting and proofreading. Such errors are rare though in Tauchnitz Editions and no doubt this one caused a good deal of distress to Dr. Fluegel, who according to the wrappers was responsible for ‘the corrections of the press’. It reminds me of the error allegedly committed by a priest saying Grace who referred to ‘the piece of Cod that passeth all understanding’.
The title page was corrected in later printings, but all early copies seem to have this misprint. Corrected copies appear only with the more modern typeface adopted in 1848, and are marked as copyright editions, so misprinted copies continued to be sold for around six years. It’s hard to imagine such a fundamental error being allowed to continue for so long these days. If nothing else, the author would surely insist on the book being withdrawn and pulped, but as this was initially a pirate edition, the author had no say.
Any copy of the book with the misprint is from those first 6 years, but as usual with Tauchnitz, the only way of being sure that a copy is a first printing, is if the original wrappers are still present. Tauchnitz bibliographers Todd & Bowden were unable to find any copy in original wrappers earlier than 1875, which hardly helps us. But the copy in my own collection is in a makeshift binding for the Jens & Gassmann circulating library in Solothurn, Switzerland, matching the similar copy of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, that I believe could be the earliest copy of this novel in book form anywhere in the world.
In particular, although these volumes are privately bound, the original paper wrappers are bound in, and provide the evidence for precise dating. In the case of ‘Godolphin and Falkland’, the rear wrapper lists just the first 25 volumes in the series, which makes it almost certainly the earliest wrapper, and the book therefore a first printing.
In wartime, everyone had to be satisfied with less and that included the youngest. While books for adults were in short supply and had to be crammed onto as little paper as possible, books for young children, which were already small, had to be made even smaller. As Gulliver Books put it, “On all sides there must be economy. When victory is obtained we shall again have a plentiful supply of famous works in popular editions. In the meantime …”.
And in the meantime, they produced books so small they would fit easily into a wallet, perhaps into a credit card slot if such things had then existed, or more likely at the time into a cigarette packet. They are sometimes referred to as ‘air raid shelter’ books, produced to distract children from the noise and the terror of air raids. But they are so small that (for an adult) they barely take ten minutes to read, which wouldn’t have provided much distraction during the long hours that were often spent in shelters.
In design terms the Gulliver Little Books look remarkably like miniature Penguins, using the same tripartite layout with a broad horizontal white title panel between two blocks of colour above and below. The series title in the top block and the logo in the bottom block also follow the Penguin model, with a picture of Gulliver replacing the Penguin, and a shield for the series title rather than Penguin’s odd shaped blob. The similarity is of course deliberate, with Penguin the leading paperback publisher at the time, and the one that carried an air of prestige and sophistication.
Unlike Penguin though (and Albatross before them), the colours have no apparent meaning. The same book may be found in a range of different coloured covers. There are so many variations that this looks to me to have been a deliberate policy from the start, rather than a case of books being reprinted later in whatever colour card was to hand.
The Gulliver Book company was based in Lower Chelston in Devon, a suburb of Torquay, not normally known as a centre of book publishing. I know little of the history of the business, but it seems to have specialised in small scale reprints of classic children’s books. Its paper usage may have been quite low before the war, so that when paper rationing came in, its quota would have been correspondingly low, perhaps leaving it little choice but to opt for miniature books.
It had competitors in the market for miniature books for children at the time. These included the ‘Mighty Midgets’ series, published by W. Barton, and the ‘Pocket Wonder Library’ published by PM (Productions) Ltd. I suspect both of these were very small scale publishers as well, so this may have been a bit of a cottage industry in wartime.
The Gulliver Little Books series eventually included a total of 36 books, starting with an abridged version of ‘A midsummer night’s dream’ from Lamb’s ‘Tales from Shakespeare’. Like many of the books, it is not an easy read for a child. Charles and Mary Lamb, writing in 1807, wrote in a style that is more convoluted than any children’s author would use today. The plot of ‘A midsummer night’s dream’ is complicated anyway and abridging makes it even more so. It would have to be a fairly bright young reader who was reading and making sense of this on his or her own.
