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US Penguins 1945 – 1948

Where I left the story in my last post (US Penguins 1942 – 1945), Ian Ballantine had left the business to help found Bantam Books. For a period, Allen Lane sent Eunice Frost out to New York to work with Kurt Enoch, probably not just to help him out, but to keep an eye on him.

That was only ever a temporary measure – Eunice Frost was too valuable back at Head Office – but Lane had his eye on a longer term solution. He had made contact with Victor Weybright, an American with publishing experience who had been working at the American Embassy in London during the war.

Allen Lane needed someone to act as a balance to Kurt Enoch, whom he no longer fully trusted. Enoch had taken the business a long way away from the founding principles of Penguin, competing head-to-head with Pocket Books, Dell Books and others on their terms, rather than trying to change the market. US Penguins had adopted illustrated covers on US style glossy card and the standard size of other local competitors. And the quality of the list was arguably not consistent with Penguin’s UK positioning either.

A typical US Penguin from 1945

But Enoch had a personal stake in the capital of the US business and as he had organised the capital raising, some of the rest was held by his friends and associates. So both Allen Lane and Victor Weybright had to tread carefully at first.

Lane’s policy seems to have been one of constructive ambiguity – sending Weybright out more or less to negotiate his own way into the business. When he arrived, Enoch claimed not to have heard of him and was unwilling to meet him. After a two hour wait outside a closed door, there followed a week of talks mostly conducted through lawyers. The story is told from Weybright’s point of view in his autobiography, although this is highly self-serving and may not be entirely reliable.

But in the end an agreement was reached, which Weybright characterised as ‘absolute parity’ for the two men in terms of status within the organisation. Enoch would concentrate on production and distribution and Weybright on the publishing programme and public relations, an area where he considered Enoch’s abilities extremely limited. Perhaps surprisingly after such a difficult start, they formed an effective partnership that not only stayed together for many years, but was highly successful in a very competitive market. Enoch initially saw Weybright simply as a stooge for Allen Lane, but it was not long before the two of them were united in negotiating a break from Lane and from Penguin Books.

Robert Jonas designed a series of ‘peep-hole’ covers for Erskine Caldwell’s novels

It’s hard to know exactly when Weybright’s influence began to be seen in terms of the series itself. He arrived in August 1945, but probably had little effect on the books published in the following few months. They included notably ‘Trouble in July’ by Erskine Caldwell, an author not approved of by Lane, but who became enormously important for the business over the following years.

Weybright almost certainly though was influential in the major changes that took place from January 1946 and included a significant redesign in the look and feel of the books, as well as the launch of a non-fiction Pelican list. Both were important developments that had long-lasting effects, but I’ll leave discussion of the US Pelican list for another day.

In some ways the re-design was just another step in the gradual transition that had been going on for three to four years already, away from the UK Penguin style and towards fully illustrated covers. It introduced full colour printing and illustrations stretching right across the front cover, and perhaps even more symbolically, it abandoned the colour-coding that had been such a key part of the Penguin brand, in favour of a bizarre system of different shaped symbols to indicate genre. The changes could be seen as the final break with the sober traditions of Penguin in the UK.

But in another way the business was actually moving back towards some of the key Penguin attributes in the UK. In particular the size of the books changed back to the standard UK size, distinguishing them from most other US paperbacks. And although not immediately apparent (perhaps not even to Allen Lane), the nature of the list was changing to one that was maybe more in line with Penguin principles.

A more literary list?

From a list that throughout most of 1944 and 1945 had been dominated by crime novels and relatively light fiction, there were now indications of more serious literature. D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster appeared in the January 1946 list, Virginia Woolf, Jack London, Sherwood Anderson and John Steinbeck over the next few months, and then in July, three plays by Bernard Shaw were issued to mark Shaw’s 90th birthday. Weybright was diplomatically taking some of the best of Penguin’s output from the UK and mixing it with more specifically American titles.

There were still plenty of lighter novels, and several that were too racy for Allen Lane’s taste. Weybright records that Lane seemed annoyed by the fact that Erskine Caldwell’s ‘God’s Little Acre’ was a runaway success, supporting the business through a difficult time. But the proportion of crime stories certainly went down and there does seem to have been a serious attempt to position the series as rather more up-market and literary. Indeed I’d suggest that the 80 or so books published in 1946 and 1947 stand comparison with almost any run of 80 books appearing in the UK Penguin main series.

