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Studying with Tauchnitz – Part 2

Part 1 of this topic looked at the early one-off publications by Tauchnitz for school use and for home students of English.  They were not really a serious attempt to access what was potentially a substantial market.  From 1886 though, Tauchnitz got serious.  The Students’ Series for School, College and Home took classic English texts, mostly already published in the main Tauchnitz series and gave them to a German academic.  Their job was to take an excerpt or abridge a novel, add footnotes for German students and write an introduction in German.

Tauchnitz Students Series 1

The first printing of this book would not have said ‘No.1’ on the cover. This is a reprint from around 1904..

Fifteen volumes of the new series were issued in 1886, starting with ‘The Lady of Lyons’ by Edward Bulwer Lytton, who had already had the honour of opening the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors 44 years earlier.  He was quickly followed in this new series by works from George Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson, W.M. Thackeray, Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott – something of a parade of the great and the good from the first 40 years of Tauchnitz history, although Dickens had to wait until volumes 9 and 10.

The books were issued in two formats, as paperbacks and in a hard binding with plain paper boards and a red fabric spine.  Few people would pay to have the paperbacks privately bound, and few of them have survived in the original wrappers, so almost all surviving copies are in the standard hard binding. It generally cost only 10 pfennigs more than the paperback edition anyway (for instance 0.80 Marks rather than 0.70 Marks), so it seems likely that this was how most of them were sold.

Tauchnitz Students Series 2

A paperback copy of volume 2, but again a reprint, probably from around 1900.

First printings of the early editions are rare.  Todd & Bowden, the Tauchnitz bibliographers,  found an 1886 copy of only three of the first 15 titles.  They were unable to find any copy at all of four of these books and of the overall series there were 21 of the 41 volumes for which they could not locate a single copy.   This probably exaggerates the rarity though, as most libraries have limited interest in schoolbooks and tend not to collect them.  My own collection now includes copies of 33 of the 41 titles, including many of those previously unlocated.

But early printings are still difficult to find.   I now have what I believe to be first printings of six of the first 15 titles.  The key is that they are dated 1886 on the back cover and have no volume number on the front.  As more generally with Tauchnitz, even reprints from many years later still have the original publication date on the title page and the front cover, so we have to look for clues elsewhere.   Early issues have the printing date on the back cover.  For later issues, the approximate date can be established by checking what other titles are advertised, or often by checking the edition number of the English-German dictionary regularly advertised on the back cover.  New editions of the dictionary were regularly issued, so for instance an advert for the 39th edition of the dictionary dates the book to roughly 1904 to 1907, when the 40th edition was published.

A first printing of volume 4

The example of volume 4 above is typical.  It is dated March 1886 on the rear and unnumbered on the front.  It lists only the first eight volumes as already available and a further six titles as in course of preparation.  Two of these six volumes did appear in due course substantially as promised, although ‘Sketches’ by Dickens split into two volumes.  Of the other four, one never appeared, and three were published under other titles and/or with different academics supplying the footnotes.

After the initial rush, production of new titles started to slow down.  There were six volumes added in 1887, another five in 1888 and a total of 11 between 1889 and 1893.  After that it was only occasional titles, one in 1896, one in 1900, one in 1902 and bizarrely a final title during the First World War in 1917.  Reprints from around the turn of the century seem to be relatively plentiful though, so the existing titles must have been selling well enough.  Perhaps there was simply no need for lots of different titles.  After all few people remain a student for long enough to get through more than 41 books, before either giving up, or graduating to full novels.

From volume 38 onwards in 1896 there was a bit of a change of direction.   Instead of adding footnotes under the relevant text, comments were provided in a separate booklet along with an English-German dictionary of the most difficult words.  The ‘Anmerkungen und Worterbuch’ were sold separately, generally at a price of around 40 pfennigs.  Dictionaries were also compiled for many of the earlier titles that were still on sale and again sold separately from the books at prices ranging from 20 pfennigs to 1 Mark.

Tauchnitz Students Series 38 Notes and Dictionary

The series continued to sell  into the early 1920s, but eventually, after 40 years, Tauchnitz seems to have come to the conclusion that it needed a refresh.  A new series, the Tauchnitz Students’ Series Neue Folge, launched in 1926.  That may some time be the subject of Part 3, and if I ever get round to it, there’s a Part 4 waiting in the wings as well.

