The fact that ‘Middlemarch’ never appeared in the Tauchnitz Edition, was a matter of lasting regret to its founder, Bernhard Tauchnitz. His series contained almost every other major work of English literature published in his lifetime and beyond, including all of George Eliot’s other novels, but not Middlemarch. Eliot was instead induced to publish a Continental Edition of this novel in the new ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’.
I’ve already written about this in previous posts. The story of George Eliot’s publications in Tauchnitz is covered here (Part 1 and Part 2) and the story of Asher’s Collection in these posts (Part 1 and Part 2). But I’ve recently come across other evidence that shows just how sensitive Tauchnitz was about the loss of Middlemarch.
After Eliot’s death in December 1880, her husband John Cross edited ‘George Eliot’s Life as related in her letters and journals’, published in the UK in 1885 and more or less simultaneously in the Tauchnitz Edition. Comparison of the texts of the two editions shows several small differences in the sections relating to the continental publication of Middlemarch.
I have noted before that Tauchnitz adds a footnote at one point. On 8th May 1872, in reference to Middlemarch, Eliot writes in her journal ‘Cohn is publishing an English edition in Germany’ (Albert Cohn was the publisher of Asher’s Collection). In the Tauchnitz version only, there is a footnote saying ‘ The author was subsequently induced to publish”Daniel Deronda” and her succeeding works again in the Tauchnitz Edition. Baron Tauchnitz paid £250 for “Daniel Deronda”.
Then on 25th February 1873, Eliot writes ‘Cohn of Berlin, has written to ask us to allow him to reprint “The Spanish Gypsy” for £50, and we have consented’ (The poem appeared in Asher’s Collection in 1874, under the title ‘The legend of Jubal and other poems’). Again Tauchnitz cannot resist adding the note ‘See foot-note on page 71’.
Tauchnitz it seems is prepared to allow reference to Cohn (spelled Kohn in the UK edition) provided a footnote is added, but direct references to Asher’s Collection posed more of a problem. On 24th March 1872, Eliot writes (in a letter to her UK publisher, John Blackwood) ‘I fancy we have done a good turn to English authors generally by setting off Asher’s series, for we have heard that Tauchnitz has raised his offers. There is another way in which benefit might come that would be still more desirable—namely, to make him more careful in his selections of books for reprint. But I fear that this effect is not so certain. You see Franz Duncker, who publishes the German translation of “Middlemarch,” has also begun an English series. This is really worth while, for the Germans are excellent readers of our books.’ The only bit of this whole section that survives in the Tauchnitz Edition is the phrase ‘The Germans are excellent readers of our books’.
On 4th October 1872, she writes again to Blackwood, ‘Asher’s cheap editions are visible everywhere by the side of Tauchnitz, but the outside is not, I think, quite equally recommendable and recommending.’ This might be thought more complimentary to Tauchnitz, but again the sentence just disappears in the Tauchnitz Edition. References to Asher in the Summary of Chapter 16 and in the index are also censored. The name of Asher was it seems not to be mentioned in polite society. Were these changes approved by John Cross, or was Tauchnitz censoring the books without the editor’s approval?
It is worth noting that by this point in 1885, Asher’s Collection was not in any sense a serious competitor to Tauchnitz. Just two volumes were added to the series in 1885 and only a handful more in the next few years, before it disappeared completely. Tauchnitz had recovered for his series, not only George Eliot, but almost all of the authors who had been seduced away. George Eliot had died and Asher’s Collection had been vanquished, but clearly the loss of Middlemarch 13 years earlier, still rankled with him. Perhaps even more, it was the fact that he had had to pay so highly to bring Eliot back. He was still feeling hard done by about his £250. Although as ‘Daniel Deronda’ and Eliot’s other works in Tauchnitz continued to sell well for many years to come, it seems likely that he more than recovered his investment.
In the early 1870s, when Thomas Hardy’s first novels were published, the Tauchnitz Editions were well established as the leading continental publisher of English language novels, but their position was not uncontested. The Berlin bookseller Adolf Asher started a rival series in 1872 and for the next few years the market was fiercely contested between the two publishers. The ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ tried to tempt away as many established authors as it could from Tauchnitz and of course tried to identify and sign up the most promising new authors.