The books are very different from the kind of thing that Penguin was publishing for children at the same time in its new Puffin imprint. They are all classic stories from a previous generation, and written in the style of a previous generation. This was not a company doing much to support new writers through the payment of royalties. It looks to me as if all or almost all of their books would have been out of copyright.
How much did they cost? There is no price on them, and given that typical paperbacks were selling for sixpence before the war (ninepence by the end of it), it’s hard to imagine that these tiny books can have cost more than one or two pence. Paper costs would have been low and author payments possibly non-existent. I’ve seen it suggested though that the similar (if slightly more luxurious) ‘Mighty Midgets’ series, sold for threepence a copy. Could prices of the Gulliver Little Books have reached these dizzy heights?
There is no date on them either, although they were clearly published sometime between 1939 and 1945. As well as appearing in multiple colours, they also exist in two different formats. Most copies, particularly the earlier ones, are produced in four ‘gatherings’ of 8 pages each, stapled across the spine. Later printings are in a single gathering stapled through the spine. The difference can be seen in the picture above of different printings of the Charles Dickens book, and in the example below of a later printing.
My best guess is that books in the earlier format might be from around 1942 /43 and the later format more like 1945, but this is only a guess. Presumably the series then came to a natural end at the end of the war. I doubt they were much mourned.
Who today would consider buying a new paperback, where the cover had been replaced by a standard blank cover with the title and author written in by hand? And what bookshop would consider asking the publisher to replace the normal cover with a blank one so that they could write on it?
Yet that seems to be exactly what happened in the 19th and early 20th century with at least two booksellers and one publisher. I’m writing again about the Tauchnitz Editions, published in continental Europe for around 100 years from 1841. They were published in Leipzig and sold through a huge number of continental bookshops. The vast majority of these of course used the standard Tauchnitz paperback wrappers. But the Nicolaische Buchhandlung , and later the Kaufhaus des Westens (KDW), both in Berlin, opted for a different arrangement. Oddly both shops still exist today, which is not true of many bookshops from over 100 years ago, so perhaps it was a commercially successful idea.
For each of them, Tauchnitz used special wrappers with the name of the shop on, but blank spaces on the front and the spine, where they could write in the series number, title and author. I’m assuming it was Tauchnitz who used the special wrappers, and not the booksellers who stripped off the normal wrapper and rebound the books themselves?
The earlier bookstore to use handwritten wrappers was the Nicolaische Buchhandlung, roughly from the 1880s to around 1910. I have two examples in my own collection, pictured here, but there are multiple examples in other collections, including around 70 of them in a state collection in Berlin itself. Both of the examples I have are missing the half-title page at the front, which is unusual for paperback copies. That makes them difficult to date accurately, but may be evidence that suggests the original wrapper was removed and replaced, rather than the books being bound in the special wrapper from the start.
The wrappers for the Kaufhaus des Westens are known in only a single copy, post World War 1, but presumably there must have been others.
The question is why would booksellers do this? To my eyes the books with their scrawly handwriting look significantly less attractive than with the normal neatly printed Tauchnitz wrappers. The writing is not always easy to read, so it wouldn’t be easy for customers to scan them and decide quickly which books they might be interested in. That would be particularly true if the books were placed on shelves with only the spine showing, which would presumably be the usual position. There’s barely room on the spine to write in the title, so the writing is inevitably cramped and often almost illegible.
The advantage is perhaps that the books can carry advertising for the bookseller. In particular the back wrapper is used for bookseller advertising rather than the usual list of other titles in the series, which is really publisher advertising, although in the bookseller’s interest as well. But was it really worth it?