In September 1946 Lady Chatterley’s Lover appeared as volume 610 and it was followed in November by E.V. Rieu’s new translation of ‘The Odyssey’ published by Penguin in the UK. Early 1947 saw Henry James and Joseph Conrad added to the list followed by William Faulkner’s ‘Sanctuary’. Lane disapproved of Faulkner, but when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, Weybright must have felt vindicated, as indeed when Lane later fought a court battle to publish Lady Chatterley in the UK.

Of course part of Allen Lane’s disapproval stemmed from the illustrated covers rather than the actual contents of the books. The covers were undoubtedly becoming more colourful and striking (regarded by Weybright as a necessity to compete in the US market), but Lane’s generalised slur on illustrated covers as nothing but ‘bosoms and bottoms’ would not have been a fair description of them, at least in 1946/1947.

Most of the covers were designed by Robert Jonas, often featuring stylised images evoking the spirit of the books rather than specific scenes from them. The Jonas covers are often described as having a distinctive style, but in fact several of the covers by other artists seem to me to be consistent with them, so it may be more of a house style influenced by Jonas rather than just the style of one artist.

Cover designs not by Robert Jonas

When Allen Lane visited New York in April 1947 it became clear that a split with the UK business was inevitable. The terms were negotiated in October of that year and by February 1948 the changes were under way. Penguins were to be re-branded as Signet Books, while Pelicans became Mentor Books – the overall business becoming the New American Library. For a period in early 1948 books were branded as ‘Penguin Signet’ but from August 1948 references to Penguin were dropped and the business was on its own.

Freed of UK constraints, the cover art took another turn. Robert Jonas was for a time Art Director, but from about November 1947 his stylised designs started to give way to a more brash style of which Allen Lane would certainly not have approved. Penguins had come a long way in a relatively short time.

US Penguins 1942 – 1945

Penguin’s attempt to woo the American market had started in 1939 with the establishment of an office in New York under the twenty-three year old Ian Ballantine, importing Penguins from the UK. It was not a great time though to be shipping books across the Atlantic and by 1941 it was clear that the operation had no future unless books could be produced locally.

Ian Ballantine much later in life

A small number of UK books were reprinted in the US, but to extend the operation and move into local publishing, Allen Lane would need a more experienced publisher. He was perhaps lucky to find Kurt Enoch, one of the founders of Albatross Books, and a Jew who had been forced by the Nazis to leave Germany and then subsequently had had to flee for a second time from Paris, after it fell to the German army ( for the full story, see ‘A strange bird’ by Michele Troy).

Kurt Enoch in his time at Penguin (with acknowledgement to Charles Enoch)

Enoch had recently arrived in the US, was looking for work, and suggested to Lane that he could raise the capital to launch a local publishing programme. Lane took him on as Vice President responsible for production and design, with Ballantine in charge of distribution / sales. That leaves it a little unclear who was responsible for the core function of choosing and commissioning new titles. Enoch was the one with experience in this area at the time, so presumably took the lead, although Ballantine later went on to become a hugely successful publisher in his own right.

Albatross Books had been in many ways the model for Penguin, so Allen Lane might reasonably have expected to find in Kurt Enoch somebody who shared his ideals and vision for the business. But from the start Enoch seems to have had doubts about key parts of the Penguin brand that had been so successful in the UK.

The parents of American Penguins – rather different from the child

Penguin’s UK launch had been almost an overnight success and had transformed the UK paperback market, with almost all competitors adopting the main elements of the Penguin ‘package’ – size, price, colour coding, dustwrappers and so on, but above all, no cover illustration. The first tentative steps in the US market had not triggered any similar revolution and Enoch seems to have been sceptical that it ever could. Almost from day one, he seems to have had his eye on illustrated covers.

For Allen Lane and others back in Harmondsworth though, this was an article of faith. Before Penguin’s UK launch, there had been plenty of people saying that non-illustrated covers could never work in the UK market and they had proved them all wrong. Now they saw the brightly striped and immediately recognisable covers of Penguin Books as their main weapon in conquering new markets. The scene was set for a struggle that could have profound consequences for Penguin’s future.