Some authors, including notably George Eliot, were able to play one publisher off against the other and for a few years did very well out of it. Hardy seems to have been less successful. He was certainly not an established author when the Asher series launched and hardly even seems to have been identified as a promising new author.
But ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, published anonymously in 1872, had some success, and attracted the attention of Asher, who published it as volume 53 of the Asher’s Collection in 1873 (under Hardy’s own name). Sales were probably disappointing as neither Asher nor Tauchnitz rushed to publish Hardy’s subsequent novels. ‘Far from the madding crowd’, published in the UK in 1874, seems to have been ignored at first by both publishers.
It was Hardy himself who took the initiative to approach Tauchnitz, writing to them on 2 April 1876, after suggesting to his UK publisher that it might be useful to enter the Tauchnitz list as ‘a sort of advertisement for future works’. Tauchnitz was happy to oblige, but as usual wanted to publish the latest work, rather than bringing out one of the author’s previous novels. By 22 May, Tauchnitz was sending Hardy a cheque for £50 and an agreement to publish ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, which then appeared in two volumes as volumes 1593 and 1594 of the series in June 1876 – less than three months after the initial approach.
A damaged copy of the first printing of ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, vol. 1, dated June 1876
Emboldened by this success, Hardy pressed on, with further letters on 20th September and 22 October 1876, suggesting that Tauchnitz might follow up by publishing ‘Far from the madding crowd’. Tauchnitz agreed, but was clearly in no hurry, and was not willing to pay the same £50 fee. Noting that ‘you will be perhaps kind enough to consider that the book is not a new one and thereby has not the charm of novelty’, he proposed to reduce the fee to £40. ‘A new work of the usual length would be entitled to the same sum as for ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, he went on.
Hardy accepted. but even so, the book did not appear until early 1878, again in two volumes, as volumes 1722 and 1723. There is no recorded remaining copy of the first volume in its original wrappers, which would be dated March 1878, although a single copy of volume 2 survives at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
As usual with Tauchnitz paperbacks from the 19th Century, copies rebound in hard bindings are easier to find, but harder to date. First printing copies should certainly list only one other Hardy title (‘The hand of Ethelberta’) on the back of the half-title of volume 1. It can’t be said with confidence that copies meeting this condition are first printings, but it’s certainly the case that any copies listing more titles are not first printings.
When Hardy shortly afterwards came out with a new novel, ‘The return of the native’, Tauchnitz was perhaps honour bound, not only to publish it, but to pay the higher fee of £50. It appeared early in 1879 as volumes 1796 and 1797 (paperback first printing dated January 1879, hardback first printing distinguished by the list of the only two earlier Hardy titles at the front of volume 2).
But still it seems that continental sales were disappointing and the upper hand in the negotiations remained with Tauchnitz. When Hardy offered ‘The Trumpet-Major’ to Tauchnitz in January 1880, he was disappointed by the offer of £50, but Tauchnitz would go no higher, noting that he was still carrying a combined loss of around £112 on the three earlier published novels. With the benefit of hindsight, we don’t need to feel too sorry for Tauchnitz – both ‘Far from the madding crowd’ and ‘The return of the native’ were still in print over 50 years later and amongst the company’s best selling books, so we can be pretty sure that he eventually turned a profit.
Hardy must have been considering a return to the Asher’s series, at that time enjoying a renaissance under the ownership of a new publisher, Grädener & Richter. But Tauchnitz issued a barely veiled threat. If he were to go elsewhere ‘I shall very much regret it – the more as it is a principle with me now, if an author gives a book of his into other hands for the Continent, not to issue also any of his future books’.
Hardy did not defect, although it is worth noting that Tauchnitz did accept back others who did. ‘The Trumpet-Major’ eventually appeared as volumes 1951 and 1952 in January 1881 and just over a year later, Tauchnitz was not only happy to accept ‘The Laodicean’ for publication, but asked to put a value on the work, offered an increased fee of £60. It appeared as volumes 2053 and 2054 of the Tauchnitz series in April 1882. As the fifth Hardy novel to appear it showed four other novels (from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘The Trumpet-Major’) on the back of the half-title in first printing.
