As a German publisher selling books in English, Bernhard Tauchnitz had to find a market wherever he could. Of course he wanted to sell to German nationals, but there were only a limited number of those who could read a whole novel in English. He could not sell in Britain or the British Empire for copyright reasons, but he spread out to sell across the whole of the European Continent and beyond. By selling his books in railway station bookstalls and specialist expatriate bookshops, he was able to target British and American expatriates and travellers as well. That made a large enough market for a successful business.
But there was still another sizeable potential market, if he could reach it. Those who were learning English in schools, in universities or as individual students at home. Producing basic school text-books was a specialist market, but there were lots of students who had got past the basics, but would still find it difficult to read a full length novel in English. Given the access Tauchnitz had to novels in English and to British authors, could he help to bridge the gap?
The first attempt was an anthology issued in 1844 called ‘Selections from British Authors in Prose and Poetry. A class-book for the use of schools.’ by Edward Moriarty. That’s according to the English language title page, although oddly the second title page, in German, refers to the book being for both school and personal use. The book contains a series of prose extracts, following directly on from each other as chapters, with author names at the end of each chapter and then followed by 76 poems.
Most of the authors were safely dead and out of copyright, but there were a small number still alive in 1844, which raises the question of whether the use of their work was authorised. There was no international copyright convention in 1844, but by that time Tauchnitz was obtaining authorisation and making payment for all works in the main series. There is no indication here that the book is authorised, even though it contains extracts from the works of Marryat, Bulwer and Dickens among others, writers who had given Tauchnitz early authorisation to publish editions of their novels.
The anthology remained in print for many years, but it was another three years before there was any follow-up and then it was in a rather different direction. A special Schools Edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens appeared in 1847, three to four years after the first publication of the story in December 1843. Again the question of authorisation is not entirely clear. Dickens had certainly given his authorisation for the initial publication by Tauchnitz of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and it appeared with the wording ‘Edition sanctioned by the Author’ on the title page. In 1846 the first copyright agreements were put in place between Britain, Prussia and Saxony and later editions appeared with the wording ‘Copyright Edition’. But the Schools Edition has no mention of either authorisation or copyright. Was this an oversight, or did Tauchnitz just assume there was no need for any further payment to Dickens, given his existing rights?
I’ve written a longer post on the Schools Edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’, which can be found here, so I won’t repeat it all, but the key change was to add at the end an English-German dictionary containing the more difficult words used in the book. The story itself takes up only 78 pages, while the dictionary takes up 91, so it’s fairly comprehensive. As it translates only into German, the book was presumably for sale only in German-speaking countries, a pattern that was to be followed for the next 90 years. Tauchnitz never seems to have made any attempt to sell to schools or students in France, Italy or other countries.
After ‘A Christmas Carol’, it was another 6 years before the next edition specifically for students followed, and it was again to Charles Dickens that Tauchnitz turned. ‘A Child’s History of England’ by Dickens was published in a standard edition by Tauchnitz in 1853, although outside the main series. At more or less the same time it appeared in a special annotated edition, with a substantial dictionary attached to the second volume, but this time also with footnotes, explaining points of English grammar or style.
This was now more or less the format that would eventually be developed into the Tauchnitz Students’ Editions, although they were still more than 30 years away. Oddly there is again no mention of authorisation or copyright, this time on either the annotated edition or the standard edition, although it’s almost impossible to believe that Tauchnitz had not obtained and paid for the European copyright.
So far then, we have a first attempt at a Schools Edition in 1844, another one three years later in 1847, then a gap of 6 years to 1853. So it seems about right that it was then 10 years before Tauchnitz tried again. A Schools Edition of ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ appeared in 1863, this time with an introduction and glossary, although I have not seen a copy. And the gaps continued to get larger. The next attempt did not come for another 23 years. And finally this time it was a more serious attempt to develop the market. The first volume of the Tauchnitz Students’ Series for School, College and Home appeared in 1886. I’ll leave the story of those volumes for Part 2.
Although it was based in Germany, sold books only outside Britain and the British Empire, and continued right through to the Second World War, the Tauchnitz Edition was in many ways a Victorian series. Bernhard Tauchnitz was just three years older than Victoria and founded his firm in 1837, the year she came to the throne. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, the Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ had reached almost 3500 volumes. Although it was to continue for another 40 years, the high point of the series came in Victoria’s reign and it was essentially on Victorian literature that it built its reputation.
