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John Rhode / Miles Burton in Albatross

Cecil John Street, the author behind the two pseudonyms of John Rhode and Miles Burton, was certainly prolific. Over a 35 year career writing detective novels from roughly 1925 to 1960, he wrote more or less continually at the rate of something like 4 books a year, to end with not far short of 150 novels to his name, or rather to his pseudonyms.

He was at the peak of his popularity in the 1930s and 1940s and I’ve written before about his books published in Services Editions for servicemen in the Second World War. They appeared as part of the long series of Services Editions from Collins White Circle, the books having been originally published in the Collins Crime Club series.

Collins also had a close connection with Albatross Books, the European publisher of English Language novels launched in 1932, to rival the long-established Tauchnitz business. Ian and William Collins were on the board of Albatross and were instrumental in the launch a year later of the Albatross Crime Club. All the titles for this series came from the Collins Crime Club and the books were initially printed for Albatross by Collins in Scotland.

John Rhode featured early in the series, with ‘The motor rally mystery’, a new Dr. Priestley novel, included in the first batch of titles. Numbering for the Crime Club titles started from 101 and ‘The motor rally mystery’ is number 105. ‘The Claverton mystery’ was not far behind at number 114, later in 1933, and ‘The Robthorne mystery’ at number 122, early in 1934.

The first two titles would originally have had a transparent dustwrapper, as on The Claverton Mystery above, although few of these survive and those that do are usually torn and tattered. Later issues had a paper dustwrapper in the same design as the book. Most of the early books in the series are not too difficult to find now, although the Rhode and Burton books seem to be a bit harder, and certainly more expensive than most other books in the series. I don’t think any of the books were reprinted, so all copies are first printings.

Each of the first three books was published in Albatross only very shortly after first hardback publication in the UK and long before any of them appeared in UK paperback editions. After that though, a gap was allowed to build up between first publication in the UK and publication in the Albatross series. So ‘Shot at dawn’, first published in the UK in 1934, didn’t appear in Albatross (as volume 136) until 1935. By the end of that year, with the Crime Club series having reached 45 volumes, there were still only four titles by John Rhode and none by Miles Burton.

That was to change though, as a rush of new titles started to appear in 1936. ‘Hendon’s first case’, another Rhode novel, came first as volume 148 of the series, followed by ‘The milk churn murder’, the first Burton title, as volume 150. From then on a pattern was established of issuing Rhode and Burton titles alternately. ‘Mystery at Olympia’ by Rhode appeared as volume 154 and ‘Death in the tunnel’ by Burton as volume 155, both still in 1936. Then in 1937, ‘Death at breakfast’ by Rhode as volume 161, ‘Murder of a chemist’ by Burton as volume 163, ‘In face of the verdict’ by Rhode as 167, ‘Where is Barbara Prentice?’ by Burton as 178 and ‘Death in the Hopfields’ by Rhode as 186.

Then, as far as I can tell, there was a bit of a pause, accompanied by a change of printer and a change in the numbering system. Volume numbers from 188 to 200 seem never to have been used, and all future Albatross Crime Club titles are numbered in the 400s and mixed in with Albatross Mystery Club titles. The Mystery Club had been launched in 1937 for books that didn’t fit into the Collins definition of what a Crime novel should be, with numbers starting at 401.

Numbers 401 to 409 are all Mystery Club titles published in 1937 and printed in Scotland. But from 410 onwards, Crime Club and Mystery Club titles alternate in a more or less regular pattern, and all are printed in Germany, starting in May 1938. In June ‘Death at the Club’ by Miles Burton appeared as volume 414 and then in September ‘Death on the Board’ by Rhode as volume 422. Volume 436 in April 1939 was ‘Murder in Crown Passage’ by Burton and finally, volume 440 was ‘Proceed with caution’ by Rhode. These later titles seem more difficult to find now, although I’m not clear whether this is because of lower print numbers or because of disruption caused by the war that was about to break out.

Certainly the war ended the series in late 1939 and the final tally of 11 John Rhode titles and 6 from Miles Burton gives a total of 17 books for Cecil Street, just ahead of Agatha Christie and more than for any other author in the Albatross Crime Club series.

The Albatross Mystery Club

The distinctive red and black covers of the Albatross Crime Club books from the 1930s will be relatively familiar to anyone with an interest in continental English language editions.  I’ve written before about how they resulted from a partnership between Albatross and Collins, publisher of the Collins Crime Club in the UK.

