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Bookmarking the old-fashioned way

I never really had any interest in bookmarks.  My interest has always been in the books themselves.  But sometimes it’s difficult to collect one without the other.  They tend to turn up together.  Bookmarks left out of books don’t usually last long.  But neatly pressed between the pages of a book, they can last as long as the book.

That’s certainly the case with Tauchnitz bookmarks that regularly turn up within the pages of old Tauchnitz Editions, usually the paperback ones rather than hardbacks.   Over the years I’ve found around 50 of these within books, as well as buying others separately, so I suppose I have to admit that I now collect the bookmarks as well as the books.

I suspect a lot of the surviving bookmarks are ones that were never really used for their proper purpose.   They were inserted as advertising into the books at the point of sale, tucked in completely between the pages.  In books that were never read they just stayed there, sometimes untouched for decades.   By contrast those that were actually used to mark a page and then left in a book would have protruded slightly, and become worn and discarded.  And if any were left in paperbacks sent to the bookbinder, they’d be discarded and replaced with a nice silk ribbon – nice but uninteresting

Bookmark April 1893

An early bookmark – slightly longer than the books

It helps that most of the Tauchnitz bookmarks are just the right size to disappear inside the books.   In fact they started off rather bigger and few of the early ones have survived.  Luckily more of the later ones have, because they’re a fascinating piece of publishing history.   Tauchnitz had bookmarks printed probably every month for over 20 years, between about 1893 and 1914 and each month’s bookmark recorded the books issued that month.  Between them they’re more or less a complete record of the 1500 or so books published in that period.    Or at least I assume they are.   If I’m right to say that they were issued every month, then there should be around 250 different monthly bookmarks.   The Tauchnitz bibliography found surviving copies of only 56 of them.  I’ve found quite a lot more, and heard from bookmark collectors who have others.  That still leaves us a long way short of 250, but near enough to make it look as though they probably do all exist.  I’d love to hear from anybody who has others.

  Bookmark May 1903 front   Bookmark May 1903 back 

Front and back of the May 1903 bookmark

The design of the bookmarks remained essentially unchanged for 20 years, although there were minor changes in the colours and the details.  That may seem surprising in these days of constant design changes, but the design of the books themselves had been largely unaltered from launch in1842 until the first major redesign in 1914 – a period of over 70 years.  Although the early bookmarks list the books in roughly numerical order, with a short blurb about each one, they quickly became more selective about which books they wanted to promote the most.  The choice of which book to list first is then evidence of which book the publisher saw as most prominent that month.

The last regular bookmark probably appeared in July 1914, just over 100 years ago, but a further bookmark dated January 1915 swept up the final books published before the war effectively put a temporary end to the publishing of English books in Germany.  They never reappeared after the war in this format, although there were still occasional advertising bookmarks issued, often promoting the works of one particular author.

The final bookmark in the series?

How to confuse collectors in five easy lessons … by Collins White Circle

My post a couple of weeks ago looked at the Collins White Circle paperbacks.  They should be a very collectable series, particularly the Crime Club editions, but Collins really didn’t make it easy for collectors.  Here’s a guide to their strategy.

Lesson 1 – Show previous printings without identifying what they are

Most White Circle paperbacks list several previous printings and it’s easy to assume that they are previous printings in the same format.  Usually they aren’t.   For instance, White Circle No. 1 was Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and the first printing as a White Circle paperback appears from the printing history to be an 8th printing.  As far as I can tell, all seven previous printings are hardback printings in the Collins Crime Club series.   Printings not by Collins don’t appear to be included, notably the first paperback printing in the Albatross Continental Library.

Collins-Crime-Club-1  White Circle 001 printing history  White Circle 001 back cover

Front cover, printing history and back cover of the first printing of White Circle No. 1

The better test for whether or not a copy is a first printing, is to see what other titles and numbers are listed on the back cover and the last few pages – a genuine ‘first’ should not list numbers much beyond its own.   Happily most copies are first printings of a sort anyway – see lesson 3.

Lesson 2 – Develop an idiosyncratic numbering system

The White Circle numbering system started out sensibly enough, numbering the Crime stories from 1 upwards.  When westerns were added to the series they started at 101.  Mystery titles then set off from 201 and Romantic novels used the 300 numbers, although oddly mixed in with a separate series of novels from Galsworthy’s Forsyte saga.

It wasn’t difficult to foresee what would happen.  The Crime Club novels reached number 100 and instead of jumping to some unused numbers further on, they started to sport a suffix.   So 101 is a western, but 101c is a crime novel.   Eventually both crime and western novels reached number 200, so 207 is a mystery novel, 207c is a crime novel and 207w is a western.  Even more oddly the Services Editions have a c prefix, whatever the genre, so c207 is a Services Edition, and happens to be a mystery novel.

