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.
I have no idea when the first wrap-around bands for books were introduced. But I do know that Tauchnitz were already using them by 1926, so their history is certainly a long one. They typically feature a short blurb about the book or a quote from a review, and are presumably intended to make the book stand out in the shop display. Just another marketing tool, but as they’re still used today, I suppose they must be reasonably effective.
The earliest band I’ve seen on a Tauchnitz book is from August 1926. It exists for volume 4743, ‘The secret that was kept’ by Elizabeth Robins, and it’s in full wrap-around style, glued together at the back. The book can only be opened by either slipping the band up and over the top of the book or by tearing it. Presumably most people tore it off and discarded it. Even those readers who carefully removed it without tearing, would hardly be tempted to put it back on later, so again would end up throwing it away. It’s surprising really that any of them have survived.
But one careful owner of a selection of books I bought a few years ago, slipped the bands in between the pages of the books, perhaps using them as bookmarks, and preserved them. Some are torn, others intact, but overall they’re in surprisingly good condition. I have eight of them, for books published between August 1926 and July 1929. The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions records one other known band in this style, so nine in total are known, but it’s possible that they existed for all 150 or so books published over this period. An alternative is that they were only used to boost sales on slower-selling volumes, but in this case it seems unlikely that they would have been so clearly dated. All the bands in this style are in white, and wrapped around an off white paperback would not have stood out particularly well.
So it was a natural next step to introduce coloured bands, which happened from around February 1930. With this change came also a change in format, so that the band was tucked in under the front and back covers, rather than glued at the back. Crucially this change meant that the book could be opened without removing the band. This allowed prospective buyers to open and look at the book in the shop, without taking the band off. If they were careful enough, they might even be able to leave it on while reading the book. Of course most were still removed and discarded, but more of these later bands survive. They’re mostly on books that were never read, which is the fate of many copies. Few buyers are so uninterested in a book that they will not even want to pick it up and flick through it, which involves taking off a full wrap-around band, but many buyers never get round to reading their book, so a tucked-in band has a better chance of survival.
The colours of the bands were not random. They were coded to indicate the genre of the book – red for crime and humour, blue for ‘serious’ books, yellow for novels and short stories of adventure, social life or historical novels, and green for love stories. The colour-coding seems to have been the brainchild of Max Christian Wegner, then Managing Director of Tauchnitz. Two years later, by then in charge of the rival Albatross Books, he developed the idea further, using the entire paperback cover for colour coding by genre, a practice also taken up by Penguin when it launched in 1935.
At Tauchnitz the colour-coded bands continued for over four years, through to mid 1934, at which point the firm more or less collapsed into the arms of Albatross. I’m aware of surviving bands for around 20 volumes, but again they may have been used on all the more than 200 volumes published over that period. The bands did their bit to brighten up the rather drab Tauchnitz books, but they were still unable to compete against the more colourful Albatross volumes.
After mid 1934 the two series were managed jointly by the Albatross management team and Tauchnitz fell into line with the Albatross practice of colour-coded covers with dustwrappers, but no wrap-around bands.
But it wasn’t quite the end of the story. After the end of the war, a number of attempts were made to revive both Tauchnitz and Albatross, one of which involved a short series of 40 volumes published from Stuttgart under the Tauchnitz brand from 1952 to 1955. Dustwrappers on paperbacks had by then gone rather out of fashion and wrap-around bands were again used. As ever, it’s impossible to verify that all volumes were issued with bands, but many of them may have been, with again only a small number surviving.
What is a mystery story? Wikipedia defines mystery fiction as a genre usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. That seems clear enough. To take one example, ‘The girl on the train’ by Paula Hawkins, which I’m reading at the moment, is surely a mystery story. Certainly it has a mysterious death at its core and the author tries constantly to keep the reader guessing about what’s really going on.
On the other hand, you won’t find the word ‘mystery’ in the description of the book on its covers. It’s described as the author’s first thriller. Comments from reviewers describe it as ‘crime fiction’ or ‘noir’. Do authors or publishers still use the term ‘mystery story’ much, or make any distinction between a crime novel and a mystery novel, or between a thriller and a mystery story.
For Collins, long-time publisher of the Collins Crime Club, there certainly used to be a distinction. Crime novels were published in the Collins Crime Club, and in the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction there were various written and unwritten rules about what constituted a crime or detective novel. Other stories that we might think of today as crime novels, were published as ‘A Collins Mystery’. Did they meet some parallel definition of what a mystery story was, or were they just crime stories that didn’t meet the Crime Club rules?
The distinction was carried across to the Collins White Circle series of paperbacks, which contained separate sub-series for crime novels and mystery novels, each with their own distinctive covers. Crime was green and black with two mysterious figures, while mysteries were purple or magenta with a policemen in a helmet. On the face of it, the other way round might have been more appropriate?
Collins also provided most of the crime and mystery books for the Continental European Albatross series, and again kept them separate – Albatross Crime Club books in red and black, Albatross Mystery Club in grey and green.