Tauchnitz was undoubtedly an admirer of Victoria and of Victorian Britain and he cultivated links with the Royal Family as assiduously as he cultivated links with all his British Authors. Perhaps surprisingly, both Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were part of that select group, his British Authors. It’s true that neither of them had much of a reputation for literary prowess, but then that was probably not the criterion for their inclusion in the series.
It helped that Albert was German (and Victoria, his cousin, was at least half-German). Indeed arguably Prince Albert and Bernhard Tauchnitz were the two most prominent Anglophile Germans of the Victorian era, building their respective businesses on the closeness of their links with Britain. It is said that the hereditary Baronage granted to Tauchnitz in 1860, was arranged indirectly by Prince Albert, who would surely have been well aware of the impact made by Tauchnitz in continental Europe. The Baronage was granted by Ernst, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was Prince Albert’s brother.
Albert died though in 1861, leaving Victoria to 40 years of widowhood and leaving as a literary legacy only 20 years of formal speeches. ‘The principal speeches and addresses of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort’ were published in the UK in 1862 by John Murray, along with an exceptionally fawning introduction. The Tauchnitz Edition followed in 1866 as volume 850 of the series, with the same introduction and frontispiece and with a further preface written by Tauchnitz himself. This refers to the necessity of including in the series a volume, which ‘contains the results of an essential portion of the intellectual life of a Prince whose memory is honoured not only in England, but in every civilised country of the Globe, and above all in Germany, the land of his birth’. The wrappers of the original paperback edition were marked with the royal insignia.
It seems unlikely that the book was a bestseller in continental Europe. A relatively small number of copies are found in the main library collections, in comparison to other volumes from the same period. They do though include a copy in Cornell University with wrappers dated August 1884, so it was clearly still selling some copies at that time.
In 1868, Victoria too became a published author in the UK when extracts from her journal were published by Smith, Elder & Co. under the title ‘Leaves from the Journal of our life in the Highlands’. This covered her visits to Scotland with Prince Albert from 1848 to 1860. ‘Our life’ here seems to mean both Victoria and Albert, rather than the royal we. Publication in a Tauchnitz Edition did not immediately follow, although it’s hard to say whether this was because Tauchnitz could not obtain the rights, or because he did not want them.
But then in 1884, when Smith Elder brought out a second selection called ‘More leaves from the journal of a life in the Highlands …’, Tauchnitz was able to secure rights to both this and the earlier book. In the second book, the extracts cover the period after Albert’s death, from 1862 to 1882 and the title refers to ‘a life’ rather than ‘our life’. This later book is volume number 2228 in the Tauchnitz series and in paperback copies the rear wrapper is dated February 1884. The earlier book is volume 2227, but was published by Tauchnitz about two weeks later and the rear wrapper is dated March 1884. For both volumes, the first printing is distinguished in bound copies by having nothing on the back of the half-title at the front of the book. Later reprints of each have a reference to the other book on the half-title verso.
Oddly neither book shows Queen Victoria’s name as the author. No-one can have been in any doubt as to whose journal this was, so this must have been some obscure point of royal protocol, rather than an attempt to disguise the true author. The first volume is dedicated to Albert, again without mentioning him by name, while the second is dedicated to ‘my devoted personal attendant and faithful friend John Brown’ and is signed by Victoria.
To complete the picture, it should be noted that two of Victoria and Albert’s daughters were also honoured as Tauchnitz authors. ‘Letters to her Majesty the Queen’ by Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, appeared in 1885 as volumes 2348 and 2349 of the series. Alice was Victoria’s second daughter, who had married a German prince and gone to live in Darmstadt. Her marriage and departure came just after her father’s death and she wrote home regularly to her widowed mother, careful not to appear too happy. In 1877, her husband became the Grand Duke of Hesse, but Alice died the following year. As well as Alice’s letters, the book contains a 75 page memoir written by her sister Helena, who had married another German prince.
Large publishing groups like HarperCollins, Penguin Random House or Hachette today use lots of different imprints for the books they publish. I’m not very sure why, because most readers would have little idea of the publisher’s name even after reading a book, never mind before buying it.