Number 231 and c231.   231c also exists.

Number 231 and c231. 231c also exists.

Lesson 3 – Assign a new number to reprints

The first White Circle paperback printing of Philip Macdonald’s ‘The noose’ was issued in January 1938 as number 34 in the series.  The printing history showed it as the 13th printing but it was the first in White Circle.  It was reprinted in October 1939 as the 14th printing, but then became number 83 in the series.  So the 13th printing is the first in White Circle, but the ‘first printing’ of number 83 is actually a White Circle 2nd printing and is shown inside as a 14th printing.   There are many similar examples.  Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ was issued four times as numbers 32, 87, 129c and 257c.

Lesson 4 – In other cases, ignore previous printings entirely

The consequence of lessons 1 and 3 is that whatever the printing history says,  most standard White Circle paperbacks are ‘first printing thus’ – not necessarily a first printing in White Circle, but a first printing for that number.   Unfortunately this is far from true for the Services Editions, where Collins went to the opposite extreme, giving no indication of previous printings.   For example the first printing in Services Edition of ‘The black thumb’ by Conyth Little (volume c204) shows simply ‘First published 1943 Services Edition 1943’.  It was reprinted in 1945 and shows ‘First published 1943 Services Edition 1945’, which could easily be mistaken for a first printing.

      c204 The Black Thumb 1943 First  c204 The Black Thumb 1945 reprint

First printing and reprint of the Services Edition of ‘The black thumb’

There are several little differences between the 1943 first printing and the 1945 reprint, as with the other books that were reprinted, but you need to be a bit of an anorak about these books to recognise them.   Most book dealers of course have no idea, so reprints are often wrongly described as first printings.

Lesson 5 – Have hidden series numbers that aren’t shown on the books

This is another classic tactic from the Services Editions series.    The first 16 books or so show no series numbers on the first printings, but do show numbers on any reprints.    It looks as though series numbers were assigned retrospectively, so they published the first 16 books, then started numbering at c217 and allocated numbers c201-c216 to books already published (Why c as a prefix?  Why start from c201?).   For those books that were never reprinted, the numbers have to be inferred from lists and from the evidence of other books.

I should add that I haven’t yet started on the Indian Editions, which look very similar to the UK White Circle editions, but carry no numbers and no printing history.   I’ll come back to these, but I’ve found it pretty well impossible to compile a reliable list of what exists.  I’d be delighted if anyone can help me.

Why did Penguins have numbers?

If you p-pick up a Penguin book published recently, you won’t find a series number prominently displayed on the spine or on the half-title.   When Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, picked up the original books that he was about to republish as paperbacks, he wouldn’t have found series numbers on them.   As a publisher, and Director of The Bodley Head, he had already published many books and I doubt there was a number on any of them.

Yet of all the many decisions he had to take as he set about launching Penguins, the question of whether or not to use series numbers was probably one of the easiest.   They were paperbacks – of course they would be numbered.   However much of an innovator or revolutionary Lane was, not to number his new paperbacks would have been a step too far.

Penguin spines 1st ten

The continental Albatross Books from which Lane took many of the ideas for Penguin, had series numbers.  The Tauchnitz Editions that were effectively the predecessor of Albatross, had been numbering their books since the first volume in 1842, and had reached over 5000 by 1935.  In Britain too, paperbacks were almost always numbered.   The Hutchinson paperback series of ‘Famous sixpenny novels’ had already gone past 400 and Victorian paperbacks such as W.T. Stead’s ‘Books for the Bairns’ and ‘Penny Poets’ had all been numbered.   There were certainly a few hardback series that were numbered as well, but the general rule was to issue paperbacks as a numbered series and hardbacks as individual books.

Albatross spines 2  Volume 4 low

Albatross paperbacks and an early Tauchnitz paperback

But why?  Was it that paperbacks were seen as more like magazines than books?  Magazines had traditionally been numbered, although often split into in volumes, rather than just numbered sequentially.    Newspapers, even today, are often numbered – The Times is currently over 70,000, The Independent at a more modest 8,500ish. 

Did it go back to the days when novels, such as several of those by Dickens, were sold as a series of parts, in numbered paperbacks?  Or was it just that paperbacks needed the branding of a series, whereas hardbacks sold more on the reputation of the author, or the cover illustration.  The logic doesn’t seem to apply any more, as few paperbacks are now numbered, or have any conspicuous series branding or publisher branding.

Whatever the reason, Penguin came to love their numbers.   Special numbers soon became reasons for celebration.   George Bernard Shaw was the prime celebratory author in the early days, being given numbers 200, 300 and 500.  Volume 1000 was saved for a book by Edward Young, a former Penguin employee who had drawn the original logo, before going on to become a submarine commander.   It was followed by volume 1001 – ‘The thousand and one nights’.   Earlier, number 666 had been used for ‘Defy the foul fiend’.