Students Series spines 1

A collection of the Tauchnitz Students’ Series


The peace of Godolphin

It was Charles Dickens who quickly became the star writer of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, but when the series launched in 1841, Dickens was only 29 years old and had published relatively few works.  He had already written ‘The Pickwick Papers’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ all of which appeared early on in the Tauchnitz series, and he was at work on ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock’.   These on their own were more than enough to cement his reputation in literary terms, but in terms of quantity, they were not enough to sustain the new series.

That task fell instead in large part to Edward Bulwer Lytton, perhaps the most popular writer of the 1830s, filling the gap between Walter Scott and Dickens.  His reputation has not survived in the same way, but in his time he was seen as a master storyteller (before Dickens came along to redefine the term).  Bulwer Lytton’s books were widely pirated in continental Europe, and in publishing them in his new series, Tauchnitz was following in the footsteps of several other publishers.  It was a natural way to keep the series going, while he prepared his revolutionary plans to pay authors for permission to publish authorised editions of their latest works.

Tauchnitz 1 frontispiece

Frontispiece from the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Pelham’

Three of the first ten volumes in the Tauchnitz series were by Bulwer Lytton, including ‘Pelham’ as volume 1.  By volume 25, he accounted for 12 volumes and by the time the series moved away from piracy to publishing editions sanctioned by the author, the tally had increased to 15 volumes.  Almost all of Bulwer’s previous works had by then appeared, and later works appeared in authorised editions as they were written, over the next 30 years.

As the author most ‘pirated’ in the early years of the series, Bulwer might reasonably have borne Tauchnitz some ill will, but this seems not to have been the case.  The grand gesture Tauchnitz made in offering to pay for authorisation, when there was no legal requirement to do so, seems to have silenced all his critics and established his reputation as a man of principle from then on.

In that rush of early pirate editions, one book that stands out is ‘Godolphin and Falkland’, which appeared as volume 23 of the series in 1842.  It combines two works – ‘Godolphin’, a satirical novel from 1833, and ‘Falkland’, a shorter work written in the form of a series of letters.

Tauchnitz 23 half-title

Very unusually for Tauchnitz, the first printing is marked by a major printing error on the title page, where the title is shown as ‘Codolphin and Falkland’.  As it is written correctly on the front wrappers and half-title, on the fly-title which follows the main title page, and throughout the novel, this seems to be a simple error in typesetting and proofreading.  Such errors are rare though in Tauchnitz Editions and no doubt this one caused a good deal of distress to Dr. Fluegel, who according to the wrappers was responsible for ‘the corrections of the press’.  It reminds me of the error allegedly committed by a priest saying Grace who referred to ‘the piece of Cod that passeth all understanding’.

Tauchnitz 23 Title page

The title page was corrected in later printings, but all early copies seem to have this misprint.  Corrected copies appear only with the more modern typeface adopted in 1848, and are marked as copyright editions, so misprinted copies continued to be sold for around six years.   It’s hard to imagine such a fundamental error being allowed to continue for so long these days.  If nothing else, the author would surely insist on the book being withdrawn and pulped, but as this was initially a pirate edition, the author had no say.

Tauchnitz 23 Bound in paperback

Any copy of the book with the misprint is from those first 6 years, but as usual with Tauchnitz, the only way of being sure that a copy is a first printing, is if the original wrappers are still present.  Tauchnitz bibliographers Todd & Bowden were unable to find any copy in original wrappers earlier than 1875, which hardly helps us.  But the copy in my own collection is in a makeshift binding for the Jens & Gassmann circulating library in Solothurn, Switzerland, matching the similar copy of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, that I believe could be the earliest copy of this novel in book form anywhere in the world.

In particular, although these volumes are privately bound, the original paper wrappers are bound in, and provide the evidence for precise dating.   In the case of ‘Godolphin and Falkland’, the rear wrapper lists just the first 25 volumes in the series, which makes it almost certainly the earliest wrapper, and the book therefore a first printing.

Tauchnitz 23 Rear Wrapper

The earliest known Tauchnitz paperback?

