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Rhombuses are forever

The market for English books published and sold in continental Europe was dominated by Tauchnitz for a long time.  Many competitors came and went, mostly unable to make much of a dent in the position of Tauchnitz.  But the First World War, which separated the German firm from its authors and from many of its customers, provided a rare opportunity for other firms to intervene.    The Nelson’s Continental series that launched in Paris in 1916 and the Standard Collection from Louis Conard in Brussels, were just two of the rival series that sprung up to fill the void.

Even after the end of the war, Tauchnitz continued to be hobbled by its aftermath and by the rampant inflation that took hold in Germany.   It was certainly several years before the company got back to anything like its former market position and arguably it never recovered the vigour and the dominance it had previously had.  The market opportunity for other companies persisted and one firm that decided to dip a toe into the water was the Rhombus publishing company based in Vienna.

Rhombus 25 Masque of Red death

‘Rhombus Editions’ seems to me a spectacularly bad choice of name.   There’s a perfectly good English word for the shape that mathematicians insist on calling a rhombus, and the same is true in German.  The shape is a diamond and if that’s the shape you want for your marketing, then surely ‘Diamond Editions’ is a better name than ‘Rhombus Editions’. But Rhombus Editions it was.

They launched around 1920, with a series of very slim volumes, typically only about 80 pages long.  This may have been the result of paper shortages in post-war Austria, or may have been a recognition that many potential purchasers had limited English and could not tackle a full length novel.  It’s also possible that the books were partly aimed at schools, or more generally at students.  Whatever the reason, Rhombus published mostly short stories and looked more like the Tauchnitz Pocket Library editions that the German publisher had issued during the war, than standard Tauchnitz Editions.

They were also more like the Tauchnitz Pocket Library in including only (?) out-of-copyright works by dead authors.  Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and William Thackeray all feature heavily alongside even earlier poets and playwrights.   Whereas the Tauchnitz list had for many years included more volumes by female than male authors while focusing on contemporary works, this list is almost entirely male as well as entirely dead.

Rhombus 51 The black cat

Working out what books existed is not easy, as relatively few of them remain and it’s not clear that the numbering system was either consistent or comprehensive.  Lists in the books I have seen include titles with a selection of numbers between 2 and 99, accounting for about thirty books in this range, but also many missing numbers.  Those may have been books that quickly went out of print, or they may never have been issued.

Rhombus 549 The purloined letter

After volume 99 in about 1922, the cover design changed and the series numbering moved on to 501.   From here on all numbers seem to be accounted for up to about 560.   But the series started to include some longer works, which were presumably sold at a higher price and were given two numbers, or even three.  These are not numbers for separate volumes, just two or three consecutive numbers given to a single book in a single volume.   So volumes 508/9 is Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The citizen of the world’ and Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ is given numbers 518/19/20.

Rhombus 518 20 Edgar-Allan-Poe+The-narrative-of-Arthur-Gordon-Pym-of-Nantucket

Counting these as a single volume each, I can account for around seventy or so volumes in the series, issued roughly between 1920 and 1925, but there may have been many more.

Rhombus French Un phillosophe

Alongside the series of works in English, the firm published similar series in French and in Spanish as well as some books in German.  The ‘Bibliothèque Rhombus’ and ‘Biblioteca Rhombus’ seem to have been no more successful than the ‘Rhombus Edition’ and after 1925 they all seem to disappear.