For the most part, writers were assigned to one or other category. Agatha Christie for instance was a crime story writer, almost by definition. But there was still at least one of her books, ‘Parker Pyne investigates’, that was originally categorised as a mystery story, with its author described as an ‘unrivalled writer of mysteries’. It’s a collection of short stories that are more about romantic problems and the theft of jewels than the solving of murders, so it’s perhaps not too difficult to see why it might have been put into a different category. It was nevertheless reissued in the Collins Crime Club many years later.
Dorothy L. Sayers, on the other hand and for reasons that are not obvious to me, was categorised by Collins as a mystery writer. Three of her Lord Peter Wimsey stories were published in the White Circle mystery series, with two of them also appearing in Albatross Mystery Club editions.
Just to confuse things even more, Albatross also published three of the later Wimsey novels in red crime branding. These had not been published by Collins and the distinction is probably more to do with the publisher than anything in the nature of the stories themselves. ‘Busman’s honeymoon’, the last of the series, was originally described as ‘a love story with detective interruptions’, so perhaps could have been categorised, neither as crime or mystery, but as romance!
Edgar Wallace was another writer that Collins assigned to the mystery genre, although his main publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, had firmly categorised him as a writer of thrillers. ‘It is impossible not to be thrilled by Edgar Wallace’ went the tagline on many of his books.
Other writers with several books published in the mystery series included Peter Cheyney, J.M. Walsh / Stephen Maddock and David Hume. Stephen Maddock was a pseudonym for Walsh, with books under both names classified as mysteries. David Hume however was a pseudonym for J.V. Turner, whose books under his own name were classified as crime. I suspect that most people who remember these writers today would consider them all to be writers of crime novels, or perhaps thrillers.
As far as I can tell, the distinction between crime and mystery stories was specific to Collins, and not adopted by other publishers. Certainly Penguin made no distinction between them. Their iconic green banded covers were from early on described as ‘Mystery and Crime’ books, although the use of both words suggests they did recognise that they might not mean the same thing.
The launch of Albatross books in 1932 was a key moment in the paperback revolution, even if not fully recognised as such at the time. It signalled the imminent demise of Tauchnitz, which had dominated English language publishing in Continental Europe for almost a century. It was to be the inspiration for the launch of Penguin Books three years later. And it was in some respects the moment that paperbacks came of age in the twentieth century.
A lot of planning and preparation had gone into the launch, which brought together three remarkable men, John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch. Their stories are too long and varied to cover here, but all three played important roles in publishing history, even apart from their time at Albatross. It was important for them that the first list of Albatross titles made a statement about the ambitions of the new series.
It was a mixed list, establishing the principle that the series would cover a range of genres and styles. A crime story and a romance rubbed shoulders with more literary fiction. A volume of short stories was published alongside the first volume of an historical family saga. There was something for everyone, and importantly, with colour coding by genre, the mix of types of book was reflected in a mix of colours for the first six books.
The choice of the first three authors – James Joyce, Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis, seemed to say that the series would be more at the cutting edge of modern literature than Tauchnitz had been in recent years. It also said something about the ability of Albatross to attract authors away from Tauchnitz.
James Joyce in particular had been neglected by Tauchnitz. They had eventually published ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’ in 1930, some ten years after being offered it, but had shown little interest in his other works. So for Albatross, publishing ‘Dubliners’ as volume 1 was an open goal.
Huxley and Lewis had been treated better, with Tauchnitz publishing six volumes of Huxley and three from Lewis, arguably including their most important works. But that was far from comprehensive coverage and as with Joyce, Albatross was able to target earlier works, overlooked by Tauchnitz, before later publishing new works. Sinclair Lewis had in 1930 become the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, so it was a good time to be revisiting his earlier works.
The next three titles were perhaps a bit lighter, but Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole was a significant prize. It was the first of the Herries Chronicles, a trilogy of books set in the Lake District, and probably the work for which Walpole is best remembered now. He too had to be attracted away from Tauchnitz, which had published several of his earlier works, as did Warwick Deeping. As Tauchnitz had had a near monopoly on publishing English literature in Europe, it was almost inevitable that the authors Albatross wanted to publish would already have had dealings with Tauchnitz.
The launch of the first six titles was also marked by the issue of a boxed set of the six books. I have little idea how many of these were produced or sold, or indeed the price at which it was offered. I have only ever seen the one example, illustrated below, and that is in less than perfect condition. Although the box has no Albatross branding, I am pretty sure that it was produced for Albatross, rather than just being a home-made affair. It’s possible though that it was produced only for presentation copies, offered to business contacts and colleagues.
Just one of the books in this box still has its transparent dustwrapper, and that is in poor condition, but all the books would originally have had them. They were easily damaged and after a year or so, new titles were instead given paper dustwrappers in the same design as the books.
By 1928, when Aldous Huxley’s work first appeared in the Tauchnitz series, he was already a well-established writer. Tauchnitz was still the dominant English language publisher in Continental Europe, but it had struggled during the First World War and the difficulties that followed in Germany. It was no longer quite at the cutting edge of English literature, where it had been for most of its long existence, and British publishers were becoming reluctant to allow continental reprints as soon after UK publication as they previously had. Still, to join the near-5000-volume-strong Tauchnitz series was recognition that you had reached a certain level in your profession. The honour was as much to Huxley as it was to Tauchnitz.