It wasn’t always so. Paperback series used to cultivate brand loyalty and the brand was very clearly signalled on the covers. If you bought a Penguin Book in the 1930s, 1940s or even later, you certainly knew it was a Penguin, both before you bought it and after you had read it. And given Penguin’s success, almost all other paperback publishers adopted clear and prominent brand identities as well. Which left Hutchinson, the HarperCollins of its day, with a problem. The Hutchinson Group contained a long list of publishing companies and it’s not clear to me how much cooperation there was between them. So they ended up with not one paperback series competing with Penguin, but several.
The Hutchinson Pocket Library was perhaps their flagship series in response to Penguin, but from different parts of the group also came Jarrolds Jackdaw books, Toucan books, John Long Four Square Thrillers and the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library.
For several years in the late 1930s, the Leisure Library Company, another part of Hutchinson, resisted the trend to Penguinisation. They continued to publish paperbacks that were a throwback to pre-Penguin days – larger format, brightly illustrated covers, and selling for just 3d or 4d, substantially undercutting Penguin on price, but unashamedly down-market. Although Penguin mythology lauds the company for selling books at the low price of 6d, in reality Penguins were more at the top end of the paperback price range and only just below the 7d price of cheap hardbacks at the time.
Typical Leisure Library paperbacks from the late 1930s
But in 1940 the Leisure Library capitulated and joined the rush to establish Penguin-style paperback series, adding another to Hutchinson’s long list. Although in this case, it might be more accurate to describe them as Collins White Circle style.
Westerns from the Leisure Library and from Collins White Circle
Like Collins, the Leisure Library started separate sub-series for crime, westerns and romantic novels. Each sub-series had its own colour, with both companies using green for crime and yellow for westerns, and each added a stylised picture as part of the cover design.
Crime Novels from the Leisure Library and from Collins White Circle
To some extent also like Collins, the connection between the sub-series was not particularly emphasised, and the books were primarily branded as coming from ‘The Wild West Library’, ‘Crime Novel Library’ or ‘Romantic Novel Library’. The crime and romance novels are still shown as published by the Leisure Library Co. on the title page and the spine, but the westerns refer only to the Wild West Library. The westerns are though clearly linked to the crime novels by the square white title panel with perforated edges. These two series could almost have been called the Hutchinson White Square books, but oddly the Romance sub-series went for a white circle instead, making it easily confused with the Collins series.
The series was not very long-lived, although that was probably as much to do with the effect of the war on publishing, as with the commercial success or failure of the books. They were all published in 1940, in a relatively short period between about May and July, and few paperback series were able to maintain much of a publishing programme after that until the end of the war. There were a total of 32 books – fourteen crime, twelve westerns and six romances. I don’t think any of them have achieved much of a mark on literary history, even amongst fans of the relevant genres, but they added another layer to the story of the paperback revolution unleashed by Penguin.
Allen Lane’s decision to abandon cover art when he launched Penguin Books in July 1935, was a revolutionary move that was followed by almost all of his competitors. Previously lurid cover designs gave way to much more restrained design. So what is happening just two years later, when Lane seems to abandon all restraint with the Penguin Specials series?
It is not yet the return of multi-coloured cover art. It would be many more years before Lane could reconcile himself to such a step. But the screaming headlines, the long prose blurbs and the occasional cartoons and maps on the covers of the Penguin Specials are a long way away from the simple tripartite model of the main Penguin series.
The series of topical political tracts on world affairs, launched in late 1937 was a huge success. The turbulent state of European politics had created an appetite for information on international affairs that Lane was happy to satisfy. The initial print run of 50,000 for the first volume sold out within four days and had to be almost immediately reprinted. Other books sold in their hundreds of thousands and their success gave Penguin a platform for later domination. When paper rationing was introduced later in the war, the allocations were based on paper use in these pre-war years and Penguin were using paper in vast quantities.
But why the lack of restraint in design? Penguin seem to have decided that in the political situation of the time, with the threat of war looming, restraint was simply not appropriate. Every new book in the series, and every new topic, was a matter of screaming urgency and the covers should reflect this.
