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A century of celebrations and the celebration of a centenary

Tauchnitz loved issuing celebratory volumes and had plenty of occasions to do so.  The 500th volume of the series in 1860, the 1000th volume in 1869 and the 2000th in 1881 were all marked by specially commissioned volumes and by specially bound presentation copies to be offered to authors, friends and business contacts.

Then in 1887 it was time to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the business, with a specially published history.  Much of this is taken up with a long list of the works published by the firm, making it a rather luxurious catalogue, but it also includes excerpts from authors’ letters to Tauchnitz, which was to become a feature of subsequent histories.

Title page of the 50th anniversary history

Volume 3000 seemed to slip by largely unnoticed, but volume 4000 in 1909 was marked by a ‘A manual of American literature’.   This gave full recognition for the first time to the huge contribution from American authors to a series that for 70 years had been called ‘The Collection of British Authors’.

Then in 1912 another anniversary history to mark 75 years.  The catalogue of publications has now disappeared, and more prominence is given to letters from authors, with Charles Dickens pre-eminent among them.

A selection of letters from Dickens in the 75 year history

The milestone of the 5000th volume was reached in 1931 and celebrated with an ‘Anthology of Modern English Poetry’, but by then the business was tottering.  It was sold in 1934, and lived on until the outbreak of war effectively as a sub-division of Albatross, the firm which had defeated it commercially.

So when the time came to write its centenary publication in 1937 it must have felt to some in the firm more of an obituary than a celebration.  The task of writing it fell to John Holroyd-Reece, the Managing Director of Albatross, and in the end he did Tauchnitz proud, although an early draft had contained a paragraph seeming to celebrate his own role rather too much.  Again the publication included a selection of letters from famous authors, including Dickens and Disraeli, this time in facsimile form, and also a range of congratulatory letters from well-known people, including the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of York.  Slightly oddly, it was given the title of ‘The Harvest’, perhaps suggesting that the firm was now reaping the benefits of previous efforts, and no longer sowing new seed for the future, a position uncomfortably close to the truth.


The book appeared in two different forms, one with cream paper boards, and one with gold wrappers, each with a blind-stamped Tauchnitz Centenary logo on the front.  Neither version is difficult to find today.  More interesting are the presentation copies prepared for authors and other friends of the firm.  These are identical to the gold paperback edition, but the half-title is replaced with an individual printed page with the name of the person to whom it was presented.   The copy illustrated here was presented to Janet Beith, the author of ‘No second spring’, published as volume 5157 in 1934.  Other copies in public collections have the names of W.W. Jacobs, Louis Golding, H.M. Tomlinson and Helen Simpson.


Presumably copies were printed with the names of all Tauchnitz authors still alive in 1937, which would have included, amongst many others, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene, Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Daphne du Maurier, Aldous Huxley, P.G. Wodehouse and A.A. Milne.   As Louis Golding, whose copy survives, was published only by Albatross, never by Tauchnitz itself, this suggests copies may also have been presented to all Albatross authors.   In that case, copies may exist with the names of Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh and Ernest Hemingway, amongst others.

An intriguing question arises though from the fact that several of the Tauchnitz authors, including for instance Joyce, Wells and Huxley, had been placed on the list of banned authors, by the Nazi party, then in power in Germany.  Albatross, whose editorial offices were based in Paris, continued to publish works by banned authors, but always in the Albatross series rather than in Tauchnitz, and presumably for sale only outside Germany.  Interestingly the Albatross books were still being printed in Germany, just down the road from where other works by some of the same authors were being burned.  But did Tauchnitz in 1937, a German-owned firm based in Leipzig, print special celebratory volumes for authors at that time banned in Germany?  A copy printed for James Joyce would be an interesting find …

The first Tauchnitz – an early example of vapourware?

The Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ series eventually ran to 5370 volumes, published over a period of just about 100 years, but the very first book, volume No. 1, was ‘Pelham’ by Bulwer Lytton.   Publication was announced in September 1841, but when did the book first appear?

Tauchnitz 1 half-title recto

Tauchnitz had the habit of showing the year of first publication on the title page of their books and leaving this unaltered even on reprints many years later.  All known copies of ‘Pelham’ are dated 1842.   However publication was announced in the trade press in September 1841, in the list of ‘new books … arrived in Leipzig between 19 September and 25 September’.   There was a further announcement on 2 November 1841 for ‘books received 24-30 October’.  As it’s known the book was quickly re-set, this might even refer to the second edition, well before the end of 1841.  Which would leave it a bit of a mystery as to why the book should be dated 1842.