There are lots of people who collect crime fiction and many who research it and blog about it. There seem to be rather fewer these days who are interested in westerns, and less is written about western fiction, but it certainly still has many devotees. Even gangster novels and other specialist genres are well collected. So I suppose there must also be people who collect romantic fiction and are passionately interested, if that’s the right word, in the genre. I’ve never met any of them though, and prices of romantic novels in vintage paperbacks remain generally very low, so I doubt there can be very many collectors around.
All of which means that despite the prominence of the general Collins White Circle series over a period of almost 25 years, its sub-series covering romantic fiction has attracted little attention.
It was in any case a bit of an afterthought to the White Circle series. The Crime Club novels had first appeared in 1936, followed later that same year by the launch of western novels, numbered from 101, and in January 1937 by a mystery sub-series numbered from 201. The name ‘White Circle’ for the overall series started to appear about July 1937, although the use of a large white circle as the title panel was a unifying element in the branding long before then. Each genre though had its own colour and its own standard cover design as well as its own block of numbers.
When three volumes of Galsworthy’s ‘Forsyte Saga’ appeared in February 1937, it was obvious from their appearance that they were intended to be part of the White Circle series, although they were unnumbered and not obviously part of any sub-series or genre. They were followed in April / May by a group of six romance novels, numbered from 304 to 309, and with the listing of other novels at the back now including the Forsyte Saga novels as numbers 301 to 303.
So the ‘300 series’ now seemed to be established as a slightly odd combination of Galsworthy and Romance. Three further Forsyte Saga novels appeared in August / September 1937, oddly again unnumbered, but quickly identified in other volumes as 310 to 312. Then more Romance novels in early 1938 with numbering from 313 and from this point on, the 300 series of numbers is essentially reserved for romantic fiction. A sort of turquoisy blue was established as the colour for the genre, and a stylish lady’s head as the distinctive symbol in the bottom right of the cover. The series was clearly aimed at women readers and although the image looks a little quaint and demure to modern eyes, it must have been an aspirational look at the time. At first it appeared only on the dustwrappers and the covers of the books themselves were left plain.
The authors of the early novels included Renee Shann, Pamela Wynne (a pseudonym of Winifred Mary Scott), Betty Trask and Henry de Vere Stacpoole, each with several novels in the series. None of the names mean much to me and I don’t think they’re much remembered, although I see Betty Trask’s name is still attached to a fiction prize for young authors. It’s described as being established from money left in her will by the ‘reclusive author of over 30 romance novels’.
The list gradually extended up to volume 330 by the end of 1939 and continued well into the war years, reaching volume 359 by March 1942. There was one interloper – volume 321 in August 1938, was a special film tie-in edition of ‘A Yank at Oxford’ by A.P. Garland in a specially illustrated cover, but mostly the books followed a fairly standard format. The lady’s head on the dustwrapper was altered at some point in 1939 (making her look slightly older and with a less prominent nose?), the ‘White Circle’ branding was introduced, and the words ‘A love story’ added to the cover.
At least one of the two Philip Hughes novels in 1940 / 41 appeared with an alternative purple cover featuring a head and shoulders portrait of the author (a format more consistent with the later ‘500 series’ of volumes), but otherwise there was little change. In line with the rest of the series and most other paperbacks, dustwrappers disappeared from about 1940 and from that point on the illustration was carried on the front cover of the book itself.
Romantic novels did not re-appear with the other sub-series after the war and it was not until 1950 that the series started again in a rather different format. From here on they are still branded ‘A White Circle Pocket novel’ but they have pictorial covers and as a result look very different from other books in the series. The Penguin hegemony that had imposed non-illustrated covers on the market for any paperbacks with up-market pretensions, for 15 years by this point, was now starting to break down. Collins must have felt it was worth breaking away from it for romance novels, although perhaps oddly, they stuck with non-illustrated covers on westerns and other genres for another nine years – almost as long as Penguin themselves did.