The grey and green covers of the Albatross Mystery Club may be less familiar, partly just because there were far fewer of them, but they may also have been printed and sold in smaller quantities.  Certainly some of them are now quite difficult to find, not helped by the fact that they were all issued from 1937 to 1939 in the last couple of years before the Second World War.

The distinction between Crime books and Mystery Books was a peculiarity of Collins.   Books published in the Collins Crime Club series in the UK had to conform to certain criteria that defined what a crime story was.  Books that didn’t qualify as crime, were published instead as ‘A Collins Mystery’.   Since the Albatross Crime Club published only books that had appeared in the Collins Crime Club in the UK, they inherited the problem from Collins, although their answer to it was rather different.

For Collins, ‘The Collins Crime Club’ was a little bit more than just a marketing description.  It was at least a mailing list and possibly a bit more than that, if not really a club in the traditional sense.  There was no parallel organisation for mystery stories, so no corresponding Collins Mystery Club.  For Albatross though, the Albatross Crime Club was purely a brand for marketing purposes.  As far as I can tell, it didn’t even have a mailing list or any other pretence of club membership or organisation.  So creating a parallel ‘Albatross Mystery Club’ was not at all difficult.  All it required was a new logo and a new colour scheme for the books.

Albatross 401 Brighton Alibi

It still took them quite a long while to get round to it.  The Albatross Crime Club was already four years old and had published some eighty titles before the first Albatross Mystery Club title appeared in 1937.  By this point, Collins had also started their own paperback ‘White Circle’ series in the UK, initially only with Crime Club titles, but from January 1937 with a separate Mystery sub-series as well.  So Albatross were playing catch-up.

The Albatross Mystery Club began with a run of nine titles numbered from 401 to 409 and dated 1937, while Albatross Crime Club titles continued to be published with numbers in the 100 series.  But then in early 1938, all Crime Club titles started to be issued using numbers in the 400s and mixed in with Mystery Club titles.  So 410 and 411 are Crime Club titles, then 412 is from the Mystery Club, all these three issued in May 1938.  In May, June, July and August there was a consistent pattern of two Crime Club books and one Mystery Club in each month.  Then from September 1938 to June 1939, one in each series appeared each month, before the Mystery Club titles came to an end.  One Crime Club title a month continued to be published for another four months, before the war finally put an end to them.

Albatross 423 Captain Samson AB

So overall nine Mystery Club titles in 1937 then one a month for fourteen months in 1938/39, giving a grand total of 23 books in the grey and green livery of the club.  The mix of authors is similar to those published in the White Circle Mystery sub-series in the 1930s, although David Hume is a bit more prominent and J.M. Walsh a bit less so.  Hume has 5 of the 23 titles followed by Peter Cheyney with three.  Interestingly the White Circle series in the UK didn’t publish its first Cheyney title until July 1939, after all three of these continental editions, although Cheyney went on to become the dominant author for Collins White Circle after the war.

Albatross 431 Dames don't care

The only books in the Albatross Mystery Club that have really achieved any lasting fame are the two Dorothy L. Sayers novels, both early Lord Peter Wimsey novels – ‘Whose Body?’ and ‘Unnatural Death’.  Both had been first published in the UK more than ten years earlier, and were probably already seen as classics of the genre.    Indeed later Sayers novels had already appeared in the Albatross main series with red crime branding, but these were books for which Collins did not hold the rights, so they came to Albatross by a different route and under a different policy.

When Albatross came briefly back after the war, there was no longer any role for the Mystery Club, or the Crime Club.  Those 23 books represent the entire output of the Albatross Mystery Club.

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.

 collins-paperbacks-1930s-no-196-the-golden-hands  crime-club-1933-murder-at-vicarage-3  edgar-wallace-1930ish

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.

 jackdaw-crime-3-dw  crime-novel-library-1

The Crime Club goes paperback

Launched in May 1930, the Collins Crime Club had been a huge success, surfing the wave of public interest in the golden age of detective fiction.   By 1936 it had published around 200 titles and claimed to have around 20,000 subscribers, although it was not really a club – just a mailing list of potentially interested readers.  The star writer was undoubtedly Agatha Christie, but there was a wide range of other writers including John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts. Philip Macdonald and G.D.H & M. Cole.