So after his first decade as a published novelist, Hardy had five novels and a total of ten volumes in print in the Tauchnitz Edition. For a novelist whose works had frequently been controversial that represented both success and respectability of a sort. I’ll come back to the publication history of his later novels in a second post. (Follow this link for Part 2).
If you spend some time looking for, or looking at, Tauchnitz Editions, it won’t be long before you come across one or two that are bound in vellum, with old albumen tourist photos of Italy bound in at various places throughout the text. They’re often attractively decorated on the front cover, sometimes very elaborately, and often still in relatively good condition for books that are well over 100 years old. Booksellers seem to have very little idea of how to value them, and I’ve seen them for sale at prices varying from two or three pounds to many hundreds of pounds.
From a book collector’s point of view they’re a nuisance. The same titles are found over and over again, almost all Italian-themed novels or travel books, almost always reprints and usually with the half-title page missing. Or anyway from my point of view, as someone who collects Tauchnitz first printings, they’re a nuisance. I guess there may be some book collectors who find them more interesting than the standard unadorned Tauchnitz editions. I assume most of the copies priced in the hundreds of pounds go unsold, but there may be some buyers out there to justify the high prices.
The most famous Tauchnitz collectors of all, William Todd and Ann Bowden, who compiled the Tauchnitz bibliography, did have some time for them, if only as a curiosity. Alongside their main Tauchnitz collection, which ended up at the British Museum, they put together a separate collection of the extra-illustrated editions, which is now at the Princeton University Library.
The books seem to have been produced and sold as travel souvenirs, to some extent almost as guide books, with tourists visiting the sites mentioned in the stories. Although produced in huge numbers, each book seems to be almost a one-off, with no two copies identical. The cover designs all seem to be slightly different, and the choice of photographs is always different too, as is the number of photographs, which can range up to almost 100. Did customers design their own book in some way, making their own choice of photographs and of design, possibly pasting photographs onto blank leaves inserted into the binding?
The choice of books though seems to be much more limited than the choice of designs. The most common title by far is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Transformation’, which has an alternative title of ‘The romance of Monte Beni’ on the title page but is often referred to as ‘The marble faun’ on the covers, the title by which the book is known in America. This book alone accounts for 37 of the 53 books in the Todd collection at Princeton, and there are around another 30 copies of it currently offered for sale on ABE, at prices ranging from £10 to £450.
The story of ‘The Marble Faun’ is set in Rome and it’s usually found illustrated with postcards of Rome. The next most common title, ‘Romola’ by George Eliot, is set in Florence and usually found illustrated by postcards of Florence. Other titles include ‘Pictures of old Rome’ by Frances Elliot, ‘The last days of Pompeii’ and ‘Rienzi’ both by Edward Bulwer Lytton, and ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ by Macaulay.
For Tauchnitz, the trade must have been a blessing, massively increasing sales of titles that might otherwise have sold relatively few copies. ‘Romola’ had been one of George Eliot’s least successful novels, when first issued in 1863, but probably ended up as one of Tauchnitz’s best selling titles after being taken up by the Italian tourist trade some 20 years later.
Not all of the Italian vellum bindings have postcards bound in. Some like the copy of ‘The divine comedy’ illustrated above, look similar externally, but have no photos. There is also another range of elaborate custom bindings, almost all on Italian themed books, that I’ll come back to another time.
One of the most intriguing titles to have been given the Italian travel souvenir treatment is ‘Childe Harold’s pilgrimage’ by Byron, which was issued in 1862 as the first book in the short series of Tauchnitz ‘Cabinet Editions’. These were, for Tauchnitz, ‘de-luxe’ editions in a smaller format than usual, nicely bound with gilt edges, and selling at a premium price. They were not a success. The series ran to only four titles, and most are now very difficult to find. Like ‘Romola’ and ‘Transformation’ though, ‘Childe Harold’ seems to have enjoyed a second opportunity when it was discovered by the Italian binders. Too small to have postcards inserted, it was nevertheless given a wide variety of vellum bindings and is now signficantly easier to find than the other volumes in the series.
