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Studying with Tauchnitz – Part 1

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.

Tauchnitz A2 Title Page

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?

A Christmas Carol Schools Edition title page

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.

Sample footnote

A sample footnote, with German text in Gothic script.

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.

  Tauchnitz A12 Title Page  Tauchnitz A13 Title Page

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.



Victoria and Albert in Tauchnitz Editions

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.

Tauchnitz 850 Frontispiece

Portrait of Prince Albert as Frontispiece to Tauchnitz volume 850

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.

Tauchnitz 850 title page

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.

Tauchnitz 2228 Dedication

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.

Tauchnitz 2348 Title Page

Charles Dickens – The lost Leipzig letters

The relationship between Charles Dickens and Bernhard Tauchnitz was much closer and friendlier than is often the case between authors and publishers.  The letters between the two men were both very numerous and very cordial.   They were also preserved for a long time.  But where are they now?

“I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.’, writes Dickens in 1846, “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 …”.   Then in 1854, “… It was a matter of real regret to me that I was abroad when you were in London.  For it would have given me true pleasure to have taken your hand and thanked you with all heartiness for your friendship.  I hope to do so on the occasion of your next visit, and also that it will not be long before you return here.  Mrs. Dickens and her sister unite with me in best regards to yourself and family.”.

    Tauchnitz 2 frontispiece

Bernhard Tauchnitz and Charles Dickens

The two men had known each other since 1843, when Dickens was 31 and Tauchnitz just 26.  Dickens was undoubtedly the star author in the Tauchnitz series.  The Tauchnitz Editions were the only authorised editions of Dickens’ work to be published in continental Europe in English, and covered all of his novels, as well as a long series of volumes reprinted from ‘Household Words’.  So the correspondence between the two men is evidence of a long and trusting relationship.

The letters from Dickens were kept by Tauchnitz, along with correspondence from other authors.  When the firm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1887 by publishing an anniversary history and catalogue, the book included excerpts from letters sent to Tauchnitz from various authors who had by then died, including Dickens.   A shorter anniversary publication 25 years later in 1912 gave even greater prominence to the correspondence.  This time a dedicated section on letters from Dickens preceded a general section on letters from all other authors.

Letter from Dickens in The Harvest

Facsimile letter from the Centenary publication

In 1937 the Centenary publication contained facsimiles of a small number of author letters, with pride of place again going to a letter from Dickens.   This was followed by a selection of contemporary letters of congratulation on the centenary from prominent people such as the British Prime Minister and the Archbishop of York.  At that point it seems clear that the archive of author correspondence was still in existence.  Presumably it remained the property of Tauchnitz, by then legally owned by Brandstetter, the firm that printed both Tauchnitz and Albatross books.  However Albatross, based in Paris, exercised editorial control over both firms, so it’s certainly possible that some or all correspondence had moved location.

In December 1943, the printing works of Brandstetter in Leipzig were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, and it has since been widely assumed that the archive was destroyed at that time.  On the 125th anniversary of Tauchnitz in 1962 what remained of the Tauchnitz firm, by then based in Stuttgart, published a final short Festschrift.  It again quoted extracts from two letters from Dickens, but as both of these had already been published in the earlier anniversary histories, they do not provide evidence that the archive was still in existence.  Instead, rather ominously the Festschrift (roughly translated) says that ‘… most of the documents relating to the history and development of the firm in its old home town of Leipzig were destroyed in 1943, or are currently unobtainable as a result of the unhappy division of our country’.

125th Anniversary publication

The 125th anniversary Festschrift

That unhappy division came to an end in 1990 and with it the first evidence that at least some of the documents had survived.  For that evidence we are indebted to Gunter Böhnke, who discovered and transcribed some of the letters from Dickens to Tauchnitz, and to his son, Dietmar Böhnke, a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, who has more recently published them.  Gunter Böhnke in 1991 discovered 34 of Dickens’ letters to Tauchnitz and about 30 others by various Dickens family members and other publishers, in the archive of one of the state owned publishing and printing firms that were about to be dismantled following German reunification.  He photocopied and transcribed them before handing them back.   Unfortunately they have since been lost and there is now no record of what has happened to them.