Tauchnitz 1 title page
The title page, dated 1842, has no mention of authorisation or copyright in the early printings

Karl Pressler, who made a particular study of the early editions of Tauchnitz Books, suggested that it might be because the early volumes were sent to booksellers on approval and only entered into the firm’s accounts for 1842, when firm orders were confirmed.  He also points out that it was (and is) not unusual for books issued towards the end of  year to carry the following year’s date.

But why would the accounting records dictate the year on the title page?  Why would a book selling so quickly that it had to be reprinted within a couple of months, not be entered into the accounts for four months anyway?   Why would Tauchnitz use the following year’s date on this one occasion, when it doesn’t seem to have been their practice in other years, even for books published in December, never mind September?

Could there actually be a first printing dated 1841, as yet undiscovered?   It certainly seems possible that no copies of the very earliest printing have survived, given that the books were originally issued in paperback and the print run was probably quite limited.  But for a copy to be dated 1841 would go against the otherwise consistent practice of retaining the date of first publication on the title page for subsequent reprints.  It would be very odd indeed to keep the original date on all other books but to use a year after the original date for all reprints of volume 1.

So is the alternative conclusion that 1842 is in fact the true first publication date, and the earlier announcements were anticipating publication?   Companies nowadays often announce the release of new products many months before they actually appear in the shops – known in the consumer electronics industry as ‘vapourware’.   Was Tauchnitz an early adopter of this practice?

My best guess is that they were – and that the book was never actually issued until the start of 1842, or at least very late 1841.  Certainly a second edition followed very quickly, as two versions with a different number of pages exist, each in the format used only in the early years of the series, where there is no reference to the edition being ‘sanctioned’ by the author or subject to copyright.   The assumed first printing has 34 pages of preliminaries, followed by 477 pages of text.   All other printings, right through to the 1890s have the preliminaries extended to 36 pages by the addition of another preface and the text restricted to 467 pages.   I have a copy of the first setting and there is also a copy in the collection recently acquired by the National Library of Scotland, but almost all other copies in the collections in National libraries and University libraries are reprints, including an early paperback copy in the New York Public Library.

Tauchnitz 1 final page
The 1st printing ends on page 477.

It’s likely that all copies of the first edition were sold as paperbacks, with the company only starting to offer hard bound editions later in 1842.  It was common practice for buyers though to take paperbacks to a bookbinder and have them privately bound, and it’s the bound copies that are more more likely to survive.   The New York copy dates from around August 1843 and is the earliest known surviving paperback copy of this book.  I have a handful of earlier paperback copies of other books in the series, but they’re certainly not easy to find.  Paperbacks don’t survive well over 170 years.

Tauchnitz 1 frontispiece

What about the book itself?   I haven’t read it yet, and I’m not sure many people have.  I don’t think anybody much reads Bulwer Lytton these days, although in his time he was an extremely popular writer.   His books account for 12 of the first 25 books in the Tauchnitz series, and other German publishers were also issuing pirated copies of his novels, both in English and in translation.   I’ll see if I can get round to reading it soon.

The forthright saga

Bernhard Tauchnitz prided himself on the relationships that he had with many of the leading British authors of his time.  His relationship with Charles Dickens for instance was based on friendship, trust and loyalty, and almost all of Dickens’ works were published by the firm.  Other authors may not have been quite so loyal, and many were tempted away to one or other of the competitors that sprung up from time to time in the European market.   As most of  these competitors were relatively short-lived, the authors often returned later to Tauchnitz, perhaps a little shame-facedly.

The First World War however brought a new situation, with Tauchnitz unable to publish new works by British authors and two major new series starting up in Paris.   The authors who submitted their latest works to either the Nelson’s Continental Library or The Standard Collection from Louis Conard, could hardly be accused of lack of loyalty in wartime, although it’s interesting to note that George Bernard Shaw was not among them, and was back with Tauchnitz by 1919.  Amongst the authors though who did jump ship was John Galsworthy and it’s worth looking at his behaviour in the light of his later role in changes that had a significant effect on Tauchnitz.

John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy

At the peak of his fame, John Galsworthy was a literary giant.  He had honorary degrees from a string of universities, was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929, after earlier turning down a knighthood, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.  He was known for his plays as well as his novels and both enjoyed enormous commercial as well as critical success.   The critical reputation has not really survived and I’ve never seen any of his plays being revived, but his novels in ‘The Forsyte Saga’ are still popular, at least amongst television producers.   So it’s no surprise to see him with a long list of publications in Tauchnitz.

Tauchnitz 4372 The silver box   Tauchnitz 4375 The inn of tranquility

It took a while for Tauchnitz to identify him as an author deserving a place in their series.  He already had several successful works to his name before he got his first Tauchnitz publication with ‘Man of Property’ in 1909.  After that though they came rapidly, and by the time war broke out in 1914, there would have been a row of 12 Tauchnitz Galsworthys on his shelf.   He was then quick to seek alternative publishers and his novel ‘The Freelands’ was in the first batch of titles issued in the Nelsons Continental Library in 1915, before he moved again to have ‘The little man’ published in Conard’s ‘Standard Collection’ in 1916.

