Bound copies of the Tauchnitz Edition are very difficult to date. Most of the key dating information is on the original wrappers that have usually been discarded by the bookbinder. But what if the wrappers are still present? Surely then it’s easy to date them, and to identify first printings?
In most cases, it is – the date, both month and year, is shown at the top of the back wrapper. But not always, and even when it is, there can still be complications. Firstly the early editions were undated and by early, I mean for the first 30 years of the series, roughly from 1842 to 1872. Copies from this period in their original wrappers do still turn up from time to time, and although all are 150 years or so old and certainly rare, they’re still often a long way from first printings.
Todd and Bowden in their Tauchnitz bibliography, introduced a system for classifying and dating these early editions, which relies in large part on the dictionary adverts on the back wrapper. In a reversal of their practice with novels, Tauchnitz always recorded the printing date and the edition number for their dictionaries. So if the wrapper advertises the 16th edition of the English-German dictionary, it comes from 1865 /66, if it advertises the 20th edition, it’s from 1869/70, and so on.
This method is fairly reliable, but it’s not the full story. When a book was rapidly reprinted, it can exist in two different wrappers, both advertising the same edition of the dictionary. Then the only way of identifying the first printing is the laborious process of checking through the list of other titles to make sure that the wrapper doesn’t include any later-published titles.
From June 1872 until December 1934, the process gets much easier, as the back wrappers are dated. If the wrapper date is later than the year shown on the title page, it must be a reprint. If it’s in the same year, then it comes down to checking the month against the bibliography. For much of this period though, there’s a simpler way, because Tauchnitz adopted a different style of wrapper for first printings and reprints.
The new style for first printings appears around volume 2990 in 1894. The front wrapper is still identical, but the list on the back switches to a much larger typeface for the titles, with a very short description underneath – often just ‘A new novel’. Instead of being just on the back wrapper, this list, on first printings only, stretches over the inside wrappers as well. In fact the distinction that first printing wrappers have a list extending over the inside and back wrappers, whereas reprints have the list only on the back wrapper, seems to predate the change to the new format by a year or so. The first example I’ve seen of this is dated May 1893.
The picture below shows a comparison between the style of wrapper used for first printings and the style for reprints, that continued from 1894 through to 1903. Throughout this period a quick glance at the style of the back wrapper can identify first printings much quicker than a comparison of dates or volume numbers.
Then at the beginning of 1904 a new two-column style was introduced for first printings, now with a slightly longer description of each book, still extending over the inner wrappers as well. The comparison below of first printing and reprint formats shows them still easily distinguishable. In some cases, as below, where books were reprinted very quickly after first printing, both first printing and reprint exist with the same month at the top of the back wrapper. Then only the difference in format can distinguish which is the true first.
So far as I know, this rule for identifying first printings is almost always respected. There is one known example on volume 4700 where the first printing in the correct format is dated September 1925, but copies also exist in reprint format dated August 1925. Todd & Bowden still give first printing status to the copies dated September 1925, partly on the basis of the bound-in catalogues. I’m inclined to agree and to think that one or other is mis-dated, but there must be some doubt about this. Other than that, the rule seems to be a cast iron guide.
This second first printing format continued from about January 1904 (volume 3705) through to December 1934 (volume 5178). By this point Albatross had taken over editorial control of the series and was starting to apply the more modern design principles of its own series. Adverts on the back cover had no place in this, and after a brief period of totally plain back covers, Tauchnitz adopted a completely new cover design and the Albatross system of colour-coding by genre. Dates as well as advertising for other titles moved to inside pages. In many cases a printing date and sometimes even an indication that a book is a second printing can be found on the back of the title page. It was only five years though before the Second World War effectively ended the series and so relatively few volumes from this period were reprinted anyway.