My first post on this subject covered the early George Eliot novels published in Tauchnitz from 1859 to 1863. After this early burst of creativity in her writing career, there was a longer pause before her next novel, ‘ Felix Holt the Radical’, was published in the UK in 1866. The continental edition did not immediately follow and Eliot had to write to Blackwood, her UK publisher, in February 1867 to pass on comments of ‘deep regret that Felix Holt is not published in the Tauchnitz Edition’.
Tauchnitz had perhaps hesitated following disappointing early sales of ‘Romola’, but he needed no second prompting. Terms were agreed the following month and ‘Felix Holt’ appeared in May 1867 as volumes 897 and 898 of the Tauchnitz series. The first printing is distinguished by a list of Eliot’s five previously published titles on the half-title verso of volume 2. Later printings list other titles published later than 1867.
Perhaps Eliot remembered the initial lack of enthusiasm from Tauchnitz over ‘Felix Holt’ when her next novel, Middlemarch’ was published in 1870. She might also have had in mind that Tauchnitz had purchased the rights to ‘The lifted veil’, but had still not published it. Or perhaps we need no reason other than money to explain why she decided to abandon Tauchnitz and entrust her novel to a untested publisher launching a new series.
A. Asher & Co. was an established German publisher in Berlin, run by Albert Cohn, a literary scholar and Anglophile, but it had no track record in publishing English literature in the original language. It must have paid heavily to acquire the rights to ‘Middlemarch’, probably significantly more than Tauchnitz had ever offered, and used it as the basis to launch a series in competition to Tauchnitz. To recoup its costs, Asher split Middlemarch into 8 separate volumes and charged a premium price for them. For a period it was a very significant competitor and tempted many authors away, but in the end most of them, including Eliot, returned to the Tauchnitz fold.
In 1874, Asher’s Collection, by then under the imprint of Albert Cohn, also published ‘The legend of Jubal’ and other poems. By 1876 though, when ‘Daniel Deronda’ was published, the series had been taken on by a new publisher and was no longer a serious competitor for Tauchnitz. It was probably at this point unable to offer the same level of advance payment, whereas the generosity of Tauchnitz had been stimulated by the loss of Middlemarch.
In a section of George Eliot’s letters, referring to the continental edition of Middlemarch, there is a footnote in the Tauchnitz Edition to record that ‘The author was subsequently induced to publish “Daniel Deronda” and her succeeding works again in the Tauchnitz Editions. Baron Tauchnitz paid £250 for “Daniel Deronda”.’. Does the eagerness of Tauchnitz to record this betray his pain at the loss of Middlemarch, or at the subsequent cost of recovering the author for his series? Certainly the amount paid was considerably higher than the £50 he had paid for Adam Bede, and the £100 for ‘The mill on the Floss’, although these were when Eliot was much less well-known.
On the other hand, it’s a long novel, and Tauchnitz could cover his costs by stretching it out into four volumes, and so it appeared in December 1876 as volumes 1617 to 1620 of the Tauchnitz series. No first printing copies in the original wrappers are known to have survived, but privately bound copies in the original state are less difficult to find, listing 6 other titles by Eliot on the half-title verso of volume 2.
Deronda was the last of Eliot’s novels, but not the last of her writing, and first there was some unfinished business for Tauchnitz. He had bought ‘The lifted veil’ back in 1859, but still not published it, and now saw the opportunity to put it together with another earlier work, ‘Brother Jacob’. The two appeared together as volume 1732 in April 1878, and were followed in June 1879 by ‘Impressions of Theocrastus Such’ as volume 1828. Paperback first printings of both are pictured below, and bound copies are identified by listing 7 titles and 8 titles respectively on the half-title verso, in each case only the titles previously published.
First printings in original wrappers of ‘The lifted veil / Brother Jacob’ (above – from March 1878) and ‘Impressions of Theophrastus Such’ (below – from June 1879)
Eliot died in 1880, but interest in her work and her life continued. As well as continuing to reprint earlier works, Tauchnitz in 1884 (volume 2229) published ‘Essays and Leaves from a note-book’ – mostly early essays that had been published in the ‘Westminster Review’. The first edition lists 9 previous works by Eliot on the half-title.
Then the following year Tauchnitz published in four volumes ‘George Eliot’s Life as related in her letters and journals’, edited by John Cross, the husband she had married shortly before her death. This is volumes 2318 to 2321 of the series and as it is the last of her works to be published, all ten previous titles are listed on the half-title (of the second volume). There is therefore no easy way of recognising later reprints of privately bound copies, although it’s likely that it was reprinted.
