My first post on ‘The English Library’ published by Heinemann and Balestier in the 1890s looked at the story of the partnership between William Heinemann and Wolcott Balestier and of some of their authors. But what of the books themselves?
Physically they looked much like the Tauchnitz Editions that they were set up to compete with. They were of course paperbacks, and of the same size and with the same buff-coloured typographic covers. Nothing particularly to make them stand out in the shops they were sold in, presumably in most cases alongside Tauchnitz books. Like the various publishers of the Asher’s series before them, they saw no advantage in distinguishing the look and feel of their books.
That’s a common enough strategy today for any business challenging a market leader – often followed for instance by supermarket own-brands. Make your product look very similar to the market leader’s product in the hope that buyers will believe it’s of the same quality and can be bought with the same confidence. The other part of such a strategy though is to charge a lower price. Heinemann and Balestier instead offered volumes of the English Library at 1.60 Marks or 2 Francs, exactly the same as the price of Tauchnitz Editions at the time.
Perhaps they hoped to compete simply on the attraction of the titles and the authors. Asher’s had signed up George Eliot to launch their series with ‘Middlemarch’, whereas Heinemann and Balestier chose Kipling to launch the English Library and were aggressively signing up other authors. They were successful in attracting some popular and high profile authors, but others stayed with Tauchnitz and some even split their works between the two publishers. Comparing the lists now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not obvious that either publisher had a more successful publishing programme.
The books published by Heinemann and Balestier that have become best known in the 125 years since then, are probably ‘The Jungle Book’ by Kipling, ‘Three men in a boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome, and ‘Diary of a nobody’ by George and Weedon Grossmith – certainly all classics, but perhaps a little on the lightweight side rather than literary blockbusters. Certainly these are books that Tauchnitz would have been disappointed not to publish, and there are relatively few other classics of English Literature that Tauchnitz missed out on throughout its entire history. Oddly the English Library also included ‘Hedda Gabler’, which was certainly a minor coup, although not one really within the remit of either series.
In comparison though over the period from mid-1891 to the end of 1892, which was the main period of competition between the two series, Tauchnitz published Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, the Sherlock Holmes novel ‘A study in scarlet’ and ‘New Grub Street’ by George Gissing, as well as other works by Hardy, Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and Frances Hodgson Burnett. There’s no clear winner in terms of either literary quality or popular appeal and the eventual withdrawal of Heinemann and Balestier was probably more to do with financial strength, or with the consequences of Balestier’s death.
Tauchnitz though had the huge advantage of a strong back catalogue of over 2500 volumes to support its new works. It had continuing sales of many titles by Dickens, Hardy, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Wilkie Collins and a host of other writers, most of which had been acquired for a single payment rather than continuing royalties. This must have been a daunting prospect for any competitor.
In terms of identifying first printings, the English Library books share some of the same complications as Tauchnitz. Copies surviving in the original wrappers can be dated by reference to the other books listed on the wrappers, but inevitably most surviving copies have been privately bound and the wrappers discarded. As with Tauchnitz the title page date is not a reliable indicator, often left as the date of first publication even on later reprints. The only evidence of reprints may be the presence of later-published titles by the same author listed on the half-title verso. By this evidence Kipling’s books in the series seem to have been reprinted frequently, and the first volume, ‘The light that failed’ is often seen with other, later titles listed. Given the relatively short life of the series though, many books may never have been reprinted.
One of the oddest features of the series is that as well as turning up in the usual variety of 19th century private bindings, English Library volumes are also found in several of the standard bindings used by Tauchnitz, so that they would have looked almost identical in the bookshops. The Todd & Bowden bibliography classes various generally ‘art nouveau’ bindings from the 1890s and 1900s as Tauchnitz publisher bindings in series x7. But as the same bindings exist on English Library volumes, they were presumably produced by a bookbinder independent of Tauchnitz, even if sold directly by the firm. Tauchnitz did not start its own in-house bindery until 1900.
Kipling’s ‘The light that failed’ in The English Library, alongside George du Maurier’s ‘Trilby’ in Tauchnitz
Other examples of ‘Tauchnitz style’ bindings on English Library volumes
By the end of 1892 the series was in decline, although it limped on for some time. It reached volume 199 by 1894, but the last title I have been able to identify is ‘The mystery of the sea’ by Bram Stoker, published as volumes 210 and 211 in 1903.
Even that was not the end, as sometime shortly after this, the rights to the back catalogue seem to have been acquired by the publisher F.A. Brockhaus, also in Leipzig, who had previously been the main wholesale distributor for the series. Reprints continued to appear under their imprint, sometimes combined with that of Heinemann & Balestier, right through almost until the Second World War, although only a small number of the titles were reissued. Most of the Kipling titles were reprinted by Brockhaus, but as time went on, it seems to have been really only ‘The jungle book’ together with ‘Three men in a boat’ that continued to sell. For these editions it is much easier to date them, as the title page is updated. With the decline in private bookbinding, they also mostly exist in paperbacks, usually with a bright cover illustrated with poppies.