US Penguin 502

In early 1942 the new US Penguin series launched, with numbers starting from 501. The first two books, numbers 501 and 502, appeared with the iconic striped covers. First blood to the Brits. But by volume 503 the design had changed significantly to one that allowed space on the front for a brief written description of the book, and on the back for advertising or for information about the author. Enoch must have been planning this for some time, perhaps waiting for approval from Head Office.

While Lane may not have been happy with any move away from the classic design, this change looks as though it may have been deliberately designed to get approval. It retains enough elements of Penguin identity to still look Penguin-ish and it’s still a very restrained design that doesn’t introduce any illustration to the front cover. It also retains the principle of colour coding used in the UK. Crime is still green, although perhaps strangely, the classic Penguin orange for novels is replaced by red, and yellow is more widely used for a range of books including non-fiction and westerns.

US Penguin 508

But this was by no means the limit of Enoch’s ambitions. He wanted cover illustration, and as it happened he had the right opportunity to get a foot into the door. A short series of classic texts illustrated by woodcuts had appeared in the UK in 1938 as Penguin Illustrated Classics. They had used illustration on the covers and had included ‘Walden’ by Thoreau, an American classic that would fit well into the new US Penguin series. How could the UK Head Office possibly object to a cover illustration that they had themselves used? The book appeared as volume 508 and was the first American Penguin to feature cover art.

US Penguin 514

Once the principle had been breached, Enoch was not going to let go. He had shown how a simple illustration could (not coincidentally?) fit well into the cover design he had introduced and others would follow. The first was ‘Tombstone’ by Walter Noble Burns, volume 514 published in October 1942, and from then on illustrated covers were the norm. It may have grated even more in the UK that the process started with a western – at this stage considered too down market for Penguin in the UK, although later on in the series, a few did appear.

The first illustrations were quite small, but it was not long before they were taking up the entire panel. And in the meantime, Enoch was attacking another of Penguin’s key brand attributes – the size of the books. Penguins had always been roughly 11 cm by 18 cm, a format based on the golden ratio and again copied from Albatross. But paperbacks in the US and particularly those from the main competitor, Pocket Books, were shorter and squatter. So Penguin moved in line with them.

This was in November 1943, barely 18 months after the launch and already Penguins had little in common with their UK parents and looked more like the local competitors. Even the glossy card covers and the red page edges looked more American than British. Any idea of changing the market had been abandoned. It was the Penguins that were having to change.

From late 1943 onwards, the rate of new titles started to increase and the cover illustrations became more and more dominant, with the single colour of the covers increasingly used within the picture as well. From volume 566 in October 1945, a second colour is used on the cover before moving on to full colour shortly afterwards.

This was though another turbulent period for the business. Some time around the end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945, Ian Ballantine resigned to work on the launch of a competitor, Bantam Books. He had learned what he could from Enoch and was ready to take the next step in his publishing career. Allen Lane however was not prepared to leave Kurt Enoch in sole charge of Penguin’s US business. Eunice Frost, originally Allen Lane’s secretary and still in her twenties, but in practice one of his closest aides in London, was sent out to New York to hold the fort, while Lane attempted to make more permanent arrangements.

Eunice Frost at an editorial meeting with Allen Lane and W.E. Williams

That eventually led to the appointment of Victor Weybright to work with Enoch, and to a whole series of other developments. I’ll come back to them in another post and also look separately at the US Penguin Specials, an important series in their own right, which had been published alongside the main series throughout the period I’ve been talking about.

Boxing clever – the first 6 Albatross books

The launch of Albatross books in 1932 was a key moment in the paperback revolution, even if not fully recognised as such at the time.  It signalled the imminent demise of Tauchnitz, which had dominated English language publishing in Continental Europe for almost a century.  It was to be the inspiration for the launch of Penguin Books three years later.  And it was in some respects the moment that paperbacks came of age in the twentieth century.

A lot of planning and preparation had gone into the launch, which brought together three remarkable men, John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.  Their stories are too long and varied to cover here, but all three played important roles in publishing history, even apart from their time at Albatross.   It was important for them that the first list of Albatross titles made a statement about the ambitions of the new series.

