The firm of Heinemann & Balestier is little remembered these days, although the Heinemann part is familiar. The publisher William Heinemann still exists at least in name, as part of Penguin Random House, and the Heinemann name lives on too through its educational publishing arm, owned by Pearson. It’s come a long way from the publishing firm founded in Covent Garden in 1890 by William Heinemann, at the age of 27.
Shortly afterwards he formed a partnership with another ambitious young man, only a year or two older. Wolcott Balestier was an American writer who had come over to London in 1888 as agent of the publisher John W. Lovell. He seems by all accounts to have been a remarkable man and a very charismatic one. If his name is less remembered today, it is perhaps because he never had the time to go on and establish it in the way that Heinemann did. But in London he was quickly able to form a range of literary contacts, notably including Rudyard Kipling and Henry James.
Kipling became a close friend and married Wolcott’s sister Carrie, who had come over from America to keep house for him. Wolcott was able to help Kipling with getting his works copyrighted and published in the US, overcoming the piracy of literary works that was still common at the time. Indeed his own firm John W. Lovell, publisher of Lovell’s Library, had been one of the pirates, publishing cheap reprints of English novels in the US, without authorisation.
Balestier’s mission to London was in part an attempt to obtain authorisations from authors in advance of anticipated copyright agreements, much as Tauchnitz had done 50 years earlier. He seems also though to have promoted other strategies, including offering himself as a co-author to provide American copyright protection (an offer apparently refused by Mrs. Humphry Ward), or printing a small number of copies in the US to establish copyright there, in advance of the UK publication.
Together Heinemann and Balestier decided to mount a challenge to the dominance of Tauchnitz in publishing continental editions in English. Throughout most of the 1870s and 1880s, Tauchnitz had faced a varying level of competition from the ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’. This had originally been launched by the Berlin firm of A. Asher & Co., but was later taken on by a series of other publishers including Grädener & Richter in Hamburg. Although at certain periods this had been serious competition for Tauchnitz, it had faded by the late 1880s and Tauchnitz had been left largely unchallenged.
The firm of Heinemann and Balestier launched their new series, ‘The English Library’ from Leipzig itself, the home of Tauchnitz, in 1891, although the real base was probably in London. To start the series, Balestier was able to draw on his friendship with Kipling, to publish ‘The light that failed’ as volume 1, and an earlier collection of short stories, ‘The phantom rickshaw’ as volume 7. Kipling, who was at this stage only 25 himself, even younger than the two publishers, had already had one book, ‘Plain tales from the hills’, published by Tauchnitz in 1890, but had not formed the long-term relationship with Tauchnitz that many older writers had.
The Irish writer Margaret Hungerford was another matter. By 1891 she was a well-established and very popular writer, who had already had over 20 books published by Tauchnitz. Two of her books appeared in the Tauchnitz series in early 1891, but her next novel, ‘April’s lady’ was published as volumes 4 and 5 of the English Library, to be followed by another five of her books over the next 2 years.
She was one of the first to abandon Tauchnitz, but she was followed by many others. Given the dominant position the firm had had in English language publishing, it is hardly surprising that almost all of the writers to appear in the Heinemann & Balestier series had already had books published by Tauchnitz. Amongst the writers to defect were Rider Haggard, Hall Caine, W.D. Howells and Arthur Conan Doyle. For several, such as Florence Marryat, Mrs. Alexander, Walter Besant, Helen Mathers and Margaret Oliphant, Tauchnitz was spurned for a second time, as they had earlier had books published in the Asher’s series. Did this show an underlying dissatisfaction with Tauchnitz, or was it simply a question of money?
If Tauchnitz was effectively being outbid, he had already shown more than once in fighting off Asher’s, that he had both the determination and the financial strength to fight back. He was also keen to use his established contacts with authors and his no doubt considerable charm. Writing to one of his longest-established and best-selling authors, Charlotte Yonge, in March 1891, a few months before the launch of the English Library, Tauchnitz had this to say: ‘… At the same time permit me to mention, that a rival undertaking will be started against our Continental Series. It came perhaps already to your knowledge by insertions in different papers, which however are not correct, as almost all our first-rate authors remain attached to us and we sincerely hope that you will be among them. It will give us always a great satisfaction to include your forthcoming books in our Collection, always at terms quite convenient to you.’