Brockhaus reprints from 1928 (above) and 1921, 1922, 1924 and 1937 (below)
At heart the Tauchnitz Editions were paperbacks. That’s almost an article of faith for me, despite the fact that a high proportion of them were taken on a visit to the bookbinder. And because the bound copies survived better, an even higher proportion of the surviving copies are hardbound books, in a bewildering variety of bindings.
But not all Tauchnitz Editions were sold as paperbacks. Almost from the start, Tauchnitz offered books for sale in bound editions as well as paperback. The earliest record of these is an announcement in the Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel on 31 May 1842, that attractively bound copies (schöne Einbände) would be available two weeks after the paperback issue.
The binding this referred to was almost certainly the binding illustrated below and classified as binding x1 in the Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions. I have several of the early editions in this binding, but nothing to rival the magnificent run of almost all the first 100 volumes that exists in the Pressler Collection, now in the National Library of Scotland.
Bindings in this style don’t seem to exist much after volume 100, in 1846, although the bibliography records an unusual copy of ‘Bleak House’ bound in this style from around 1852. There are though many fairly similar bindings that were probably produced by private binders.
The usual rule for recognising that a binding is produced and sold by the publisher, rather than being a private binding attached to a book sold as a paperback, is that it has the publisher’s name on the binding. Few publishers could resist the temptation to add their own name to the binding, sometimes almost with greater prominence than that of the author, but oddly few private binders thought the name of the publisher of any relevance at all. It seems unlikely that bindings without the Tauchnitz name on are produced by the firm, although there are certainly a few private bindings that are marked with it, particularly later on, as ‘Tauchnitz Edition’ became almost a generic product name applied to any continental edition in English.
The example below, which shows a first printing of ‘The Pickwick Papers’, volumes 2 and 3 of the series, alongside the later volumes 36 and 50, is an interesting example. The bindings are clearly very similar, and this applies not only to the spine, but to the boards as well, which are almost identical, as are the endpapers and the marbling of the page edges. The most significant difference between the two is that the later volumes have the words ‘Tauchnitz Edition’ at the base of the spine. Is it possible that the first two are an early binding from the publisher, before he developed the vanity to insist on his own name being applied?
However the Pressler collection includes a similar copy of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ in the standard publisher binding, with the words ‘Tauchnitz Edition’ at the foot of the spine. It seems unlikely that the firm would have sold two versions, with and without the publisher name. So my best guess is still that my copy is a private binding, although possibly produced by the same bookbinder, if the Tauchnitz binding work was outsourced, or perhaps by another bookbinder in Leipzig, who worked in a similar style.
Although this early publisher binding was probably not offered for long, other styles followed it and were offered for sale by Tauchnitz at various times, indeed throughout most of their history. I’ll come back to the other types of binding in later posts.
This post, like all my posts about Tauchnitz books, is tagged ‘Vintage paperbacks’. Yet if you check out the thousands of Tauchnitz volumes for sale on the internet, you’ll find far more copies in hardback than in paperback. My own collection too probably contains more hardback than paperback books in the main series, although other things being equal, I always give preference to a paperback copy. I’m not just being perverse. Tauchnitz editions at heart are paperbacks. Although the company did sell hardback copies almost from day one, the vast majority were sold in paperback, including most of those now advertised for sale in hardback. Somewhere along the line, there’s been a visit to the bookbinder.
This was not unusual for Continental Europe at the time. There’s a typically insular British view that Penguin invented the paperback in 1935 (some Americans even give the credit to Pocket Books in 1939), but paperbacks had been sold in continental Europe for centuries before that, and even in Britain were widespread before 1935. They had several advantages, including of course price, but for many European purchasers that was not the main consideration. They were quite willing to pay the cost of binding, but they wanted it done in their own style, not that of the publisher.
So in 19th century Europe, books were often sold in paperback, then taken to a bookbinder. In some cases whole shelves full of books from a range of different publishers would be bound in a uniform binding. It must at times have looked stunning. But the result now is that Tauchnitz editions are found in a huge variety of bindings and a shelf full of them often looks anything but uniform. And of course it’s the books that were bound, particularly those in expensive bindings, that have survived best. In contrast, the paperbacks that may once have been far more numerous, have mostly disintegrated and are now difficult to find. The older the books, the more that’s the case, so the earliest volumes from the 1840s and 1850s are now rarely found in paperback.
Or at least they’re rarely found in first printing paperbacks. Later printings abound for some of the earliest volumes and one of the major advantages for a collector is that paperback copies are usually relatively easy to date, whereas hardback copies can be almost impossible. Tauchnitz had the unusual habit of leaving the first printing date on the title page even on reprints many years later, and not showing the printing history. The true printing date is usually on the paperback covers or can be worked out from the information about other publications on the covers or on the half-title verso. But often bookbinders would discard not only the covers, but the half-title as well, leaving almost no way to establish the date of the book.
In fact often the best clue to the date of a hardback may come from the style of the binding. There’s a whole art to dating bindings, although complicated by the variation between countries and individual binders, as well as over time. It’s not unusual though to see a Tauchnitz Edition offered for sale and claiming to be from the mid-19th century, when the most cursory glance at the binding shows it can’t possibly date from then.