Collins Crime Club Dumb witness front

An early Collins Crime Club edition (courtesy of the Art and Books blog)

The books sold at 7 shillings and sixpence, a fairly standard price for UK hardbacks at the time, but one that put them out of the price range of most ordinary people, who perhaps borrowed them through libraries or waited for cheap editions to be published.  A selection of the books was published in cheaper paperback editions in continental Europe through Albatross Books, with which Collins were associated.  The Albatross Crime Club published only books from the Collins Crime Club, in distinctive red and black covers, but these could not be imported into the UK.

Albatross 121 Murder on the Orient Express

It was the success of Albatross in Europe that gave Allen Lane the idea for Penguin Books.  Possibly Collins should have seen it coming, but they were experimenting in a rather different direction in the UK at the time, with a series of cheap hardbacks sold at 7d, less than 10% of the standard hardback price.   This series certainly included crime novels, although I am unsure whether any of the titles had previously appeared in the Crime Club.

Quite why hardbacks at sevenpence were a failure, while Penguin’s paperbacks at sixpence were a roaring success is hard to say, but they were.  Penguin’s launch in July 1935 was transformational.  Within months, perhaps even weeks, it was clear that their format was a success.  By October, Hutchinson had launched their own paperback series in a very similar format to Penguin, and a new market had been established.

  Collins 7d The lone house mystery  Penguin 003

Hardbacks at 7d, or paperbacks at 6d – the public knew which they preferred

Collins could see now that Penguin represented a threat to their core market.  There had been only a handful of crime novels in the early titles, but enough to warn them of what could happen.  In fact Penguin had issued what almost amounted to a direct challenge to Collins by including a novel by Agatha Christie in their first ten titles.  ‘The mysterious affair at Styles’ was the first of Christie’s novels and like her other early novels had been first published by The Bodley Head, before she moved to Collins in 1926.

The Bodley Head was the Lane family company that Allen Lane worked for up to the launch of Penguin, so this was a book he had access to, or at least thought he did.  As it happened, a copyright dispute over ‘The mysterious affair at Styles’ led to Penguin withdrawing it a few months later and replacing it with another early Christie novel ‘The murder on the links’, but the episode made clear that Penguin’s ambitions included becoming a major publisher of paperback crime.

  Penguin 006  Penguin 006A

Penguin’s original volume 6 and its replacement soon after, volume 6A

So Collins were now fighting a rear-guard action as they started to plan a paperback series of Crime Club novels.  Some aspects were almost a given.  The price would be 6d, the size would be the Albatross and Penguin size (using the golden ratio) and the books would have a dustwrapper in the same design as the cover.  These were basic features of the market established by Penguin.

But the most important feature of the Penguin revolution was no cover illustrations, other than a standard logo.  This feature, again copied from Albatross, seemed fundamental to Penguin’s success.   It conveyed an image of seriousness and established a break with the traditions of earlier paperbacks, which had often had lurid cover illustrations.  For the Collins Crime Club, cover illustrations had been an important part of their marketing, so it was a big decision to replace them with a standard designed cover.

In the end, Collins settled for a new design that created a standard identity for the series and  established its up-market credentials, while still having a nod to the earlier Crime Club branding.  It was sufficiently similar to the Penguin format to make clear that it was a direct competitor, but sufficiently different to be instantly recognisable as a Collins Crime Club novel.

White Circle 002

A classic design?

Instead of Penguin’s central white band, Collins introduced a large white circle for the title and author.  And as well as using colour to indicate genre (again green for crime), Collins splashed across the cover a stylised picture of two masked murderers carrying a pistol and a knife that was effectively a development of the original Crime Club branding.

In its own way this cover was as classic a design as was Penguin’s three bands, and indeed it lasted rather longer.  It was still being used right up to the end of the series in 1959, long after Penguin had abandoned its three horizontal bands in favour of various experiments with vertical bands, other grids and even cover illustrations.  But it has never quite achieved the iconic status of Penguin’s design, now used for everything from t-shirts and bags to deckchairs, and I have been unable to find out who the designer was.

A reprint from the mid-1950s, still with the same cover design, lightly modified, and colours reversed. The branding now includes 'White Circle'.

A reprint from the mid-1950s, still with the same cover design, lightly modified, and colours reversed.  The branding now includes ‘White Circle’.