And the books were after all, despite their lack of restraint, still recognisably Penguins. Enough of the basic Penguin design was retained for that to be clear. They carried the Penguin brand and the values associated with it – a certain vague notion of seriousness, quality and intellectual aspiration. Despite the shoutiness of the covers, these were not to be seen as populist or downmarket. The basic colour was still orange, the colour most associated with Penguin (or Pelican blue for those volumes branded as Pelican specials), the design was still based on horizontal bands, the Penguin logo was still in much the same place at the bottom of the front cover, and the price of course was still 6d.
The style of cover was not really new. The covers remind me particularly of the dustwrapper designs on many hardback books from Gollancz in the 1930s, and no doubt other publishers too. But I don’t think they were normal on paperbacks at this time, and if anybody was going to introduce them, the last person you’d have in mind would be Allen Lane. For the second time in three years, he was revolutionising paperback cover design.
But in the end this one wasn’t really a revolution. Other companies didn’t copy it, although Hutchinson moved some way in the same direction for a while. Perhaps even more significantly, Penguin themselves didn’t persist for too long with the policy. When war was declared in September 1939, the series had reached almost 40 titles, but gradually screaming headlines started to give way to the more sober realities of war. By 1942, as the series passed 100 volumes, a new design was emerging that had no room for long quotations or cartoons and was much more like the classic Penguin design. This looks to me to be a recognition that the technique of shouting can be very effective in the short term, particularly if unexpected, but almost inevitably loses its effectiveness and shows diminishing returns if persisted with. Restraint was back in fashion.
A Penguin special from 1943
The recent news of the death of Charles Aznavour reminded me, like many others, that this most French of singers, was born as Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian, the son of Armenian immigrants. To the British at least, he had an impeccably French accent, sang quintessentially French songs about French passions and in an unmistakably French way.
Which reminds me in turn of Michael Arlen, that most English of early twentieth century writers, who was though born as Dikran Kouyoumdjian, the son of Armenian immigrants to Britain. He himself was born in Bulgaria, but came to England with his parents in 1901 at the age of 5. He was sent to Malvern College, which no doubt turned him into the perfect English gentleman, as it no doubt still does for his modern equivalents. He remained a Bulgarian citizen though throughout the First World War (in which Bulgaria was aligned with Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) becoming a British Citizen only in 1922 and changing his name at this point to Michael Arlen.
My interest in him is focused on the books he had published in Continental Europe by Tauchnitz and Albatross and in the UK by Penguin and Hutchinson. He first appeared as a Tauchnitz author in 1930, one of the new authors introduced by Max Christian Wegner, who had been appointed as General Manager of the company in 1929. The first of his books to appear was ‘Lily Christine’ as volume 4926. As usual Tauchnitz preferred to start by publishing his latest work, rather than going back to the earlier works that had made his name.
‘Lily Christine’, a tangled romance chronicling the lives of upper class society in the 1920s ‘Jazz Age’, had been published in the UK in 1928. It is probably fairly typical of the novels that led to Arlen being described as the English F. Scott Fitzgerald. The first printing in Tauchnitz is dated March 1930 at the top of the rear wrapper, and like all first printings from this era, has a two column list of latest volumes on the back and inside wrappers. Later printings have a single column listing on the back only.
It was followed shortly after by ‘Babes in the Wood’, a collection of short stories that begins with an apparently autobiographical story called ‘Confessions of a naturalised Englishman’ (although a note adds that all characters are fictitious, including the author). It appeared as volume 4943 and the first printing is dated June 1930 at the top of the rear wrapper. In the three months between publication of the two books, Tauchnitz had introduced a modernised design for the front wrappers, so that they look rather different at first.
A final Tauchnitz volume, ‘Men dislike women’ appeared the following year, as volume 5001, dated July 1931 on the rear wrapper. By this time Christian Wegner had been fired by Tauchnitz and was shortly to re-appear as one of the founders of the rival Albatross series. Albatross was hugely successful in persuading leading British and American authors to publish with them rather than Tauchnitz, and Arlen quickly switched allegiance to the new firm, no doubt partly because of his earlier relationship with Wegner.