Albatross First six anouncement

It was a mixed list, establishing the principle that the series would cover a range of genres and styles.  A crime story and a romance rubbed shoulders with more literary fiction.   A volume of short stories was published alongside the first volume of an historical family saga.   There was something for everyone, and importantly, with colour coding by genre, the mix of types of book was reflected in a mix of colours for the first six books.

The choice of the first three authors – James Joyce, Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis, seemed to say that the series would be more at the cutting edge of modern literature than Tauchnitz had been in recent years.   It also said something about the ability of Albatross to attract authors away from Tauchnitz.

James Joyce in particular had been neglected by Tauchnitz.  They had eventually published ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’ in 1930, some ten years after being offered it, but had shown little interest in his other works.  So for Albatross, publishing ‘Dubliners’ as volume 1 was an open goal.

Huxley and Lewis had been treated better, with Tauchnitz publishing six volumes of Huxley and three from Lewis, arguably including their most important works.  But that was far from comprehensive coverage and as with Joyce, Albatross was able to target earlier works, overlooked by Tauchnitz, before later publishing new works.  Sinclair Lewis had in 1930 become the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, so it was a good time to be revisiting his earlier works.

The next three titles were perhaps a bit lighter, but Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole was a significant prize.  It was the first of the Herries Chronicles, a trilogy of books set in the Lake District, and probably the work for which Walpole is best remembered now.  He too had to be attracted away from Tauchnitz, which had published several of his earlier works, as did Warwick Deeping.   As Tauchnitz had had a near monopoly on publishing English literature in Europe, it was almost inevitable that the authors Albatross wanted to publish would already have had dealings with Tauchnitz.

The launch of the first six titles was also marked by the issue of a boxed set of the six books.  I have little idea how many of these were produced or sold, or indeed the price at which it was offered.  I have only ever seen the one example, illustrated below, and that is in less than perfect condition.  Although the box has no Albatross branding, I am pretty sure that it was produced for Albatross, rather than just being a home-made affair.  It’s possible though that it was produced only for presentation copies, offered to business contacts and colleagues.

Box Set First Six 2

Just one of the books in this box still has its transparent dustwrapper, and that is in poor condition, but all the books would originally have had them.   They were easily damaged and after a year or so, new titles were instead given paper dustwrappers in the same design as the books.

Albatross and the Third Reich. A Strange Bird, but a wonderful book.

‘Strange Bird’ is a wonderful new book by Michele Troy, subtitled ‘The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.  It vividly recounts the difficulties of a business publishing modernist British and American literature in 1930s Germany under the Nazis, and the lives of the key people involved as they cope with the sometimes brutal consequences.

Strange Bird

Michele Troy is Professor of English at Hillyer College at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.  On one level her book is a meticulously researched academic study, where every assertion is backed by detailed research referenced in copious footnotes.   But on another level it’s more like a novel, following the lives of a whole cast of characters, but particularly the three main founders of Albatross – John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.

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Kurt Enoch (right) with novelist Erskine Caldwell, in the US after the war

The book is beautifully written, again more like a novel in places, but the story the author has uncovered is almost too implausible for the plot of a novel.  There are twists and turns as the business has to adapt to Nazi control and suspicion, and the team is then split apart by restrictions on Jewish ownership of property in Germany.   I won’t include too many spoilers, but the story reaches a climax with the German occupation of Paris in 1940.  The contrasts in the experiences of the main participants at that point are almost heartbreaking, but there is far more to come.  Triumph turns to disaster and disaster turns to recovery in very personal terms as well as in political, military and business terms.

Max Christian Wegner

Max Christian Wegner, after the war

Holroyd-Reece, Wegner and Enoch all had very successful publishing careers separately from Albatross, both before and after the war, and they worked together for only a few years.  I’ve long believed that in that short period they were able to create something really special, and that the Albatross series was a remarkable achievement in both literary and business terms.  But I had little idea before picking up this book of quite how remarkable it really was.  It needs the context of time and place, of everything that was going on in 1930s Germany, followed by the war and the post-war chaos, to understand the extent of their achievement.  ‘Strange Bird’ brings together the context and the achievement and ties it together with the intertwining personal life stories of three remarkable men.