It’s not clear that there was any intention at the start to use the white circle on the cover as a unifying element across different types of fiction, or to develop it as the name of the overall series.  It’s not even clear that there were any plans at the start to publish fiction from other genres in similar paperback editions.   It is very clear in the early books that the brand is ‘The Crime Club’ and there is no mention of ‘White Circle’ at all.   It’s only from about July 1937 onwards, once other types of book have been published, that ‘White Circle’ starts to appear as a series name.

The next key decision of course was which books to publish, and here Collins were spoilt for choice.  Penguin, in its early days, had to search across the market and negotiate with various hardback publishers, who were often reluctant to allow cheap paperback editions.  As a result, they ended up with a lot of older books, where hardback sales had declined to a trickle.  But Collins had a treasure trove of around 200 recent titles that had already been published in the Collins Crime Club and could take their pick.

White Circle 001

Unsurprisingly they chose a more recent Agatha Christie novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, for volume number 1.  The first 6 titles, published in March 1936, also included an Edgar Wallace and novels by John Rhode and Freeman Wills Crofts.  The other two were by Philip Macdonald, one of them under the pseudonym of Martin Porlock.   The next batch in June included further titles by Christie, Rhode and Macdonald as well as one from G.D.H. & M. Cole and these writers between them accounted for most of the first 30 titles, although other authors were gradually introduced.

By the time war broke out in September 1939, the series of Crime Club paperbacks had reached around 80 titles, and the wider White Circle series had extended to cover westerns, mysteries, romantic fiction, general fiction and even a small number of non-fiction titles.   It was certainly in some respects a serious rival to Penguin, at least in the area of crime fiction.   Even in that area, Penguin would eventually triumph, but not before the Crime Club paperbacks had reached almost 300 titles, published over a period of more than 20 years.

Was it a success in terms of broadening the reach of classic crime fiction and extending its popularity?   I imagine it must have been.  The print runs were probably at least 20,000 and quite possibly 50,000 or more, so sales are likely to have been far higher in paperback than they ever were in the original hardback editions.  The wartime Services Editions will have extended that reach even further.   But in the end, the Crime Club paperbacks did fail, presumably as another victim of Penguin when they ended in 1959, and it was the hardback editions that outlasted them, continuing right  through to 1994.

 

Dorothy L. Sayers in Albatross Books

This is the second of two posts about the continental European editions of major crime writers in Albatross Books.  The first one reviewed the Agatha Christie editions and this one goes on to look at Dorothy L. Sayers, her great rival for the title of ‘Queen of Crime’ in the 1930s.    There are quite significant differences in the way that the two authors appeared in the series that raise some interesting questions.

The two writers did not share a UK publisher.  While most of Christie’s novels appeared in the Collins Crime Club, Sayers used a number of different publishers, but in the 1930s, mostly Gollancz.   That was no barrier to being published in Albatross, which took books from across the range of UK publishers, but it was in practice a barrier to the Albatross Crime Club, which was effectively the continental arm of the Collins Crime Club.  So instead of appearing in Crime Club branding, ‘The nine tailors’, the first Sayers novel to appear in Albatross in 1934, was in the main series as volume 212 of the Albatross Modern Continental Library.

Albatross 212 The nine tailors

This was the ninth book in the already well established series of stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and it appeared very quickly after first publication in the UK.   I don’t know the exact dates of either UK or European publication, but both were in 1934 and judging by the numbering sequence, the Albatross edition must have been around the middle of the year.   Although it had once been normal for European editions, particularly by Tauchnitz, to appear simultaneously with the UK editions, this had largely died out.  By the 1930s it was relatively unusual for UK publishers to allow a paperback continental edition within less than a year of the original hardback publication in the UK.

Perhaps allowing such an early continental edition was a mistake, because there was no repeat of it when the tenth story ‘Gaudy Night’ appeared the following year.  There was a gap of two to three years before that appeared as volume 364 of the Albatross series in February 1938, with the next story, ‘Busman’s honeymoon’, following in March 1939.

‘Busman’s honeymoon’ was not only the last Lord Peter Wimsey novel, it was effectively Sayers’ farewell to crime writing.   Marriage turned out not to be good for Wimsey’s crime fighting abilities and Sayers turned instead to religious writing and to translation, most notably producing an acclaimed translation of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

In any case the war was coming and there was little time left for Albatross.  But they had already gone back to some of her earlier crime writing, starting with ‘Whose Body?’, the story that had first introduced Lord Peter Wimsey.  That had been first published in the UK in 1923 by Unwin, but the rights had subsequently been acquired by Collins.