Other evidence that the archive may have survived comes from a single letter that I was able to buy at auction several years ago – see my post on A letter from Charles Dickens.  This letter was not one of those transcribed by Gunter Böhnke, and was not acknowledged in the auction as being from Dickens, so presumably it must have been separated from other letters, probably before 1991.

24. Auktion

One stray letter, separated from the archive

It appears that at some stage the Tauchnitz archive was broken up.  Large parts of it may by now have been lost or destroyed, even if they survived the 1943 attack.  But there does remain the intriguing possibility that other letters, including those seen in 1991, still exist and may turn up again some day.   That could include not only multiple letters from Dickens, but a treasure trove of letters from other leading authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.



What’s in a name? That flaming Jun.

On the title page of early Tauchnitz Editions, the publisher’s name is shown as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’  On any edition published after 1852 it is shown as ‘Bernard Tauchnitz’.  That added Jun. is an important indicator of the age of the book.  But why and how?


When Bernhard Tauchnitz started his own publishing firm in 1837, he was not even 21 years old.  He was certainly young, but’junior’ usually means younger, rather than young. So who was he younger than?   I haven’t been able to find any evidence of his father’s name, but it would make some sense if his father had also been Bernhard Tauchnitz.

However, according to an article written by Tighe Hopkins in 1901, Bernhard’s father had died while his son was quite young, so even if he was called Bernhard, there was probably no need to add ‘Jun.’ to distinguish the son from his father.  But if not needed to distinguish the two, it may still have been a way of referencing and paying respect to his father.

Tighe Hopkins article extract

Extract from an article by Tighe Hopkins in 1901

Or was it more a way of distinguishing Bernhard from his uncle Karl Tauchnitz, whose name was already well known as a printer and publisher in Leipzig?  Bernhard had been apprenticed to his uncle Karl for several years before launching his own firm.  It was where he had learned the publishing business.  The firm of Karl Tauchnitz published cheap editions of Latin and Greek classics, and had introduced to Germany the stereotype method of printing.

There was certainly some risk of confusion between the two companies, and many of Bernhard’s early publications were also in Latin.  But they had different first names, so it’s not obvious that adding ‘Jun.’ to one of them would make much difference.  Anyway Karl Tauchitz had died in 1836 (possibly one of the factors pushing Bernhard to start his own business) and the business had passed to his son, also called Karl (or Carl).  So in some ways there would have been more justification for adding a ‘Jun.’ to Karl Tauchnitz’s name.

Karl Tauchnitz 2

The description ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ is mostly now seen on English language books, but it’s worth noting that it first appeared in 1837 or 1838, some 4 years before the start of the ‘Collection of British Authors’.  It was probably first used on Latin books and in that context makes perfect sense.   Junior may now be mostly thought of as an English word, but its origin is in Latin, as a contraction of ‘juvenior’ meaning younger.  Was that why Bernhard chose ‘Jun.’ rather than the German equivalent, ‘der Jüngere’.  I’m not sure how normal it is to use Jun. as an abbreviation in German.   It was certainly used by Tauchnitz on German books as well as on Latin and English ones, but on French books he used instead ‘Bern. Tauchnitz Jeune’.

Bernh Tauchnitz Jun Latin 2

Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun. imprint in a Latin book (with a neat monogram as well)

Bern Tauchnitz Jeune French

Imprint from a French language edition

At the end of 1852, Tauchnitz dropped the ‘Jun.’ and styled himself simply ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ on all subsequent title pages.  He was by then 36 and a very successful publisher, so perhaps Junior was no longer appropriate.  Now, 150 years later though, it’s useful that there are these two different descriptions.   Tauchnitz Editions are very difficult to date, and they provide a quick way to distinguish early editions.

