The Tauchnitz ‘Series for the Young’ must be one of the longest-running and yet shortest series of children’s books, surviving for 23 years, but publishing a total of just 30 volumes.
It launched in 1860 with ‘Kenneth’, a story by Charlotte Yonge about Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia – one of four volumes to appear in that first year. But after the initial flurry, there were never more than two volumes added to the series in any subsequent year, as it limped along to a final publication of Emma Marshall’s ‘Rex and Regina’ in 1883.
Over the same period, the Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ advanced from volume 500 in 1860 to volume 2200 in 1883, so published over 1700 volumes, while the ‘Series for the Young’ published 30.
What was the point of it? The list of titles is remarkably undistinguished and the only one that would be much remembered today is Charles and Mary Lamb’s ‘Tales from Shakespeare’, which had been first published in 1805 and was already a classic by the time it appeared in this series. On the other hand, ‘Little Women’, a genuine classic of children’s literature, appeared in the main series in 1876, perhaps wisely avoiding the backwater of ‘The Series for the Young’, as did ‘Tom Sawyer’, later the same year. Over the 100 year duration of the main series, it including numerous children’s classics, from ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The secret garden’ to ‘Winnie the Pooh’, without any need for these to be branded as ‘for the young’.
By contrast the titles in the ‘Series for the Young’ seem to be characterised more by the desire for moral education than by a passion for entertainment and adventure. The principal author was Charlotte Yonge, who contributed 14 of the 30 volumes, with Maria Edgeworth and Dinah Craik writing three each. Most of the authors (other than Edgeworth, who had died 20 years before publication), also had titles published in the main series, so perhaps this was just providing an outlet for books judged unsuitable for the main series, but by authors that were important to the firm.
Almost all of the books were by female authors. There is just one written entirely by a male author (plus the part contribution by Charles Lamb) and that came 18 years after the start of the series. Women authors were contributing just over half the volumes in the main series over this period (1860s to 1880s), but this still seems a surprising level of dominance. Again it may perhaps be linked to the type of book that was being included in the series, rather than reflecting children’s literature in general, which so far as I’m aware was not dominated by women authors in the 19th century to anything like this extent.
Todd & Bowden, in their Tauchnitz bibliography, suggest that the series was intended primarily for use in German schools, but the evidence is limited and the texts are not obviously suitable for this.
The format of the books was very similar to the main ‘Collection of British Authors’ and like most Tauchnitz publications they were mostly sold as paperbacks, with many then privately bound. There was also a distinctive publisher’s binding in blue cloth (shown below) with gilt page edges and spine decoration, and blind stamping on front and rear boards, that was applied to at least some of the titles. Some volumes also appeared in other standard Tauchnitz bindings.
It’s usually only copies still in the original paperback wrappers that can be dated accurately or confirmed as first printings. But as with the main series there are other points, particularly the list of other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title, that can help with dating. These show that many of the books were re-printed and remained in print for many years, so presumably the sales of some of them did mount up, but it seems unlikely that the series was any more of a success in commercial terms than it was in literary terms.