For reasons that I don’t fully understand, Collins considered the book to be a mystery story rather than a crime story, so that it did not appear in the Collins Crime Club or the Albatross Crime Club.  I suspect that the distinction has something to do with the rules established for classic detection novels to ensure that authors played fair with the readers, although to me ‘Whose Body’ looks remarkably like a crime and detection novel.   I’d be delighted if anyone can explain to me why this is considered to be a mystery rather than a crime novel and whether the same applies to all of Sayers’ work.

Albatross 418 Whose body.

Anyway the distinction seemed to be important to Collins, who established a separate series for mystery stories in their UK White Circle paperbacks and a separate series too, with its own logo, for the Albatross Mystery Club.   The Mystery Club series started in 1937 with volume 401 and ‘Whose Body?’ appeared in July 1938 as volume 418.   It was quickly followed by ‘Unnatural Death’, another early Wimsey story that had been acquired by Collins, again in Mystery Club branding, as volume 425 in October 1938.

Albatross 425 Unnatural death

Both books, like almost all of the Albatross Mystery Club titles, are now pretty difficult to find.   The main series books are perhaps a little easier.  ‘Gaudy Night’ and ‘Busman’s honeymoon’ were both reprinted after the war, probably with a longer print run, and copies dated 1947 are now much more common than the pre-war editions (and since they carry no mention of the earlier printing, very easy to mistake for first printings).

Agatha Christie in Albatross Books

Albatross Books was founded in 1932 in Paris as a direct rival to the long-established firm of Tauchnitz, which had had a near-monopoly on the sale of English language books in Continental Europe for 90 years.   It was phenomenally successful in the period up to the Second World War, and its effects were felt long after that, particularly in its key influence on the launch and development of Penguin Books.

In that period, from 1932 to 1939, it would have been difficult to ignore Agatha Christie.  She dominated crime writing at the time, and crime writing was enjoying its golden age.  Yet in some ways it was just a happy coincidence that she was able to appear in the series.  There was no tradition of publishing detective stories in English on the continent.  Tauchnitz had published the Sherlock Holmes books from 1891 onwards, but had shown relatively little interest in other developments in crime fiction after the First World War.  Albatross too seemed at the start to be primarily interested in publishing literary fiction, championing D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Aldous Huxley amongst others.  In its first 50 books, there were just 7 crime stories.

Agatha Christie in Albatross

All that was to change though with the launch of the Albatross Crime Club in 1933.  It was effectively a joint venture with the Scottish publisher, Collins, and came about because of the presence of two of the Collins family on the Albatross board.   I don’t know how much of the initiative came from Collins, eager to establish a European outlet for their Collins Crime Club novels, and how much from Albatross, keen to expand their list into more crime novels.   But either way, it provided the platform for Albatross to publish the works of Agatha Christie, as well as other leading crime writers.

Albatross 115 Lord Edgware dies

And they seized the opportunity.   Over the six years of the Albatross Crime Club, it included 14 Agatha Christies, starting with ‘Lord Edgware dies’ as volume 115 in 1933.  Each volume followed shortly after its first appearance in the Collins Club, usually within a year, sometimes much quicker.  And although overall the Albatross Crime Club published far fewer books than the Collins Crime Club, it seems to have taken all the Christies it could get.  As far as I can tell, every Christie novel that appeared in the Collins series between ‘Lord Edgware dies’ in 1933 and ‘Appointment with death’ in 1938, was also published in Albatross.

The Albatross editions are not only the first continental European editions, they’re also the first paperback editions.  Collins didn’t launch the White Circle series of paperbacks in the UK until 1936, after Penguin’s launch.  The first volume in that series was ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, which had already been published by Albatross in 1934 (volume 121) and so far as I know all 14 of the pre-war Christie books published by Albatross were first paperback editions.

  Albatross 121 Murder on the Orient Express    White Circle 001

Albatross Crime Club edition (1934) and Collins Crime Club (1936)

Like all the Albatross editions, they’re beautiful books, and mostly not too difficult to find.  The print runs would have been relatively low, possibly only a couple of thousand copies of each book, so it’s unlikely that more than a couple of hundred survive, but they’re still out there to be found and usually not too expensive.   The first book, ‘Lord Edgware dies’ would have had a transparent dustwrapper, although these were naturally fragile and I have never seen a copy with the dustwrapper intact.  All the later books had paper dustwrappers in the same style as the covers.   I don’t think any of the books were reprinted, so all copies are first printings.