This was followed by four other volumes in this series, but in 1920 he offered a new collection of plays first to Conard, and only later to Tauchnitz, who published it as ‘A bit o’love and other plays’.   Todd & Bowden seem to suggest that the prior offer to Conard was because of contractual obligations, which he was then able to free himself from, in order to return to Tauchnitz.  I’m not sure how this fits though with his subsequent decision to withhold from Tauchnitz the next two volumes of the Forsyte saga.  ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were published instead in the Standard Collection in 1921 and 1922, now run by Collins rather than Conard.   By 1923 this series had ended and he was back again with Tauchnitz.

Standard Collection 193   Standard Collection 210

From then on Galsworthy stayed with Tauchnitz and the number of titles continued to grow, although he never seemed to be quite comfortable with them.  Corresponding through his literary agent, he was always forthright.  By March 1926, perhaps regretting his decision to publish elsewhere, he was pushing Tauchnitz to issue a combined edition of The Forsyte Saga, which they did in volumes 4733 to 4735.   ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were new to Tauchnitz, but ‘A man of property’ was already in the series and I can’t think of any other instance where the same book on its own was republished in the series under a different number.

Tauchnitz 4733 The Forsyte saga 1  Tauchnitz 4734 The Forsyte saga 2  Tauchnitz 4735 The Forsyte saga 3

At the same time he was pushing Tauchnitz for higher payments, with some success, and complaining that in his foreign travels, he had not seen enough of his books on the shelf.   By September though a more significant issue was being raised.  After his agent had already sent the text of ‘The silver spoon’ to  Tauchnitz for publication, Galsworthy intervened to insist on a year’s delay before the book was issued.  He was concerned to allow sufficient time for his British publishers to sell their higher-priced hardback edition in Europe before permitting a paperback edition.  The same proposal was then raised with the Society of Authors, who agreed that the year’s delay should apply to all works.  This significantly undermined the position of Tauchnitz, who saw near simultaneous publication as essential to their success.   It was one of many factors that weakened the firm throughout the 1920s, although it should be said that it was later no barrier to the success of Albatross.

By the time of his death in 1933, Galsworthy had some 28 volumes to his name in the main Tauchnitz series, and extracts from them had also been published in the Tauchnitz Pocket Library and the Students Series.   Further volumes were published throughout the 1930s including ‘The Freelands’, the first novel he had taken elsewhere, so that by the time the series ended, it featured almost all of Galsworthy’s works, even those he had originally withheld from Tauchnitz.  Maybe Tauchnitz had the last laugh after all.

Nelson Continental Library 9   Tauchnitz 5213 The Freelands

Nelson’s Continental Library in 1915, Tauchnitz in 1935

A letter from Charles Dickens

If, like me, you have an interest in the Tauchnitz Editions, then a 150 year-old letter addressed to Bernhard Tauchnitz, is an exciting find.   If you’re at all interested in English literature, then a letter written and signed by Charles Dickens is something special.   A letter from Dickens to Tauchnitz wins on both counts.

24. Auktion

This one was written by Dickens in November 1860 accepting an offer of £35 from Tauchnitz for the publication of ‘The uncommercial traveller’ and ‘Hunted Down’.  The two works were published together as volume 536 of the Tauchnitz series just a few weeks later, their publication announced on 13 December 1860.  Dickens seems to consider ‘The uncommercial traveller’, a series of sketches from his journal ‘All the Year Round’, as being the main work for which payment is being offered.  He adds ‘Hunted Down’ apparently only as an afterthought, at the bottom of the letter, and it accounts for little more than 30 of the near 300 pages in the book.  Yet it is this short story that takes pride of place at the front of the book and on the title page.  Did Tauchnitz see this as the real prize?

Tauchnitz 536 Hunted Down title page

The 75th anniversary publication for Tauchnitz in 1912 included a long selection of extracts of letters from famous authors, with a special section for a series of letters from Dickens.  It is clear from these that Dickens had absolute faith in the reputation of Tauchnitz for fair dealing.  In relation to ‘Dombey and Son’ in 1846 for instance he wrote ‘… I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.  But I have every reason to rely upon your honourable intentions; and if you will do me the favour to state your own proposal, I have little doubt that I shall be willing to assent to it …’.