Overall from 1859 to 1885, Tauchnitz published 22 volumes of George Eliot, including almost all her significant works other than Middlemarch, which remains an unsightly gap in the record.
George Eliot’s works in the Tauchnitz Edition, in the usual mix from luxurious private bindings to scruffy (but rare) copies in the original wrappers
There’s still one minor footnote to record. In 1886 Tauchnitz launched a new ‘Students’ Series for School, College and Home’, made up of English texts with German footnotes and and a German introduction. He chose ‘The mill on the Floss’ as volume 2 of this series, although it is considerably longer than most other volumes and sold at a premium price of M1.70 for the paperback edition. Like most of the George Eliot works it was reprinted regularly over the next 40 years.
I should be clear up front. ‘Middlemarch’ does not appear in the Tauchnitz series. It’s probably the single most famous novel from the whole of 19th century or early 20th century English literature that never appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition. The story of how and why it went missing can be found here. George Eliot without Middlemarch may seem a bit like Hamlet without the Prince, but the author of ‘Silas Marner’ and ‘The mill on the Floss’ amongst others, would deserve her place in history even without Middlemarch.
The first of Eliot’s works to be published in book form was ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’, reprinting a series of articles from Blackwood’s Magazine. It first appeared in the UK in 1858 and the two-volume continental edition followed in February 1859 as volumes 462 and 463 of the Tauchnitz series. Tauchnitz had offered £30 in November 1858 for the continental rights, as recorded in Eliot’s letters, later also published in a Tauchnitz Edition.
As always the Tauchnitz volumes were issued as paperbacks, although no copy of the 1st printing is known to have survived in its original wrappers. I believe the copy pictured above is the earliest known paperback copy. The back wrappers advertise the 15th edition of the Tauchnitz English-German dictionary, which date them to 1864 – 1865 and other titles advertised in the series confirm a date of 1864. Most other surviving copies have been privately bound, and the original wrappers discarded. They then can’t be dated as precisely, but examples of the first printing should list no other titles by Eliot on the half-title verso.
In July of 1859 Tauchnitz paid Eliot a further £87 10s, made up of £50 for ‘Adam Bede’ and £37 10s for her novella, ‘The lifted veil’. ‘Adam Bede’ was published immediately as volumes 482 and 483, and reprinted many times by Tauchnitz over the next 80 years, but ‘The lifted veil’ was held back and did not appear in the series until almost 20 years later. It seems very untypical of Tauchnitz to pay for a work and not publish it, but ‘The lifted veil’ is untypical of George Eliot, so perhaps it was appropriate. It was also too short to fill a volume of the Tauchnitz Edition on it own, so perhaps had to wait for a suitable accompaniment.
As always, copies of ‘Adam Bede’ in the original wrappers are scarce. The less-than-perfect copy pictured above is certainly very close to a first printing, with the list of other titles on the wrappers going up to ‘Barchester Towers’ by Trollope (volumes 491 and 492), published in October 1859. It may be that again this is the earliest known surviving copy, although the Tauchnitz bibliography lists two other early copies (in Budapest and in Western Ontario) advertising the 11th edition of the Tauchnitz English-German dictionary, which puts them no later than the end of 1860.
It’s interesting to look at Eliot’s choice of a male pseudonym in the Tauchnitz context. In 1859, when her first works appeared, around 40% of all novels published by Tauchnitz were by female authors and by 1865 the women were at parity, if not in a small majority – a position that they maintained for most of the next 20 years. So it was clearly not that she would have had any difficulty in getting published under her own name.
But there was undoubtedly a difference in the type of novel published by female authors, which tended to be light romances, or more often, sensation novels – the style popularised by Mary Braddon and Mrs. Henry Wood, as well as Wilkie Collins. Eliot had published an anonymous essay in 1856 attacking ‘Silly novels by Lady novelists’ and clearly did not want her own work to be categorised in this way.