‘Two or three graces’, a collection of Huxley’s short stories appeared in early 1928 (or possibly late 1927) as volume 4810, and the satirical novel ‘Those barren leaves’ followed shortly after as volume 4816. Although both volumes are dated 1928 on the title page, the first printing of volume 4810 is dated December 1927 at the top of the back wrapper, while volume 4816 is dated January 1928. There are multiple reprints of both books, identifiable by later dates on the back wrapper.
Sales must have gone well, and having identified Huxley as a promising young writer, Tauchnitz were keen to extend the relationship. The following year they published his new novel ‘Point Counter Point’, a longer work that stretched over two volumes, numbered 4872 and 4873, and dated March 1929 in the first printing. That was followed up by ‘Brief candles’, another collection of short stories, (volume 4958, dated October 1930) and by ‘Music at Night and other essays’ (volume 5017, dated October 1931). Both works appeared in Tauchnitz very shortly after first UK publication.
Tauchnitz though, by this time, was in turmoil. Hans Christian Wegner had been appointed to manage the firm in late 1929, after the death of Curt Otto, and was keen to modernise the series, encouraging writers such as Huxley, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce. But his ideas were too radical for the Tauchnitz board and he left in 1931, becoming one of the key founders of the rival firm Albatross. At last, Tauchnitz had a serious competitor.
Wegner would have had a relationship with Huxley’s agent and UK publisher and been well aware of which works had already been published by Tauchnitz. He wanted Huxley for his new Albatross series, and saw an opportunity to win him over by publishing some of the earlier works that had been ignored by Tauchnitz
‘The Gioconda Smile and other stories’ appeared as volume 2 of the Albatross series in 1932. It brought together most of Huxley’s short stories from the two collections published in the UK as ‘Mortal Coils’ (1922) and ‘Little Mexican’ (1924). ‘Antic Hay’, another early work from 1923, followed as volume 24, with ‘Crome Yellow’, his first novel from 1921, published as volume 64 in 1933. Inbetween though came the real prize. Having won Huxley over and published his early work in far more attractive editions than the drab Tauchnitz volumes, Albatross was rewarded with his latest new work, ‘Brave new World’ published early in 1933 as volume 47 of the series.
A further volume of short stories appeared under the title ‘Uncle Spencer and other stories’ later in 1933, as volume 87. It combined the two remaining stories from ‘Little Mexican’, with five stories that had appeared in Huxley’s first collection ‘Limbo’ in 1921. So in the first 100 volumes and the first two years of Albatross, five Huxley volumes had been published. The tally at that point stood at six Huxley volumes in Tauchnitz and five in Albatross. Not bad for a writer who was still in his thirties.
But then two other events intervened that were to have significant effects on Huxley’s continental publishing history. The first was the near collapse of Tauchnitz, unable to compete with its much more modern rival, and the second was the rise to power in Germany of the Nazi party. I’ll come back to the effects of those two events in my next post. (See part 2)
When Albatross Books was launched in 1932 to compete with Tauchnitz selling English language books in continental Europe, the name was said to have been chosen because it was almost the same word in all European languages. The elegant silhouette of an Albatross was a nice design touch, but it seems unlikely that they started off with the idea of having a bird as a motif and then settled on an Albatross as the most suitable bird.
But that seems to be precisely what many other publishing companies did in the years that followed. The first imitator was Penguin Books, who launched their paperback series in the UK just 3 years later. Before the launch Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, had explored the possibility of a joint venture with Albatross. When that didn’t work, he decided to go it alone, but copied all the principal design features of Albatross, including the use of a seabird as the logo and name of the series.
Penguin’s launch in the UK was such a success that a large part of the UK publishing industry felt it had to respond by launching similar series, copying many of the design features that Penguin in turn had copied from Albatross. Perhaps most importantly this meant scrapping cover art and using instead a standard cover design, mostly typographical, and designed to provide a strong identity for the series rather than the individual book.
But for several publishers, copying Penguin’s design features also meant copying their use of a bird as a logo. The Hutchinson Group even had two goes at it, with the series of Toucan novels, and the Jarrolds Jackdaw series. When the Lutterworth Press launched a series of children’s books, it looked for a correspondingly small bird and came up with Wren Books. Another publisher of children’s books, Juvenile Productions Ltd., started the Martyn Library, featuring a bird that is presumably meant to be a martin, although I can’t explain the slightly odd spelling.
One publisher, Methuen, settled on the kingfisher as a logo, but resisted the temptation to call their series Kingfisher books, choosing instead the more prosaic ‘Methuen’s Sixpennies’. Penguin meanwhile, perhaps concerned that it was losing its distinctiveness, decided to lay claim to all the other birds it could think of that began with a P. So its non-fiction series was called Pelican Books, its children’s series was called Puffin and there was even a short-lived series of miscellaneous titles at the end of the war called Ptarmigan Books.
I make that at least eight series of paperback books in the UK given bird logos just between 1935 and 1939, with one later on in 1945. Not bad for the brood of a single Albatross.
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.
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.