Penguin 1000

From the point of view of modern day collectors, series numbers are a great help, making it much easier to see what exists and which books are missing.   They almost provide a rationale for collecting – to find the first 100 or the first 1000 Penguins – although they also provide some intriguing mysteries, where numbers are missing or duplicated or inconsistent.

Penguin eventually stopped showing series numbers on their paperbacks some time around the 1970s, although they couldn’t entirely kick the habit.   Almost alone amongst major publishers, they continued to print the ISBN at the bottom of the spine, from which a series number could be inferred, for almost another twenty years before eventually deciding it was entirely redundant.

Anatomy of a madness

After the briefest of welcomes, I used my first post on this blog to plunge straight into a discussion of one of the more obscure points in what is already an obscure area of book collecting. That says a lot about my obsession, but I really should first introduce myself.

I am a book collector. There, I’ve said it! It may not be quite like being an alcoholic, but it’s certainly an addiction. I have an attic full of books, most of which I’ve never read, and I continue to add more books than I can possibly ever hope to read. That seems almost like a definition of a collector.

I came to book collecting through Penguin Books, as many do. They were the alco-pops that drew me in, before I progressed to the harder stuff. The early Penguins are beautiful books, now widely recognised as design classics, and carrying with them a haze of nostalgia. The actual books are a very mixed bag, many of them not really living up to the sort of middle class intellectual image that Penguin cultivated, but benefiting nevertheless from its halo effect. It took me several years to put together a collection of the first 1000 Penguins in first printing, but I had great fun in doing it, trekking around second-hand bookshops in the days before the internet.

  Brighton Rock  Web-Mysterious-affair  

That kept me interested only for so long though, and I quickly discovered one of book collecting’s dark secrets – that almost all the pleasure is in the chase, not in the possession. My focus was always on the ones I was looking for, rather than the ones I already had, and by the time I had a full set, my interest had moved on to other things. Indeed if anyone wants to make me a reasonable offer, I’d be happy to part with a full set of volumes 501 – 1000, and I can even envisage saying the same about the first 500 before too long.

I moved first to some of the more obscure recesses of Penguins – American editions, Australian editions, Services Editions, Forces Book Club and so on, and I’ve never satisfactorily completed most of these smaller collections. From Penguin Services Editions though, I got interested in Services Editions from other publishers, and this has become one of my enduring passions. There is not only no complete collection of Services Editions anywhere, but there is no known list of what exists. The British Library, the Bodleian, the Imperial War Museum, have barely a single Services Edition between them. I believe my own collection, of around 400 UK Services Editions is almost unique (I know of one other serious collector), and I hope that it will one day be preserved in one of the major libraries of the UK.

  Collins c216   Hammond & Hammond 1  

The other direction in which my collecting interests have taken me though, is into Europe. The last few years of putting together my Penguin ‘First thousand’, coincided with a period when I worked abroad, in Paris and later in Brussels. On visits to second hand bookshops in both cities, I could hardly fail to notice the brightly coloured Albatross editions, which provided much of the inspiration for the launch of Penguin Books, and the much duller Tauchnitz editions that came before them, both series that were printed in English, but published on the continent. I was used to the idea that paperbacks were a modern invention, roughly dating back to the launch of Penguins in 1935. Allen Lane was the true hero of the paperback revolution. Yet here were paperbacks, clearly in the same direct line of development, which went back almost 100 years earlier, to the 1840s.

  Albatross 20   Tauchnitz 65  

I was quickly hooked into collecting Albatross Books. There are around 500 of the pre-war editions, and this seemed manageable enough. Within 5 to 10 years I had put together an almost complete collection of them, although there remains some doubt about exactly what books exist. Tauchnitz Editions are another matter entirely though. There are around 6000 of these, published roughly from 1842 to 1942, and no sane person would attempt to collect them all. It was many years before I admitted that this was what I was trying to do – years during which I accumulated significant numbers of Tauchnitz paperbacks, as an interesting sideline to my collections of Penguins and Albatrosses.

Twenty years later, I now have around 4000 of them, paperbacks and hardbacks, but almost all in first printings, as far as I can determine. It’s become fairly difficult to deny that I collect Tauchnitz Editions. Most of the major national libraries of the world, and many university libraries, particularly in the US, have collections of Tauchnitz Editions, so this collection is not as unique as the Services Editions. It’s certainly not the largest in terms of numbers of books, but many of the other collections have far fewer of their books in first printing. Until publication of the Todd & Bowden bibliography in 1988 it was very difficult for any library or collector to recognise first printings in Tauchnitz. The bibliography effectively downgraded many of the copies previously collected. My own collecting has benefited from having Todd & Bowden available as my guide, and also from all the new possibilities now opened up by the internet. It’s still a kind of madness though.