Despite sitting on ‘The lifted veil’, Tauchnitz was keen to publish all of the novels of George Eliot as soon as they were available. ‘The mill on the Floss’ appeared in April 1860, only a matter of weeks after the first UK publication, as volumes 509 and 510. The price paid increased again to £100, presumably on the basis of the successful sales of ‘Adam Bede’. ‘Silas Marner’ followed in May 1861 as volume 550 and then ‘Romola’ in December 1863 as volumes 682 and 683.
For all of these volumes, the first printings according to the bibliography should not list any other titles by Eliot on the half-title verso, as well as conforming on other points too detailed to mention here. However it’s worth noting that for other Tauchnitz volumes issued around the same time, versions with no other titles listed, and versions with all previous titles listed, seem to have been issued more or less simultaneously. A version of ‘Silas Marner’ exists listing only the three Eliot works published ahead of it, and a version of ‘Romola’ listing only the four previously published titles.
It’s possible, particularly in the case of ‘Romola’, that both versions were published simultaneously. However my paperback copy (again I think the earliest known copy) shows no later published titles in the advertising on the wrappers, so is almost certainly a first printing, and it has no other titles listed.
‘Romola’ was not as commercially successful in the UK as Eliot’s earlier novels, and the same may have been true on the continent in the first few years. Early copies are relatively scarce. In the long run though, it was almost certainly the most successful in sales terms of all the Eliot novels published by Tauchnitz, because it was taken up for sale as a travel souvenir by the Italian book trade. A series of Tauchnitz Editions, all with Italian settings, were sold in large numbers in Italy, in custom made vellum bindings, often richly decorated, and extra-illustrated with albumen tourist postcards bound in. They seem to date mostly from around the 1880s, so are almost always reprints, although as the half-titles are rarely bound in, they are impossible to date accurately. ‘Romola’, with its Florentine setting, seems to exist mostly in bindings by G. Giannini in Florence, with postcards of Florence bound in.
By the end of 1863 (and the end of this first part), the Tauchnitz series contained a total of 9 volumes by George Eliot, and covered all four of her novels up to that date. There is some evidence of early reprints, but from what evidence there is, I suspect that sales were respectable, but not outstanding in the early years. Tauchnitz probably sold enough to make them profitable, which may have been as few as 2,000 copies or so, but the real value came from the fact that they continued to sell, year after year. There were certainly plenty of reprints later on, and Tauchnitz bought the copyright of almost all the books he published with a single advance payment rather than ongoing royalties. So it was books that generated continuing sales that became the most profitable over the long term, and Eliot’s novels were certainly in this category.
I’ll come back to the story of George Eliot’s later works in a second post.
For almost a century, from 1840 to 1940, the Tauchnitz Editions dominated English language publishing in Europe. Almost every significant work of English Literature from the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century appeared in their familiar buff covers.
By almost any measure, George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ was one of the most significant English language novels of the 19th century, but it never appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition. At first sight this is odd, as all Eliot’s other novels did – ‘Adam Bede’, ‘The mill on the floss’, ‘Silas Marner’, ‘Romola’, ‘Felix Holt’, ‘Daniel Deronda’ – they’re all there, along with various other works. Surely Bernhard Tauchnitz, usually such a sure judge of literary merit as well as sales popularity, wasn’t blind to the merits of ‘Middlemarch’?
Of course the answer is no. He would have loved to publish ‘Middlemarch’ but he was denied the opportunity. It went instead to a rival publisher, A. Asher & Co. in Berlin, who presumably outbid Tauchnitz and used the novel as the basis on which to launch a new series of English language novels in competition to Tauchnitz.
‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors – British and American’ was launched in 1872 with the first two books of ‘Middlemarch’ as Volumes I and II. The title of the series was perhaps a bit of a dig at Tauchnitz, whose own ‘Collection of British Authors’ failed to give any recognition to the nationality of the many American authors in its ranks. However, other than a token appearance of one novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne (who had died several years earlier), the early authors published seemed to be almost all British, and the American reference was later quietly dropped.
There was no doubt that ‘Middlemarch’ was Asher’s trophy asset and the firm must have paid heavily to acquire it. The novel is split into eight ‘books’ and each of them was published as a separately numbered volume in the series, spread out over the following year, with each volume priced at a premium 20 Groschen (2/3 Thaler), compared to 15 Groschen (1/2 Thaler) for all other volumes in the series. So the price for all eight volumes was over 5 Thalers, compared to 1 Thaler for the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Felix Holt’, or 2 Thalers for the later 4-volume edition of ‘Daniel Deronda’.