There was perhaps an element of wishful thinking here given the number of authors who did defect, but Charlotte Yonge was one of those who remained. As when Tauchnitz had been faced with the first challenge from Asher’s Collection 20 years earlier, he responded by redoubling his efforts. From publishing around 70 volumes a year, the number published in 1891 increased to just over 100, in comparison to the 75 or so issued by Heinemann and Balestier in just the later part of the year. In 1892 the two firms were roughly level at around eighty volumes each, but the challenger was already fading.
In December 1891 Wolcott Balestier had died suddenly from typhoid fever in Dresden, a week before his 30th birthday. His death probably robbed Heinemann & Balestier not only of his youthful dynamism but also of his editorial and literary contacts, although William Heinemann himself must have had considerable strengths in both areas. The publishing programme of the firm in 1892 remained a strong one, and included various works as a tribute to Balestier.
For the 100th volume in the series, they published his early work, ‘The average woman’, together with a Biographical Sketch written by Henry James. This publication also announced as ‘In the press’, two other works. Volume 150 of the series was ‘The Naulakha’ a novel on which Kipling and Balestier had collaborated, with Kipling writing scenes in India and Balestier scenes in America. The other work referred to was Balestier’s novel ‘Benefits forgot’, published posthumously in London by Heinemann and also in New York by Appleton, but I have not been able to find any evidence to confirm its appearance in the English Library. The series did though publish Kipling’s ‘Barrack-room ballads, and other verses’, which opens with a poem and a dedication to Balestier.
Without Balestier, and facing a competitor as formidable and as financially strong as Tauchnitz, the challenge of The English Library could not be sustained. The volumes issued in 1893 fell to only around 20 and most of the authors returned to Tauchnitz, later including even Kipling. A smaller number of volumes were published in 1894 and then intermittently right through to at least 1903, although rarely more than 2 or 3 a year. Might it have been different if Wolcott Balestier had survived?
As it turned out, it was the last great competitive challenge for Baron Tauchitz himself. By the time he too died in 1895, he could be confident of having seen off this competitor as he had so many previous competitors. He had run his firm for almost 60 years, publishing over 3000 volumes in his ‘Collection of British Authors’, and left it once again in a dominant position in the continental European market.
I’ll come back in another post to some of the more bibliographical points about the Heineman & Balestier series and to a slightly odd later revival of it under the imprint of F. Brockhaus of Leipzig. (Follow this link for part II)
My first post on Asher’s Collection of English Authors covered the period from launch in 1872 through to 1874 when the publisher’s name changed from A. Asher & Co. to Albert Cohn. It was a story of early success, tempting large numbers of authors away from Tauchnitz, followed by a gentle pulling back as the harsh economic realities started to bite. It was never going to be easy competing against Tauchnitz with its massively entrenched position. Asher had a good go at it, but sales were probably not high enough to justify the high advances paid to authors to convince them to switch.
I can only guess at the financial position of Asher, but a record of around 50 volumes in 1872, 37 volumes in 1873 and 12 in 1874 tells its own story. And the fact that the firm was divided and part of it sold off in 1874 suggests there may have been financial pressures. A small number of books in late 1874 appeared under the name of Albert Cohn as publisher (Cohn was the owner of A. Asher & Co.) and then there was another change.
Over the next few years, volumes of ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ appeared under two different publisher’s names – Julius Engelmann in Berlin and Paul Ollendorff in Paris. I can’t tie down exact dates for either of them, but I suspect Engelmann came first, taking the series on from volume 99, possibly the last volume published by Albert Cohn in 1874, to around volume 120 in 1877. There seem also to be volumes in this same number range with Ollendorff’s name as publisher, dated 1875 or 1876, but these may be later reprints, still showing the original date. Or possibly both publishers collaborated, contributing different titles to the series.
Half-title and Title page of volume 109, published by Julius Engelmann
Ollendorff’s involvement with the series also seems to have largely ended in 1877. Volume 123 in 1877 (‘Eugénie’ by Beatrice May Butt) appears with his name on, as does a single later novel, ‘Proud Maisie’ by Bertha Thomas, published as volume 133 and 134 in 1878. Possibly this was a hangover, already in the pipeline before the series moved on to another publisher. There seem to be only a handful of new volumes published under Ollendorff’s imprint, together with reprints of some earlier volumes. Although he went on to build a substantial publishing business, in 1877 Paul Ollendorff was just 26 and at the start of his publishing career.
