The Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ launched in 1842 (or possibly late 1841) with ‘Pelham’ by Bulwer Lytton as volume 1 and Dickens’ ‘The Pickwick Papers’ as volumes 2 and 3. I’ve written about both of them here and I have copies of (what I believe to be) a first printing of each of them. But in both cases what I have is a hardback, privately bound, copy of a book that would originally have been issued as a paperback. Most of those first printings may have stayed as paperbacks, but if they did then they suffered the usual fate of paperbacks. It’s pretty tough for a paperback to survive over 170 years. So far as I know, no paperback first printing of volumes 1, 2 or 3 has made it through. Only copies that were taken to a bookbinder and given a sturdier binding, have survived.
It’s possible that a first printing of volume 4 has survived, but first we need to know how to recognise a first printing. For Tauchnitz Editions unfortunately, the date on the title page is of little use and there is no printing history on the back. Luckily most paperbacks are easier to date than hardbacks. From 1872 to 1934 they generally carry the true printing date at the top of the back wrapper and there are also differences in the format of the first printing wrappers that distinguish them from reprints. Before 1872 it’s more difficult, but copies can usually be dated by reference to the other books that are advertised on the wrappers. So any early paperback from 1842 should not advertise more than a handful of other titles – the series had reached volume 32 by the end of the year, and a first printing copy should not advertise any titles published much later than itself.
The Tauchnitz bibliographers, Todd & Bowden, found very few copies that came even close to meeting these conditions. An early copy of volume 1, held in the New York Public Library, lists other titles up to volume 52 and a copy of volume 8 in Paris lists titles up to volume 79. More promising are a paperback copy of volume 12, also in the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris, advertising titles up to volume 21 and a copy of volume 31 in the Netherlands (in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Hague) listing nothing later than volume 32. Both of these are likely to be first printings as volume 12 was issued out of sequence and roughly at the same time as volume 21.
Even earlier though are two copies in my collection that list only 7 titles on the back wrapper. One of these is volume 7 itself, ‘Paul Clifford’ by Bulwer Lytton, so is almost certainly a first printing. The other is volume 4, ‘Eugene Aram’, also by Lytton. Tauchnitz announced the publication of volume 4 at the end of December 1841 and didn’t announce volume 7 until nearly the end of February 1842, so it’s perhaps unlikely that the first printing of volume 4 would advertise volume 7 as having been printed. However there’s considerable doubt about exactly when the early books were published, and some evidence of announcements coming significantly ahead of actual printing, so until someone can produce an earlier copy, I still cling to the hope that my copy may be a first printing.