When Albatross attempted a revival after the Second World War, it still had some support from Collins, but it was much less successful and there was to be no re-launch for the Albatross Crime Club.  Instead a small number of crime titles were published in the main series, just four in total, but two of those were by Christie.  ‘Ten little niggers’ (since renamed as ‘And then there were none’ and televised recently by the BBC) appeared as volume 554 in 1947, followed by ‘One, two, buckle my shoe’ as volume 575 in 1950.  The first of these was again a paperback first printing, but the second may just have been beaten by the White Circle edition that appeared the same year.  It’s probably significant that unlike the pre-war publications, these were not recent novels, hot off the press.  Both had been written, and published in the Collins Crime Club, several years earlier.  Albatross was no longer the cutting edge publisher it had been in its pre-war glory.

Albatross 554 Ten little niggers

Overall though 16 Agatha Christie novels, all of them continental European first printings, and possibly 15 paperback first printings, is not a bad representation for the ‘Queen of Crime’ in Albatross.

For other paperback first printings, see also the story of Agatha Christie in UK Services Editions.

 

Partners in Crime – Collins and the Albatross Crime Club

Albatross had many significant achievements to its name in the years from 1932 to 1939. Its books were widely recognised as a design classic and in many respects became the model for Penguin Books, it achieved commercial success and an effective takeover of the old-established firm of Tauchnitz and it published for the first time in Europe many significant novels that went on to become classics. Even surviving, as a firm with a Jewish owner and Jewish managers, was an achievement in Nazi Germany.  But it had another ace up its sleeve as well – The Albatross Crime Club.

Albatross 108 The murder of the Circus Queen

This was a direct offshoot of the Collins Crime Club in the UK, facilitated by the presence of Ian and William Collins on the Albatross Board of Directors.  Collins had become almost the godfather of the Golden Age of detective fiction with their series, launched in 1930.  The Collins Crime Club though was essentially a mailing list rather than a book club.   Members paid nothing to join and had no obligation to buy the books, which were sold through bookshops in the normal way.  But they received a quarterly newsletter and by 1934 the Club boasted 25,000 subscribers.   So an extension into continental Europe through Albatross must have seemed attractive to both parties.

The new series launched in 1933, so there was already a sizeable back catalogue of titles in the Collins Crime Club to choose from, but in practice the first batch of titles (from 101 to 114) were all ones that had been published in the UK within the previous year or so.  This went against the usual practice at that time, almost always enforced, that a continental paperback edition had to wait at least a year after first UK publication, to avoid eating into sales of the UK hardback.  Presumably the close relationship with Collins allowed them to override this.  So continental readers in 1933 had access to such recently published titles as ‘The ring of eyes’ by Hulbert Footner or ‘The motor rally mystery’ and ‘The Claverton mystery’ by John Rhode.   Pride of place though went to Philip MacDonald,who had three titles in the first batch, with ‘Death on my left’ (volume 101), ‘R.I.P.’ (vol. 109) and as Martin Porlock, ‘X v Rex’ (vol. 107).

Albatross 101 Death on my left  Albatross 114 The Claverton mystery

Over the next 6 years through to the outbreak of war, Albatross published a total of 109 Crime Club titles, gradually bringing in most of the authors who had appeared in the Collins Crime Club.  There were 14 titles by Agatha Christie, although even she had to take second place to Cecil John Street, with a total of 17 under his two pseudonyms of John Rhode and Miles Burton.  Most of the books that appeared came relatively quickly after UK publication, and in most cases they are not only the First Continental Edition, but also the First Paperback Edition.   Collins didn’t start to sell paperback editions themselves until the launch of their White Circle series in 1936, and even then they usually left a longer gap after publication of the hardback.

As with Collins, the Albatross Crime Club was really just a marketing device and mailing list rather than a real club.   I have never seen any evidence of newsletters for club members, although I do have a copy of one flyer about new titles that might have been sent out to the mailing list.  I’d love to hear of, or see, any evidence of other marketing materials.

 Crime Club postcard   Crime Club leaflet late 1933

From 1937 the Crime Club was joined by the Albatross Mystery Club, again publishing books previously published by Collins, and a further 23 books were included in this series before war intervened.  There were also crime and mystery books not coming from Collins that were published in the main Albatross Modern Continental Library.  Both of those developments though are a story for another day.