‘Young men in love’, an earlier novel by Arlen, first published in 1927, appeared as volume 40 of the Albatross series in late 1932, in the blue covers used to identify love stories. Then in 1934, ‘Man’s mortality’, a rather different type of novel from his usual romances, was published as volume 211. This is more like science fiction, set 50 years in the future and often compared (almost always unfavourably) with Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, published the previous year. Albatross gave it the yellow covers representing ‘psychological novels, essays etc.’, although perhaps slightly oddly ‘Brave New World’ had been given the orange covers of ‘tales and short stories, humorous and satirical works’.
Arlen’s third and final book in Albatross, was a book of short stories though, and so was given orange covers, making him one of only a handful of writers to have books published in Albatross in three different categories / colours (Evelyn Waugh, Aldous Huxley and Katherine Mansfield were others, and D.H. Lawrence managed four). ‘The Crooked Coronet’ was published in March 1938 as volume 362.
This was long after Albatross had taken over editorial control of Tauchnitz in 1934, with the two series being managed jointly from then on. Arlen could presumably have been published in either series, and the criteria for determining which series was used, are not entirely clear. Most authors stayed with the series they were published in before the two came together, generally with more of the edgier modern authors in Albatross and more of the longer established or more conservative authors in Tauchnitz. That fitted the harsh reality that authors banned by the Nazis could not be published by the German-based Tauchnitz. I don’t think that Michael Arlen was ever banned (or could ever be described as edgy and modern), so presumably he stayed in Albatross just because that was where he was at the time of the coming together.
Meanwhile in the UK, Penguin had been launched in 1935 and was buying up paperback rights where it could, mostly for books published several years earlier, rather than the latest novels. They obtained the rights to Michael Arlen’s ‘These charming people’, another collection of short stories that had been first published by Collins in 1923, and this appeared as volume 86 of the Penguin series in 1937. It includes a story called ‘When the nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, a title that was later appropriated for a song that became one of the most popular songs of the second world war.
I think ‘These charming people’ was the only one of Michael Arlen’s works to appear in Penguin, but at least two others appeared in Hutchinson’s Pocket Library. Hutchinson was the original UK publisher for several of Arlen’s books, so they were in a stronger position to publish paperback editions in their series competing against Penguin. ‘Young men in love’ appeared as volume 50 of the series in May 1938 and ‘Lily Christine as volume 59 in October of the same year.
There may have been other paperback editions in other series, but by this time Arlen’s style was going out of fashion. He wrote mainly about an era and a society that had vanished, at least from public sympathy, with the depression of the 1930s and that was totally out of tune with the conditions of the second world war. For a few short years though he had been one of the most popular writers in Britain. His most successful novel, ‘The green hat’, first published in 1924, doesn’t seem to have ever appeared in paperback.
Arlen himself had left Britain in 1927, first joining D.H. Lawrence in Florence and then moving to Cannes, where he married a Greek Countess, Atalanta Mercati. He returned to Britain during the war, but then moved to the US for the last years of his life. His son, Michael J. Arlen, an American with Armenian / British / Greek / French / Bulgarian heritage, has written ‘Exiles’, a memoir of his parents and his childhood, itself published many years later in Penguin.
Believe it or not, there were paperbacks in the UK before Penguin. There were even sixpenny paperbacks. There had been for a very long time and they were particularly plentiful in the first thirty years or so of the twentieth century, before Allen Lane came along to transform the market. Lane’s paperback revolution changed many things, perhaps most notably in getting rid of cover art, but also in changing the size of paperbacks. Before 1935, the standard size for a paperback was roughly 15 cm by 22 cm, or 6 inches by about 8.5 inches, considerably larger than the standard size ushered in by Penguin. What Penguin didn’t change was the price.
Typical large format 6d novels from the early 20th century
There were several long running series of these ‘large format’ paperbacks from publishers such as Hodder & Stoughton, George Newnes and Collins, as well as the series I want to look at here, from Hutchinson. They all looked fairly similar, all of course with cover art, mostly with advertising on the back and on other pages at the front and back as well, all on fairly cheap paper, usually priced at sixpence and often with the text arranged in two columns. That was probably a hangover from the story magazines that came before them that had a long history going back to Charles Dickens and ‘Household Words’ among others.
A sample page with two column format
Frustratingly, another thing most of these books had in common was that they carried no printing dates and as a result there is a lot of confusion about when they were published. In some cases I have seen the same book described by dealers as being from ‘around 1900’ or from ‘the 1930s’, while having little idea which of them is more nearly correct.