Methuen were a relative latecomer to the ‘sixpenny’ market established by Penguin in 1935. Other companies had reacted much more quickly, so by the time Methuen finally launched their new series in 1939, it was a crowded market. The Collins White Circle series was well established by then, as was the Hutchinson Pocket Library, and many other series too. All of these new series shared the key elements of the Penguin revolution – same size, same price, standard designed covers without cover illustration, and dustwrappers in the same design as the book cover.
Several of them also shared the idea of using a bird as their logo – Jackdaw Books, Toucan Books and Wren Books had already joined Penguin and Pelican. So for Methuen to choose a Kingfisher as their logo, as well as copying all the other elements that had become standard, was hardly breaking the mould. At least they didn’t call their series Kingfisher Books, settling instead for Methuen’s Sixpennies.
The series launched with the first four books in April 1939, although the list of titles on the back cover of the books already anticipated a roll-out of books up to number 14. In practice further batches of four books appeared in each of May 1939, June 1939 and July 1939, taking the series up to sixteen books, before it paused. There was nothing more for a full year, until another batch of four titles appeared, dated August 1940.
By this time of course the war was well under way and paper rationing was starting to bite. The effects of it are seen in the abandoning of dustwrappers, and the limiting of the length of the books to 192 pages. Pre-war issues had up to 320 pages and looked generally much bulkier. The wartime books have smaller type, smaller margins and thinner paper as well, so look meagre in comparison. The August 1940 batch are also coloured a pale yellow on the cover, although later titles revert to the pre-war white.
There were twelve more titles to come, published in three batches of four, in January, February and March 1941. Other than going back to white on the cover, they follow the same format as the 1940 issues and all are limited to 192 pages. The final eight books resort to advertising for ‘Shadphos’ tonic tablets (‘commonly known as “brain sparklers”‘!) on the back cover, rather than a list of other titles.
The selection of titles published in the series is generally middlebrow – the type of book that could easily have been published by Penguin. There are titles by Arnold Bennett and A.P. Herbert, Jack London, P.G. Wodehouse and Marjorie Bowen. Indeed all of these authors did, sooner or later, have books published by Penguin. There’s a good range of crime titles and thrillers too, if not by the very best known crime writers – they had mostly been snapped up by Collins. Authors such as Sax Rohmer, George A. Birmingham, Walter S. Masterman and E. Phillips Oppenheim were popular though in their day and still attract some interest today. And then there’s a single Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Overall from a selection of only thirty-two books, that’s not a bad list. It seems unlikely that the series failed because the books weren’t good enough. In the end it probably failed just because of bad timing – three years earlier and it might have succeeded. But launching in April 1939 into a crowded market, just before war and paper rationing were about to hit, was about the worst timing possible.
At the end of Part 1, I left the story in 1882 after Hardy’s first five novels had been published in the Tauchnitz series in two volumes each. His next novel, ‘Two on a Tower’, published that year in the UK, followed in the Tauchnitz Edition in 1883.
For the previous novel, Hardy seems to have considered leaving Tauchnitz to return to the Asher’s Series, but with that unpleasantness behind him, he now expresses full confidence in the firm in a letter of 12 December 1882. The price offered returns again though to the lower level of £40, earlier paid for ‘Far from the madding crowd’. ‘Two on a tower’ appears in two volumes in February 1883, as volumes 2118 and 2119 of the Tauchnitz series.
Tauchnitz at this point also asks Hardy to name a price for two of his earlier novels, ‘Desperate remedies’ and ‘A pair of blue eyes’. The first of these never appears in the Tauchnitz series, but ‘A pair of blue eyes’ does appear the following year as volumes 2282 and 2283 of the series. The first printing is dated September 1884 in paperback and copies in hardback should list only 6 other Hardy titles on the half-title verso of the second volume.
Front and rear wrappers of a rare first printing paperback copy of vol. 2283
After this though there’s a long gap before publication of anything further by Hardy in the Tauchnitz series. Between 1884 and 1891, Hardy publishes ‘The mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘The Woodlanders’ and ‘Wessex Tales’ in the UK, but none of these appear in continental editions. It’s not until August 1891, with publication of ‘A group of noble dames’ that Hardy is taken up again. This collection of short stories appears in a single volume as volume 2750, shortly after its UK publication.