Whatever the exact history of the series in this period, it seems unlikely that it was a major threat to Tauchnitz. A total of around 30 volumes between the two publishers over three and a half years would have made little difference to Tauchnitz’s output of nearer 300 volumes over the same period. But Baron Tauchnitz would no doubt still have been disappointed to see occasional titles appearing by novelists that he had published regularly in his own series – Anthony Trollope and Mary Braddon among them.
A greater threat was to come when Asher’s Collection acquired yet another new owner. The first appearance of the name Karl Grädener on the title page of a newly published volume seems to have been around volume 124 in 1877, although reprints of earlier volumes are again a complicating factor that makes it difficult to be precise. Certainly Grädener added several volumes to the series in late 1877 and 1888, before striking off in a slightly different direction in 1879.
Up to early 1879, all volumes appeared under the series title ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ and followed a consistent numbering sequence from 1 up to around 150. From around this point though a new numbering sequence starts again at 1 and a new series name makes its appearance. The series is now referred to as ‘Asher’s Continental Library’ on the half-titles, although oddly the front wrapper still refers to the old series title. It’s also slightly odd that the half-titles refer to a series ‘in one-shilling volumes’. The books could not be sold in Britain or the British Empire, so a price in shillings is of little relevance, and the German price of 1.50 Marks corresponded then I think to one shilling and sixpence.
The new series grew quite rapidly over the next two to three years, but confusingly, novels that had already appeared in the original series, were now reprinted with different numbers. So ‘Erema’ by R.D. Blackmore, having been first published as volumes 130 to 132 of ‘Asher’s Collection’ in 1878, then appeared as volumes 22 to 24 of the new ‘Asher’s Continental Library’. It was followed as volumes 25 to 27 of the ‘Continental Library’ by a reprint of ‘Comin’ through the rye’ by Helen Mathers, which had previously been issued as volumes 105 to 107 of the original series, during Engelmann’s time in charge.
Grädener was still trying to tempt authors away from Tauchnitz. On 4 October 1880, Macmillan, the British publisher of Henry James, wrote to him that ‘One Grädener of Hamburg who publishes “Ashers Collection of English Authors” has written to say that he would like to buy the right to print ‘The portrait of a lady’. I fancy however that your books are published by Tauchnitz and will tell him so if you like. I hope the Baron pays you well …’. James did feel that he was better off with Tauchnitz and was one of those to stay loyal.
It looks as if the ‘Continental Library’ (later described as ‘Asher’s Continental Library of Favourite Modern Authors’) got up to about 55 volumes through a mixture of new publications and reprints by early 1881, before the emphasis switched back again to the original series name and numbering. This change seems roughly to coincide with yet another change in the name of the publisher for the series. The name of Karl Grädener is replaced in 1881 with Grädener & Richter, apparently because of a merger of the two firms.
Was it Richter who killed off the ‘Continental Library’ and proposed going back to ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’? Anyway that seems to be what happened. Numbers between 149 and 158 were allocated for 10 volumes of Shakespeare plays, which may have been published over a period of several years, and the original series got going again from volume 159 in 1881. Around 20 volumes were added in 1881 and another 20 or so in 1882, but 1883 saw over 40 new volumes.
The authors in that year included not only Anthony Trollope and Robert Louis Stevenson, but a string of other authors previously published by Tauchnitz, including James Payn, Bret Harte, William Black, W.E. Norris, Emma Marshall and Mrs. Alexander. Clearly Tauchnitz was again in a fight, at risk of losing both authors and sales, but as in the early years of Asher’s Collection, it held firm. It was to be Grädener & Richter that blinked first.
1884 saw a reduction to just under 20 volumes and for 1885 there was just a single 2 volume novel. Occasional volumes continued to be added for another 6 or 7 years, and there were still two more changes of publisher name to come, first to just J.F. Richter and then to Verlagsanstalt und Druckerei (vormals J.F. Richter). Over the 20 year history of the Asher’s Collection it had appeared under at least 8 different publisher imprints.
Both in the early years from 1872 to 1874 under A. Asher & Co. and then again around 1883 under Grädener & Richter, it had seriously challenged the dominance of Tauchnitz, without ever quite managing to dethrone it.