Letters from Dickens quoted in 1912 Anniversary history 3
Letters from Dickens quoted in 1912 Anniversary history 2

In this letter too, he accepts without question the proposal of £35 from Tauchnitz.   That may well have been a fair price, but it is worth noting that ‘Hunted Down’ is a story that has drawn attention because of the large amount of money initially paid for it.  Dickens was offered £1000 to write it for the ‘New York Ledger’, which published it in three instalments in August and September 1859.   He then published it in ‘All the Year Round’ in 1860, and here now he offers it to Tauchnitz as a makeweight in a £35 deal.   Its value seems to have fallen from £1000 to just a few pounds in little over 12 months!

This particular letter was not quoted in the 1912 publication, but there is an extract from a letter dated just 6 days later, on November 21st 1860.   ‘I beg to acknowledge with thanks, the safe receipt of your draft for £ .. Sterling, also, to send you the agreement with my signature and seal attached’.   Although the publisher’s discretion means that neither the amount of money nor the name of the work are quoted, it seems fair to assume that Dickens had already received both the contract and the payment of £35.   Tauchnitz it seems was a fast worker, and the postal service between Britain and Germany must also have been efficient, possibly even faster than it now is.

Letters from Dickens quoted in 1912 Anniversary history 4

Clearly Tauchnitz kept files of his correspondence with his authors, and recognised himself that the letters from Dickens were something special.  It would be reasonable to assume that they continued to be kept at the Tauchnitz offices and might have been in the premises destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in December 1943.   The survival of this letter suggests though that may not have been the case.  Perhaps they were kept by representatives of the Tauchnitz family when the business was sold in 1934.   This letter turned up last year in an auction in Germany, where it was described as a letter to the German publisher, Tauchnitz, but not identified as being from Dickens.   Do  other letters still exist out there somewhere?

Finally, if that’s not enough, there is another reason to celebrate this find.  ‘Hunted Down’ is one of the few stories to be set in the exciting world of life assurance and to have as one of its principal characters, an actuary, the career to which I have devoted most of my working life.

Finding your Barings

Lambay Island off the Irish coast is barely 15 miles from the centre of Dublin as the seagull flies, but it could be in another world. It’s home to tens of thousands of seabirds, a large number of seals, herds of deer and cattle, and most extraordinary of all, around 100 wallabies. Human beings though are mostly conspicuous by their absence, and the island is a wonderful haven for wildlife.

  Lambay-Island   Lambay-Island-4  

Despite this, the grandeur of the natural environment is almost matched by the grandeur of the built environment, with the main buildings having been designed by Edwin Lutyens, and the gardens by Gertrude Jekyll. Even relatively humble farm buildings show the evidence of Lutyens’ characteristic style and the overall effect of the design is little short of magnificent.

  Lambay-Island-2   Lambay-Island-3  

Lutyens’ involvement was commissioned by Cecil and Maude Baring, of the Barings banking family, who bought the island in 1904. It is still owned by a family trust set up by the Baring family. I had a rare opportunity to visit Lambay just before Easter, and it was quite an experience. Nothing quite prepares you for tramping across wild moorland and suddenly disturbing a wallaby, which springs out of the undergrowth and bounds away. Compared to that surprise, an unexpected connection to a largely forgotten author may seem trivial, but it was still another small delight of the visit.

Maurice Baring was in his day a popular and prolific author, writing around 50 books including poetry, novels, letters, short stories and non-fiction of various types. He was a friend of both G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and the three of them were often associated as Catholic writers, although he is nowadays less remembered than either of the other two. His privileged upbringing as part of the Baring family is reflected in his work and may even be part of the reason it has fallen out of fashion.

Maurice Baring (1874 - 1945)

Maurice Baring (1874 – 1945)

Several of his novels and short stories were published in continental editions by Tauchnitz, starting in 1925 with ‘Half a minute’s silence’. His eighth Tauchnitz Edition – ‘Friday’s business’ – was published in 1933, but early in 1934 he seems, like many other authors (including Belloc), to have defected to Albatross. They published an earlier novel ‘C’ that Tauchnitz had apparently overlooked, and followed it up later in the year by publishing Baring’s biography of Sarah Bernhardt, who had been a personal friend.

Tauchnitz volume 4851 first printing October 1928

Tauchnitz volume 4851 first printing October 1928

By then the effective takeover of Tauchnitz by Albatross was near, with the two series being run in parallel under joint editorial control from around 1935 onwards. There was to be one final publication by Baring – the novel ‘Darby and Joan’, and it appeared in the Tauchnitz series in 1936. The basis for deciding which novels / authors appeared under which imprint has been much discussed, and it’s unclear why Baring may have been categorised as a Tauchnitz author rather than an Albatross one, but it may simply have been the comparison of eight previous works in Tauchnitz against two in Albatross.

Maurice Baring books

Maurice Baring was the younger brother of Cecil Baring of Lambay Island. I assume he must have visited the island, possibly many times – maybe he even disturbed a few wallabies.