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.

Tauchnitz 4

A paperback copy of volume 4 from 1842

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.

Tauchnitz 4 back wrapper

Advertising just 7 books in the series – possibly the earliest Tauchnitz paperback to survive.

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.

The scandalous Lady Blessington – a feminist pioneer?

Marguerite, Lady Blessington (1789 – 1849) certainly seems to have lived an interesting life.  Born plain Margaret Power in Tipperary, she was forced into an abusive marriage at the age of 15, left her husband to return to her family and then went to live ‘under the protection’ of a certain Captain Jenkins, whatever that means.   Through him she met the Earl of Blessington, a widower, who established her as his mistress, and then married her after the death of her husband in a prison accident.

In her new position as the Countess of Blessington, she seems to have developed extravagant tastes, become a noted London hostess and travelled widely.   She became friends with Byron and recorded details of many of their conversations in one of her early books.  She also developed a long friendship with the Count d’Orsay, who eventually married her step-daughter, although rumours persisted that his real relationship was with Lady Blessington herself.


Painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822, now held in the Wallace Collection

To judge by her Wikipedia entry, the fame of Lady Blessington today is more the result of gossip about these various relationships than to do with her writing, but she was nevertheless a significant and popular novelist of her day, and has at least one major role in the history of publishing to her credit.

The series of books launched by Tauchnitz in 1841 was called the Collection of British Authors, but a more accurate description for the first 50 volumes would have been the Collection of White Male Authors.   The first volume by a non-British Author was ‘The spy’ by J. Fenimore Cooper as volume 5, but it was not until volume 52 that the first novel by a female author appeared, and as for non-white authors, the wait was to be far, far longer.

The publication of ‘Meredith’ by Lady Blessington as that volume 52, in September 1843, coincided with the implementation of voluntary agreements that Tauchnitz had negotiated with authors in advance of copyright legislation.   The first 50 volumes had been pirate editions, but from volume 51 onwards publications were sanctioned by the author in return for an agreed payment.   Tauchnitz had received letters of introduction to authors including Lady Blessington and proposed an agreement to them.   Lady Blessington wrote to him on August 11, 1843 – ‘I trust that long ere this you have received the agreement with my signature …  Short as our acquaintance has been, it has inspired me with such confidence in your integrity and justice that I do not hesitate to fulfil my agreement being convinced that I shall have no reason to repent it.’

‘Meredith’ had only shortly before been published in the UK, and by October, the author was working on a new novel.  She wrote again to Tauchnitz on October 21, 1843 – ‘ … I am now engaged in a novel … It will be entitled Strathern and shall be sent to you weekly.’   In the UK it was published in weekly serial parts, and the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Strathern’, published in October 1844 as volumes 69 and 70 was the worldwide first edition in book form.  It did not appear as a book in the UK until 1845.

Tauchnitz 69 Strathern half-title   Tauchnitz 69 Strathern title page

By this time, she had already made her views known on equal pay for women. ‘ I hope you will not think me unreasonable in expecting the same remuneration for my works, that my friend Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton is to receive’, she wrote on April 15, 1844.  Considering that Bulwer Lytton was perhaps the most popular novelist of his day, before the emergence of Dickens, and already had a string of bestselling novels to his name at this point, this might have been a bit presumptuous, but as the request is recorded in the Tauchnitz 50th anniversary history, I suspect it was granted.

Three other novels by Lady Blessington were published in the Tauchnitz series –  ‘Memoirs of a femme de chambre’ as volume 104 in 1846, ‘Marmaduke Herbert’ as volumes 123 and 124 in 1847 and ‘Country quarters’ as volumes 183 and 184, posthumously in 1850, another novel that had been originally issued in weekly serial parts (in ‘The Lady’s Newspaper’).   Her position as the first woman to be published by Tauchnitz was secure, but by the time of her death in 1849, she had been joined in the list by other female authors, starting with Lady Georgiana Fullerton in 1846, Mrs. Gore in 1847 and then most notably by Charlotte Bronte with ‘Jane Eyre’ in 1848.  Within 20 years, women authors would be in the majority in the Tauchnitz list, but that’s another story.

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.

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.