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How to deal with a war against your customers

When your whole business is based on the cultural links between two countries, and hostilities then break out between them, you’re in a difficult position.  It can’t be easy at the moment to sell Russian folk music in Kiev.  So imagine how Tauchnitz must have felt at the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany a hundred years ago.

For over 70 years the firm had been publishing English literature in Germany and selling their books across the European continent.  A large part of their market, including selling to British and American travellers, disappeared more or less immediately and their basic product, contemporary English literature, became unacceptable to the censor.   Like any business in wartime they would also have faced many practical difficulties, including the loss of a large part of their staff.  From publishing at the rate of around 6 volumes a month up to August 1914, they were reduced to a total of 20 volumes in their main series between September 1914 and December 1918.

English Text-Books 10

And yet somehow Tauchnitz survived.  They may never have quite recovered their pre-war strength, but there were many reasons for that and arguably the signs of decline were evident even before the outbreak of war.  That they survived at all was due partly to a series known originally as ‘English Text-Books’ and later as the Tauchnitz Pocket Library.  It may have been born out of desperation, and was one of the least attractive of their products, but it may also have been one of the most important.

The series started life in 1916 as ‘English Text-Books – selected from the Tauchnitz Edition’  – a description perhaps chosen for political reasons, although the books don’t appear to have been aimed particularly at schools.  In practice they were all parts of books previously published, and even printed from the original plates with the original page numbering.  Most were relatively slim volumes, typically 100 to 150 pages in drab covers, and sold for around 90 pfennigs, just under 1 Mark.  The first selection consisted of 38 volumes, followed later in 1916 by a further 40 titles, with the series title now altered to ‘Tauchnitz Pocket Library’.   A lot of the first 38 were also reprinted either at this stage, or possibly in 1917, with the new series title.

English Text-Books 22a  Tauchnitz Pocket Library 22a

First printing and reprint with new series title (and censor mark on cover)

A final 11 volumes taking the series total up to 89, were published in 1918 and again earlier titles were then reprinted, distinguishable as reprints only by the rear cover listing all 89 titles rather than just the first 78.

They’re not easy to find now, particularly in first printing, and they are poorly represented in most Tauchnitz collections, although there is a full collection of them in the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig.

Tauchnitz Pocket Library 80a

A later issue in the series, from 1918