The more significant event of 1891 though is the publication of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ in serial form in the UK publication ‘The Graphic’. Tauchnitz seems to realise quickly that this is a major work and pays Hardy £100 for the continental rights, a significant increase on earlier payments. The book appears in January 1892 as volumes 2800 and 2801 of the Tauchnitz Edition, shortly after UK publication in book form at the end of 1891. The first printing lists 8 other Hardy titles, from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘A group of noble dames’, on the back of the half-title of volume 2. There are multiple reprints, listing different numbers of titles (usually between 9 and 12) on the half-title of either volume 1 or volume 2, over the next 40 years.
First printing copy of Tess of the D‘Urbervilles, volume 2 in original wrappers
Another collection of short stories, ‘Life’s Little Ironies’ is published in a single volume in May 1894 as volume 2985, before the appearance of ‘Jude the Obscure’ in early 1896. This is again in two volumes as volumes 3105 and 3106, only very shortly after UK publication and dated January 1896 on the first printing in paperback. Hardback copies are even harder than usual to date. They should certainly list ten other Hardy titles in the first printing, but should also show ‘Printing Office of the Publisher’ at the back (page 296 in volume 1). Copies that instead show ‘Printed by Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig’ are much later reprints, even if they list only ten, or even fewer, titles.
First printing copy of Jude the Obscure, volume 1 in original wrappers
After ‘Jude’, Hardy gave up on novel writing and concentrated on poetry, although it’s not entirely clear whether that was because of the critical reception and the controversy generated by his last novel. He wrote a handful of further short stories and in 1913 a collection of short stories was published in the UK under the title ‘A Changed Man and other tales’. Tauchnitz as usual bought the continental rights, but rather than publishing it as a single two-volume work, obtained Hardy’s agreement to use two different titles. The first seven stories were published in volume 4458 as ‘A Changed Man … ‘, dated December 1913, and the other five stories appeared under the title ‘The romantic adventures of a Milkmaid’ in volume 4461, dated January 1914.
It’s worth noting that six of the twelve stories had originally been published before 1891 and were no longer under international copyright protection by this point. In line with the practice that had originally made the reputation of Tauchnitz, there was no attempt to capitalise on this. Hardy received an advance of £30 on each volume, with an agreement to pay a further £10 for every additional 1000 copies sold over 3000.
In terms of the main Tauchnitz series, that was that. Nine novels, in two volumes each and four volumes of short stories, adding up to 22 volumes, published over a period of almost 40 years. Other than a few verses in a later student textbook, Tauchnitz never published any of Hardy’s poetry.
The full set of Hardy volumes in Tauchnitz, in the usual ragged selection of bindings
During the First World War, when Tauchnitz could publish almost no new works, they did publish a short volume reprinting an excerpt from ‘Life’s little ironies’. After the war there were also two schools volumes of excerpts from his work (volumes 4 and 20 in the Students Series, Neue Folge’), and another selection again after the Second World War (volume 8 of the Tauchnitz Students’ Series, published from Hamburg). But these were just postscripts in the long collaboration between publisher and author, from 1876 to 1914.
In the early 1870s, when Thomas Hardy’s first novels were published, the Tauchnitz Editions were well established as the leading continental publisher of English language novels, but their position was not uncontested. The Berlin bookseller Adolf Asher started a rival series in 1872 and for the next few years the market was fiercely contested between the two publishers. The ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ tried to tempt away as many established authors as it could from Tauchnitz and of course tried to identify and sign up the most promising new authors.
Some authors, including notably George Eliot, were able to play one publisher off against the other and for a few years did very well out of it. Hardy seems to have been less successful. He was certainly not an established author when the Asher series launched and hardly even seems to have been identified as a promising new author.
But ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, published anonymously in 1872, had some success, and attracted the attention of Asher, who published it as volume 53 of the Asher’s Collection in 1873 (under Hardy’s own name). Sales were probably disappointing as neither Asher nor Tauchnitz rushed to publish Hardy’s subsequent novels. ‘Far from the madding crowd’, published in the UK in 1874, seems to have been ignored at first by both publishers.
It was Hardy himself who took the initiative to approach Tauchnitz, writing to them on 2 April 1876, after suggesting to his UK publisher that it might be useful to enter the Tauchnitz list as ‘a sort of advertisement for future works’. Tauchnitz was happy to oblige, but as usual wanted to publish the latest work, rather than bringing out one of the author’s previous novels. By 22 May, Tauchnitz was sending Hardy a cheque for £50 and an agreement to publish ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, which then appeared in two volumes as volumes 1593 and 1594 of the series in June 1876 – less than three months after the initial approach.
A damaged copy of the first printing of ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, vol. 1, dated June 1876
Emboldened by this success, Hardy pressed on, with further letters on 20th September and 22 October 1876, suggesting that Tauchnitz might follow up by publishing ‘Far from the madding crowd’. Tauchnitz agreed, but was clearly in no hurry, and was not willing to pay the same £50 fee. Noting that ‘you will be perhaps kind enough to consider that the book is not a new one and thereby has not the charm of novelty’, he proposed to reduce the fee to £40. ‘A new work of the usual length would be entitled to the same sum as for ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, he went on.
Hardy accepted. but even so, the book did not appear until early 1878, again in two volumes, as volumes 1722 and 1723. There is no recorded remaining copy of the first volume in its original wrappers, which would be dated March 1878, although a single copy of volume 2 survives at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
As usual with Tauchnitz paperbacks from the 19th Century, copies rebound in hard bindings are easier to find, but harder to date. First printing copies should certainly list only one other Hardy title (‘The hand of Ethelberta’) on the back of the half-title of volume 1. It can’t be said with confidence that copies meeting this condition are first printings, but it’s certainly the case that any copies listing more titles are not first printings.
When Hardy shortly afterwards came out with a new novel, ‘The return of the native’, Tauchnitz was perhaps honour bound, not only to publish it, but to pay the higher fee of £50. It appeared early in 1879 as volumes 1796 and 1797 (paperback first printing dated January 1879, hardback first printing distinguished by the list of the only two earlier Hardy titles at the front of volume 2).
But still it seems that continental sales were disappointing and the upper hand in the negotiations remained with Tauchnitz. When Hardy offered ‘The Trumpet-Major’ to Tauchnitz in January 1880, he was disappointed by the offer of £50, but Tauchnitz would go no higher, noting that he was still carrying a combined loss of around £112 on the three earlier published novels. With the benefit of hindsight, we don’t need to feel too sorry for Tauchnitz – both ‘Far from the madding crowd’ and ‘The return of the native’ were still in print over 50 years later and amongst the company’s best selling books, so we can be pretty sure that he eventually turned a profit.
Hardy must have been considering a return to the Asher’s series, at that time enjoying a renaissance under the ownership of a new publisher, Grädener & Richter. But Tauchnitz issued a barely veiled threat. If he were to go elsewhere ‘I shall very much regret it – the more as it is a principle with me now, if an author gives a book of his into other hands for the Continent, not to issue also any of his future books’.
Hardy did not defect, although it is worth noting that Tauchnitz did accept back others who did. ‘The Trumpet-Major’ eventually appeared as volumes 1951 and 1952 in January 1881 and just over a year later, Tauchnitz was not only happy to accept ‘The Laodicean’ for publication, but asked to put a value on the work, offered an increased fee of £60. It appeared as volumes 2053 and 2054 of the Tauchnitz series in April 1882. As the fifth Hardy novel to appear it showed four other novels (from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘The Trumpet-Major’) on the back of the half-title in first printing.