Confusingly, the eight books of ‘Middlemarch’ were also grouped in twos into four ‘volumes’. This resulted in an almost surreal numbering system, where for instance book 7 of the novel is also part 1 of the 4th volume, but is volume 52 of the Asher series.
However peculiar the numbering, the series was a serious rival to Tauchnitz. In its first year in 1872 it published around 50 volumes, almost all of them by authors who had previously had works published by Tauchnitz. As well as Eliot, other authors who defected to the new series in that first year included George Whyte-Melville, Henry Kingsley, George MacDonald, Rhoda Broughton, Ouida, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Margaret Oliphant, Louisa Parr, Harriet Parr (Holme Lee), Sheridan Le Fanu, William Hepworth Dixon and Matilda Betham-Edwards.
And yet Tauchnitz survived, and rather more than survived. In 1871 the firm had published a total of 66 volumes in its series, many of them by the authors listed above. Despite their defection, it managed in 1872 a total of 93 new volumes, which seems to have been a record number. Presumably there was some loss of sales, and it had to increase payments to authors to avoid losing more, but Tauchnitz clearly wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Bernhard Tauchnitz was certainly determined not to lose Bulwer Lytton, to whom he wrote in a letter on 3 October 1872 ‘I could not bear the thought to see your name in any other publisher’s hand’. As a result he paid Bulwer a record 8000 Marks (£400) for ‘Kenelm Chillingley’, published in early 1873 and recorded in the 50 year history of the firm as being the largest fee paid for a single novel. To protect margins, the price to customers was effectively increased by spreading the novel out over four volumes. To achieve this, the number of lines to a page went right down to 23, from a more normal 30 or so.
There was no immediate let up in the pressure on Tauchnitz in the early part of 1873. Further defections included Annie Thomas, Anthony Trollope and Charlotte Riddell, but gradually the outflow was stemmed. The number of volumes published by Asher in 1873 reduced a little to around 37, while Tauchnitz’s total remained around 90. Perhaps even more encouragingly, authors started to return. Some like Rhoda Broughton, Holme Lee, William Hepworth Dixon and Margaret Oliphant, having flirted briefly with Asher, came back to the Tauchnitz fold. Others like Trollope, Mary Braddon and Henry Kingsley continued to play one off against the other, publishing books under both imprints.
In 1874 the number of volumes published in the Asher series reduced again to 12 and it began to look as though it might have shot its bolt. Tauchnitz wouldn’t have been pleased though to see that the books published included one by Florence Marryat, who had previously been loyal to his firm, and whose father had been published by Tauchnitz since 1842.
In the later part of 1874, the books started to feature the name of Albert Cohn as publisher on the title page in place of A. Asher, although the series title continued to be ‘Asher’s Collection’. Adolf Asher himself had died long before and the business had been run by Albert Cohn for many years, but some of the business seems to have been sold in 1874, with other parts continuing under Cohn’s name. Could the sale have been partly the result of losses from the new venture?
Adolf Asher had been an antiquarian bookdealer and bibliographer as well as a publisher. He seems to have had a particular attachment to England and became one of the principal suppliers of books to the British Museum, so it was appropriate enough that the series bore his name. Albert Cohn too was a book dealer and literary scholar as well as a publisher and may have concentrated more on his antiquarian interests after 1874. After a brief period during which the books carried his name on the title page, they re-appeared in 1875 under yet another new name.
The first phase of ‘Asher’s Collection’ was over. It had certainly given Tauchnitz a scare, and forced it to pay higher fees to its authors. It had cost it ‘Middlemarch’ and a handful of other titles that it would regret, perhaps most notably ‘Lorna Doone’ and ‘Under the greenwood tree’. But it had failed to end the domination of Tauchnitz in continental Europe.
And if the first phase had ended, the full story of Asher’s Collection certainly had not. It would still be adding books, and causing irritation to Tauchnitz more than 15 years later. I’ll come back to the second phase of its story in another post – now on this link.