Most of the series and most of the books have pretty much disappeared without trace. So far as I know almost nobody collects them or studies them and no libraries have significant holdings of them. There is far more interest in the Penguins and other similar books that replaced them. I can’t complain. That’s where most of my interest has been too.
The replacement happened incredibly quickly. The Hutchinson series of ‘Famous Copyright Novels’ had been running for many years and had reached over 300 titles when Penguin burst onto the scene in July 1935. By October of the same year, the series was dead and Hutchinson had launched a new series that copied Penguin in almost all material respects.
It’s hard to be sure when the Famous Copyright Novels series started, but my best guess is possibly 1924 or 1925. Volume number 2 in the series is ‘Life – and Erica’ by Gilbert Frankau, a book first published in 1924, so the series can’t be earlier than that. Most of the other titles were first published much earlier than this, as might be expected in a paperback reprint series, but I can’t identify any other early titles with a first printing date later than 1924.
If that’s the case, the series ran for around 10 years, from say 1925 to 1935. It had, for most of its life, a quite distinctive and striking appearance with primarily red covers, the title in yellow script and a cut-out style cover illustration with a white margin. Towards the end of the series that seems to have been altered, first to introduce a blue upper panel and then to move to fully illustrated covers with a much weaker series identity.
In other words, just as Penguin were about to launch one of the strongest and most successful attempts at series branding in paperback publishing history, Hutchinson were moving in the opposite direction. That didn’t go too well, then.
A high proportion of the books in the series are romantic novels, mixed in with adventure stories and thrillers. There are not many crime novels or westerns (Collins was the dominant publisher in these genres) and few books with any serious literary pretensions. The author most represented is Charles Garvice, an enormously popular writer of light romances, who on his own accounted for around 50 of the 300 plus titles in the series. Other popular authors included Charlotte M. Brame, Rafael Sabatini, Kathlyn Rhodes, William Le Queux, E.W. Savi and Rider Haggard.
Hutchinson was a sprawling group of associated publishing companies, which each retained some separate identity, and at least one of these, Hurst & Blackett, published a very similar series. Hurst & Blackett’s Famous Copyright Library at 6d a volume seems to have included titles from almost exactly the same authors, although I have not seen a copy of any of them.
The market for English books published and sold in continental Europe was dominated by Tauchnitz for a long time. Many competitors came and went, mostly unable to make much of a dent in the position of Tauchnitz. But the First World War, which separated the German firm from its authors and from many of its customers, provided a rare opportunity for other firms to intervene. The Nelson’s Continental series that launched in Paris in 1916 and the Standard Collection from Louis Conard in Brussels, were just two of the rival series that sprung up to fill the void.
Even after the end of the war, Tauchnitz continued to be hobbled by its aftermath and by the rampant inflation that took hold in Germany. It was certainly several years before the company got back to anything like its former market position and arguably it never recovered the vigour and the dominance it had previously had. The market opportunity for other companies persisted and one firm that decided to dip a toe into the water was the Rhombus publishing company based in Vienna.
‘Rhombus Editions’ seems to me a spectacularly bad choice of name. There’s a perfectly good English word for the shape that mathematicians insist on calling a rhombus, and the same is true in German. The shape is a diamond and if that’s the shape you want for your marketing, then surely ‘Diamond Editions’ is a better name than ‘Rhombus Editions’. But Rhombus Editions it was.
They launched around 1920, with a series of very slim volumes, typically only about 80 pages long. This may have been the result of paper shortages in post-war Austria, or may have been a recognition that many potential purchasers had limited English and could not tackle a full length novel. It’s also possible that the books were partly aimed at schools, or more generally at students. Whatever the reason, Rhombus published mostly short stories and looked more like the Tauchnitz Pocket Library editions that the German publisher had issued during the war, than standard Tauchnitz Editions.
They were also more like the Tauchnitz Pocket Library in including only (?) out-of-copyright works by dead authors. Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and William Thackeray all feature heavily alongside even earlier poets and playwrights. Whereas the Tauchnitz list had for many years included more volumes by female than male authors while focusing on contemporary works, this list is almost entirely male as well as entirely dead.