So after his first decade as a published novelist, Hardy had five novels and a total of ten volumes in print in the Tauchnitz Edition. For a novelist whose works had frequently been controversial that represented both success and respectability of a sort. I’ll come back to the publication history of his later novels in a second post. (Follow this link for Part 2).
The Albatross editions in Portuguese that I wrote about in my last post, were far from being the business’s only experiment in foreign language translations of English novels. Perhaps not surprisingly they also tried Spanish, publishing about ten translations between about 1947 and 1950.
The Spanish books looked completely different, although the design is clearly a development of the classic Albatross design. The same colour coding is used, but the writing around the border becomes much larger and rather dominates the central section. It produces a design that is quite striking, but to me seems to lose the simple elegance of the original. The books are also larger than the standard Albatross size, again losing in elegance what they may gain in impact.
They were published by Ediciones Albatros, a Spanish company based in Madrid and presumably set up for the purpose. Unlike most of the other post-war ventures by Albatross, there is no evidence in the books of this being a joint operation with a local partner, although it may have been.
The series started with ‘Diplomaticos en Pekin’, a translation of ‘Peking picnic’ by Ann Bridge, a book that had not previously been published in English by either Albatross or Tauchnitz. It was followed by translations of ‘Highly inflammable’ by Max Saltmarsh, which had been published as Tauchnitz volume 5242 in 1936 and ‘Soldiers from the war returning’ by Jerrard Tickell, which had appeared as Albatross 552 in 1946. Six of the seven other books I know about had previously been published by either Tauchnitz or Albatross.
The books are numbered from 1 to 13 but I have never seen books numbered 4, 7 or 12 so I only know of ten titles. Although the series lasted only for a couple of years and I doubt that any new titles were published after 1950, it appears that some of the books were reprinted later under different covers – showing even less respect to the traditional Albatross design.
In the 1930s, Albatross Books had been massively successful in selling English language novels in continental Europe. But by the end of the Second World War, Europe was a completely different place. Attempts to recreate the series in the new circumstances were doomed to failure. The market for English language novels could be more efficiently served by the cheap paperbacks that flooded in from Britain and from the US. In the end it was probably Penguin, that owed so much in concept and in design to Albatross, that was to kill off its own inspiration.
But if there was to be no future in selling English literature in the original language, what about English literature in translation? In the years from 1946 through to about 1950 there were various attempts to create new Albatross series in local languages. A small number of Albatross Books appeared in German, others in Swedish and Norwegian, in Portuguese and in Spanish.
Of these various series, the one that looked physically most similar to the classic Albatross design was the short Portugese series. It was produced in collaboration with Portugalia Editora, the local publishers who were also the post-war distribution partners for Albatross in Portugal and in Brazil. As far as I can tell, only three books ever appeared, although more were clearly planned. A leaflet launching the series explains the colour scheme that would apply, as with other Albatross books – red for crime and adventure, blue for love stories, green for travel and so on. Only yellow and red seem in practice to have been used.
In typically enthusiastic style, the leaflet reports that the books would be rigorously selected by a committee in London from amongst the works of leading contemporary novelists and assigned to the best translators. The first book was to be ‘Myra Carrol’ by Noel Streatfeild, a book that had earlier appeared in the Albatross series as volume 572 in 1947. The exact date of the Portuguese publication is not entirely clear, but my best guess would be 1948 or 1949.
Surprisingly the next two books to appear had not already been published in the English language series. ‘Died in the wool’ by Ngaio Marsh was translated as ‘Um cadáver na lã’ (which I suspect loses some of the nuance) and ‘The case of the constant suicides’ by John Dickson Carr appeared as ‘O caso dos suicidios’. I’m not sure why these books took precedence over the many other crime novels that had already been published by Albatross in English, but it may have been to do with rights for translation, or perhaps even the availability and preferences of translators.