In broad terms, any book that says ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ is printed before 1853, and anything that says ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ is no earlier than late 1852.  In particular the first printings of volumes 1 to 246 in the Collection of British Authors, all (with the one exception of volume 237) say ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’.  Any copy of these books that says ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ must be a reprint, even if there is nothing else to indicate it as such.

Bernard Tauchnitz on a reprint

Bad news!  This book must be much later than 1843

It’s the very first thing I look for in any early Tauchnitz, in particular any volume dated 1852 or earlier on the title page.  A lot of these books were reprinted many times, over almost the next 100 years, and all still with the original first printing date on the title page.  So reprints vastly outnumber first printings, and it’s far more common to see ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ on the title page rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’.   But as soon as you see it, you know it’s a reprint.

Jane Austen in Tauchnitz Editions

Before the Tauchnitz series started in 1841, there was a flourishing market of pirate editions of English language novels in continental Europe.   Indeed Bernard Tauchnitz himself started off as a pirate before eventually turning to the straight and narrow.  The novels of writers such as Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and Bulwer Lytton were widely published in France and in Germany, both in English and in translation, without any authorisation and with no payment to the author.

Jane Austen however seems to have been of little interest to the pirates.  Her novels were translated into French and later into German, but I can find no evidence of her work being published by any of the main English language publishers in Germany or France.  The copyright on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ expired in 1841, so after that she could have been published freely anyway, even with the introduction of international copyright agreements.  But still there seems to have been little interest.


A French translation of Pride and Prejudice from 1832

Once Tauchnitz got into his stride, his interest was mainly in publishing contemporary English literature.  Most of his publications came out very quickly after first UK publication, and for many of the more established authors, publication in the UK and in the Tauchnitz Edition happened almost simultaneously.  But he still found room in the series for earlier novels and out of copyright works, often using them to fill gaps in the publishing schedule and keep the printing works busy.  Over a period of 20 years he published almost all of the works of Walter Scott, who had died in 1832, and of course he included the works of Shakespeare in the series and other early novelists such as Swift, Smollett, Defoe and Sterne.  But for the first 20 years, no Jane Austen.

Perhaps she was too English to be of interest to continental readers?  That seems unlikely to be the whole story though, as a significant part of the Tauchnitz market was selling to British and American travellers on the continent.  The more likely explanation is that she was simply out of fashion, even with British readers.  Although her works had been reprinted several times, sales were slow in Britain and they were not yet seen as classics of English literature.


A rare paperback first printing of Sense and Sensibility

In 1864 though, Tauchnitz decided to dip a toe in the water, with publication of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ as volume 735 of his Collection of British Authors.  Like all Tauchnitz Editions it was originally issued in paperback and the first printing is distinguished by reference on the wrapper to the 15th edition of the Tauchnitz English-German dictionary.  Later paperback printings will generally have a date at the top of the back wrapper.  Most surviving copies though have been bound and first printings can only be identified by the absence of any other works by the same author listed on the back of the half title.


Reference to the ‘Fifteenth Stereotype Edition’ of the English / German Dictionary confirms this is a first printing

Presumably sales were sufficiently encouraging, because ‘Mansfield Park’ followed in 1867 as volume 883 of the series.  Publication seems to have been planned for March of that year, but the book did not appear until June, after volume 893, probably again being used to fill in a gap in the schedule of more up-to-date works.  The paperback 1st printing referred to the 17th edition of the English-German dictionary and again the half-title showed no other works by Austen.


For ‘Mansfield Park’ the first printing shows no other titles by Austen on the half-title verso

Still there was no hurry to issue ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but it did eventually appear in 1870, as volume 1112, almost 30 years into the Tauchnitz series and over 50 years after first publication in the UK.  Arguably publication was long overdue, but in the end the timing was good. Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, had published ‘A memoir of Jane Austen’ in 1869 and it sparked a renewed interest in the author, with her novels being republished in Britain as well.