Working out what books existed is not easy, as relatively few of them remain and it’s not clear that the numbering system was either consistent or comprehensive. Lists in the books I have seen include titles with a selection of numbers between 2 and 99, accounting for about thirty books in this range, but also many missing numbers. Those may have been books that quickly went out of print, or they may never have been issued.
After volume 99 in about 1922, the cover design changed and the series numbering moved on to 501. From here on all numbers seem to be accounted for up to about 560. But the series started to include some longer works, which were presumably sold at a higher price and were given two numbers, or even three. These are not numbers for separate volumes, just two or three consecutive numbers given to a single book in a single volume. So volumes 508/9 is Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The citizen of the world’ and Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ is given numbers 518/19/20.
Counting these as a single volume each, I can account for around seventy or so volumes in the series, issued roughly between 1920 and 1925, but there may have been many more.
Alongside the series of works in English, the firm published similar series in French and in Spanish as well as some books in German. The ‘Bibliothèque Rhombus’ and ‘Biblioteca Rhombus’ seem to have been no more successful than the ‘Rhombus Edition’ and after 1925 they all seem to disappear.
When Services Editions were first printed in 1943, Peter Cheyney was one of the most popular and the most prolific authors in Britain. His first novel had been published only in 1936, but had been an almost immediate success and it was rapidly followed by many others. By the end of 1942 Cheyney had around fifteen novels in print.
Most of them were available only in hardback through his publisher Collins, and hardbacks novels were not only expensive, but also limited by paper rationing. To achieve a wider readership they needed to appear in paperback and the natural route was through the Collins White Circle paperback series, probably the most successful of the many rivals to Penguin launched in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
‘Poison Ivy’, one of Cheyney’s early novels featuring the private eye Lemmy Caution, was the first to appear in a White Circle edition in July 1939, and four others followed over the next four years, gradually building the author’s readership. But paper rationing was a problem for paperbacks too and by 1943 the flow of new additions to the White Circle series had slowed to a trickle.
Almost the only remaining route to achieving a mass readership was through the Services Editions, which had a dedicated paper ration for a long print run, typically at least 50,000 copies. The books were then held in the libraries of battalions or other units, or passed around from hand to hand, with each copy possibly read several times. I doubt they paid the author much, but they could certainly build the readership and popularity of an author and anyway it was the patriotic duty of the author to participate in the scheme. Fortunately for Cheyney, Collins were the most enthusiastic of participants, contributing books to the multi-publisher Guild Books series, as well as running their own series.
In 1943 Collins offered ‘Poison Ivy’ to the Guild Books series as volume S61 and for their own series chose ‘Dangerous Curves’ to be included in the first batch of books. Both are now very difficult to find in first printing. As far as I know there was only one printing of ‘Poison Ivy’, but ‘Dangerous Curves’ was reprinted in 1945 and the reprint is much more common. The first printing is dated ‘Services Edition 1943’ and has no spine number, while the reprint is dated 1945 and numbered c207.
There were to be no further Cheyney novels published in Guild Books. All the later books issued were in the Collins series of Services Editions. ‘Dangerous Curves’ was quickly followed by ‘You’d be surprised’ (1943, volume c224), by ‘You can always duck’ (1944, c276) and ‘They never say when’ (1944, c284). I’m reasonably confident of the dates and numbers here, although there’s a little bit of guesswork involved as I have never seen first printing copies of any of these three. I do have a reprint of ‘You can always duck’ dated 1946.
I also have first printing copies of the remaining two Cheyney novels issued in the series, which were issued together in 1945 – ‘Dark duet’ as volume c315 and ‘Sorry you’ve been troubled’ as volume c316. ‘Dark duet’ is notable as the only one of Cheyney’s ‘Dark’ series of spy stories to appear in a Services Edition. The other six novels are all detective stories featuring either Cheyney’s American FBI agent / Private eye Lemmy Caution, or his British equivalent Slim Callaghan.
A total of seven books published in Services Editions makes Peter Cheyney one of the most published authors, almost on a par with Agatha Christie. It was however a small fraction of his output and only a first indication of what was to come. His popularity surged after the war and with the end of Services Editions he went on to become the principal author of ‘mystery stories’ in the White Circle series of paperbacks as well as a mainstay of Pan Books, selling sometimes over a million books in a year.