And that it seems was that. I’ve seen these books several times, but never any other Portuguese Albatross books, so I suspect the series ended there, presumably because of poor sales. Albatross had other problems anyway, so may not have had the time, the money or the inclination to continue.
Bound copies of the Tauchnitz Edition are very difficult to date. Most of the key dating information is on the original wrappers that have usually been discarded by the bookbinder. But what if the wrappers are still present? Surely then it’s easy to date them, and to identify first printings?
In most cases, it is – the date, both month and year, is shown at the top of the back wrapper. But not always, and even when it is, there can still be complications. Firstly the early editions were undated and by early, I mean for the first 30 years of the series, roughly from 1842 to 1872. Copies from this period in their original wrappers do still turn up from time to time, and although all are 150 years or so old and certainly rare, they’re still often a long way from first printings.
Todd and Bowden in their Tauchnitz bibliography, introduced a system for classifying and dating these early editions, which relies in large part on the dictionary adverts on the back wrapper. In a reversal of their practice with novels, Tauchnitz always recorded the printing date and the edition number for their dictionaries. So if the wrapper advertises the 16th edition of the English-German dictionary, it comes from 1865 /66, if it advertises the 20th edition, it’s from 1869/70, and so on.
This method is fairly reliable, but it’s not the full story. When a book was rapidly reprinted, it can exist in two different wrappers, both advertising the same edition of the dictionary. Then the only way of identifying the first printing is the laborious process of checking through the list of other titles to make sure that the wrapper doesn’t include any later-published titles.
From June 1872 until December 1934, the process gets much easier, as the back wrappers are dated. If the wrapper date is later than the year shown on the title page, it must be a reprint. If it’s in the same year, then it comes down to checking the month against the bibliography. For much of this period though, there’s a simpler way, because Tauchnitz adopted a different style of wrapper for first printings and reprints.
The new style for first printings appears around volume 2990 in 1894. The front wrapper is still identical, but the list on the back switches to a much larger typeface for the titles, with a very short description underneath – often just ‘A new novel’. Instead of being just on the back wrapper, this list, on first printings only, stretches over the inside wrappers as well. In fact the distinction that first printing wrappers have a list extending over the inside and back wrappers, whereas reprints have the list only on the back wrapper, seems to predate the change to the new format by a year or so. The first example I’ve seen of this is dated May 1893.
The picture below shows a comparison between the style of wrapper used for first printings and the style for reprints, that continued from 1894 through to 1903. Throughout this period a quick glance at the style of the back wrapper can identify first printings much quicker than a comparison of dates or volume numbers.
Then at the beginning of 1904 a new two-column style was introduced for first printings, now with a slightly longer description of each book, still extending over the inner wrappers as well. The comparison below of first printing and reprint formats shows them still easily distinguishable. In some cases, as below, where books were reprinted very quickly after first printing, both first printing and reprint exist with the same month at the top of the back wrapper. Then only the difference in format can distinguish which is the true first.
So far as I know, this rule for identifying first printings is almost always respected. There is one known example on volume 4700 where the first printing in the correct format is dated September 1925, but copies also exist in reprint format dated August 1925. Todd & Bowden still give first printing status to the copies dated September 1925, partly on the basis of the bound-in catalogues. I’m inclined to agree and to think that one or other is mis-dated, but there must be some doubt about this. Other than that, the rule seems to be a cast iron guide.
This second first printing format continued from about January 1904 (volume 3705) through to December 1934 (volume 5178). By this point Albatross had taken over editorial control of the series and was starting to apply the more modern design principles of its own series. Adverts on the back cover had no place in this, and after a brief period of totally plain back covers, Tauchnitz adopted a completely new cover design and the Albatross system of colour-coding by genre. Dates as well as advertising for other titles moved to inside pages. In many cases a printing date and sometimes even an indication that a book is a second printing can be found on the back of the title page. It was only five years though before the Second World War effectively ended the series and so relatively few volumes from this period were reprinted anyway.