The paperback first printing of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is identified by its reference to the 21st edition of the English-German dictionary and the half-title lists the two other works previously published by Tauchnitz.  Later printings list 4 works.  As with most Tauchnitz Editions of this period, first printing copies are of course rare, and paperback first printings particularly so.


A list of four other titles identifies this as a reprint (two for the first printing)

Tauchnitz followed up the increased interest in Austen by publishing a combined edition of ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ as volume 1176 in October 1871.  The bibliographers were unable to find a single copy of the first printing in paperback, so I can’t confirm any identifying marks, but it might be expected to refer to either the 21st or 22nd edition of the English-German dictionary.  Certainly on bound editions, the first edition should list only three (rather than four) other works by the same author on the half-title verso.

The set of Jane Austen editions in Tauchnitz was still not completed until finally ‘Emma’ was published in 1877, 13 years after ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and over 60 years after first publication of the novel in the UK.   The volume number is 1645 and the first printing in paperback is dated February 1877 at the top of the back wrapper.  Later printings exist dated April 1900 and December 1905, possibly amongst other dates.  For bound editions though there is no easy way of distinguishing first editions.  All copies list the four other books by Austen on the back of the half-title, and the only other clue to date is likely to be the binding.


For ‘Emma’ all editions list four other titles.  This may or may not be a first printing.

I don’t quite understand why it took so long to get all of Austen’s novels published in the Tauchnitz series, but I can only assume that sales had been slow.  Given Tauchnitz’s aspirations to include all the best of English literature in his series, he would surely not have passed up the opportunity to publish all the Austen novels, now well out of copyright, if the early ones he published had been selling well.

After the publication of ‘Emma’ though, the other books were all reprinted, with the reprints in each case showing all four other books on the half-title verso.  Over time sales must surely have built up and been profitable for Tauchnitz.  At least three of the novels were still in print in Tauchnitz Editions in the 1930s although surprisingly ‘Emma’ seems not to have been.

Reprint copies of most of the books are probably not rare now in comparison to other Tauchnitz Editions.  They do though seem to be more sought after and so prices are higher, in some cases much higher.  Presumably Jane Austen collectors are either very numerous, or have particularly deep pockets – perhaps both!   Since the Tauchnitz Editions of Austen are effectively all reprints 50 to 60 years after first printing anyway, it’s not obvious that they should feature highly in an Austen collection.

First printings however are undoubtedly rare, as with almost all 19th Century Tauchnitz Editions.  The combination of that rarity, together with the demand from Jane Austen collectors, can sometimes push prices very high.  Over the last 25 years I have seen several first printings of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ offered for sale (and many more reprints masquerading as first printings), but they have never been at prices that I’ve been prepared to pay.   So for the time being my Tauchnitz collection includes only a later reprint.  I’ll keep looking!


A motley selection of Austen titles in Tauchnitz Editions, paperback and bound copies

A lesson for Harvard Business School

Bernhard Tauchnitz started young in the publishing industry, apprenticed to his uncle, Karl Tauchnitz, who specialised in publishing dictionaries, bibles and classical texts in Greek and Latin.   Karl died in 1836, and although the firm was carried on by his son, Bernhard seems to have decided at this point to launch his own publishing company. He was just 20 years old when the company was created on 1st February 1837.

To launch a publishing company under your own name at the age of 20 needs a lot of chutzpah, but it must also need a lot of money. Presumably the young Tauchnitz came from a comfortable background himself, but he was also by then engaged to be married to a wealthy young lady, Henriette Morgenstern, which no doubt helped.

baron BT low

For the first few years he continued in the family tradition.   Among the snappily titled works published in 1838 were ‘Bibliotheca Patrum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum Selecta’ and the ‘Zeitschrift fuer Rechtspflege und Verwaltung zunaechst fuer das Koenigreich Sachsen’, a legal journal.   It was not until 1841 that he turned to the publication of novels in English, the idea that was to make his name and his fortune.   There was no copyright law at the time and he was able to print copies of the latest novels published in England without any restriction, or any need to pay the authors.   Others were already doing so, and he started off in the same way.

Whether this practice troubled his conscience, or whether he saw from the start that there could be commercial advantage in doing things differently, we can never know.   But he quickly came to the conclusion that he should offer voluntary payment to the authors, in return for which he would be able to describe his editions as ‘sanctioned by the author’, and he set off for London to make this proposal to a number of leading novelists.  The first to agree to it, in July 1843, were Bulwer Lytton, G.P.R. James and Lady Blessington.  They were quickly followed by others, including Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli.

By this time, the Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ had already reached 50 volumes, all published with no authorisation or payment at all, including 15 volumes by Lytton and 7 by Dickens.   It’s perhaps not surprising that both authors were quick to accept the proposal, even if no retrospective payments were on offer.

Title page 47 Nicholas Nickleby I

Nicholas Nickleby was an early publication by Tauchnitz, with no approval and no payment.

In practice the proposal Tauchnitz made was a masterstroke. Although he was anticipating the law by only about three years (Anglo-German treaties established copyright protection in Prussia and Saxony in 1846), by being the first mover he was able both to set the terms and to establish a reputation for fair dealing. Both advantages lasted a long time.

Having been offered voluntary payment, where none was legally required, authors were in no position to negotiate the terms, and most were simply grateful for the offer, so grateful indeed that they allowed Tauchnitz to continue to set the terms throughout their relationship. Charles Dickens was clear about this in much of their correspondence. For example in 1860, almost twenty years later, he wrote:
“I cannot consent to name the sum you shall pay for ‘Great Expectations’. I have too great a regard for you and too high a sense of your honourable dealing, to wish to depart from the custom we have always observed. Whatever price you put upon it will satisfy me. You have always proposed the terms yourself, on former occasions, and I entreat you to do so now.”

George Henry Lewes, the partner of George Eliot, as well as an author in his own right, similarly wrote “As to remuneration, from your having transmitted English authors an honorarium at the time when no law of copyright rendered such an action imperative, I have conceived such an idea of your liberality and probity as to leave it to you to send me whatever sum you consider the success of the work may justify.”

The advantage that a publisher might achieve from such a privileged position can only be surmised. Publishers today would be open-mouthed at the idea of being offered a new work such as ‘Great Expectations’ for whatever sum they wanted to pay. Presumably Tauchnitz had to be careful not to abuse his position, but it was certainly one of considerable power. It even extended to his son Christian, who eventually took on the business after the founder died in 1895, with Mark Twain writing “This father and this son have one prodigious distinction which I believe no other publishers have ever enjoyed – to whit, that they were never thieves”. Twain presumably was unaware that the first 50 volumes in the series had been unauthorised.

Title page 57 Martin Chuzzlewit I    Title page 175 David Copperfield I

Later publications – Martin Chuzzlewit in 1843 ‘Edition sanctioned by the author’ and David Copperfield in 1849  ‘Copyright Edition’

There was another advantage too from the reputation and the relationships that Tauchnitz had established. He was able to obtain new novels as soon as they were completed, often working from early proofs produced by the UK publishers, or from the serialisation in monthly magazines, and in many cases even issuing them before UK publication, so that the Tauchnitz Editions are in practice often the true worldwide first editions. Through his direct relationships with authors, he could effectively bypass the UK publishers, who would have preferred a delay before allowing continental publications that would undercut their more expensive editions.

That initial proposal by Tauchnitz, even if motivated by guilt rather than hard business calculation, was undoubtedly a stroke of genius. I almost feel it should be written up as a case study by Harvard Business School. It’s a wonderful example of what the British economist John Kay, has called ‘obliquity’ – that the best results in one direction are often obtained by starting off in another, and the companies most focused on delivering ‘shareholder value’ are often the least successful in doing so.