Holroyd Reece Christmas Card 8 and 9

John Holroyd Reece in his Paris office, drawn by Gunter Böhmer for a 1938 Christmas Card

All three died many years ago, but as well as researching many archives, Michele Troy has tracked down relatives and uncovered personal reminiscences that transform the book from a dusty academic work to a spellbinding thriller.  Above all it’s the stories of the people that you come away with from this book.  They’re engaging stories and engaging people, for the most part sympathetically drawn characters, despite all their faults.

The book is part history, part biography, part novel, part academic treatise, part detective story, part bibliographical research, but above all it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.   I hope many more people will read it.

Publishing in the shadow of the Nazis. Tauchnitz, Albatross and Brandstetter in the 1930s.

By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, the firm of Bernhard Tauchnitz had existed in Leipzig for almost a century and had already survived a world war as well as the hyperinflation and depression that followed it.   The printer and publisher Oscar Brandstetter, also based in Leipzig, was fast approaching its 75 year anniversary.   Although the leaders of the two firms must surely have known each other within the Leipzig book trade, they were at that point unconnected, as far as I can tell.  They were shortly to be brought together by the intervention of a third firm, Albatross, based not in Leipzig, but in Paris, and which had existed for only a few months.   They presumably had little awareness of this, but may have had more awareness of some of the complications likely to arise from Hitler’s rise to power, which were to play a significant part in the coming together of the three companies.

On 10th May 1933, in the Opernplatz in Berlin, German students and brown-shirted stormtroopers gathered to burn books that they considered un-German.  It was followed by ceremonial book-burnings in other German university towns, including Leipzig.  Did a collective shiver pass down the spine of the German book trade, for so long based in Leipzig?

book-burning 2

The Opernplatz in Berlin – 10 May 1933

As well as the works of many prominent German authors, books by a long list of English and American authors were banned, many of them published by Tauchnitz, including H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos.  All of these writers had books published by Tauchnitz before May 1933.   No further books by any of them were published after that date, although a few reprints with later dates exist, possibly only for sale outside Germany.

Several of the banned authors had in any case already defected to Albatross, whose books were vastly more attractive than the Tauchnitz volumes, and had quickly established the upper hand in the marketplace.   So in the face of a formidable competitor, Tauchnitz was being asked to compete with one hand tied behind its back.   To make matters worse, Albatross was led by Max Christian Wegner, who had previously managed Tauchnitz in Leipzig, where he had tried to push through various changes, before the Board, finding his changes too radical, decided to part company with him.

At Albatross he found a Board, led by the Italian publisher Arnoldo Mondadori, that was more attuned to his way of thinking and he was able to implement many of his ideas, with striking success.  Amongst those ideas was the separation of the printing from the publishing side of the business.  Unlike Tauchnitz Editions, Albatross books were never printed in-house.  The first few were printed at Mondadori in Italy, but from volume 21 onwards, most were printed by Brandstetter, or more specifically by the Jakob Hegner department of Brandstetter in Leipzig.

printing colophon volume 29

Colophon for an early Albatross book printed by Hegner

How did the contact with Brandstetter / Hegner come about?   Had Wegner already had discussions with them when he was at Tauchnitz, possibly with the thought of them taking over the printing work for Tauchnitz?   Up to the point when he left, in May 1931, Tauchnitz books had always been printed in-house, but by the end of the following year books were being printed by the Bibliographisches Institut in Leipzig or by the Offizin Haag-Drugulin.  Was that one of the changes he had proposed?

It would take more than a change of printer to save Tauchnitz though, and by mid-1934 its financial situation had deteriorated to the point where it was put up for sale.   Although it was effectively unable to compete with Albatross, it had a back catalogue of over 5000 volumes that would have some value in the hands of the right owners, and in particular would have some value for Albatross.

But it was not Albatross who bought Tauchnitz, despite the rumours circulating at the time.  Albatross had too many Jewish links, both in terms of its owners and its managers, for that to be allowed in the political climate of the time.   Instead there was an effective partnership between Albatross and Oscar Brandstetter, where Brandstetter became the new owner of Tauchnitz and took on all the printing work, while editorial control was taken on by Albatross.

 Brandstetter Oscar    Brandstetter printing machine

Oscar Brandstetter                               The Brandstetter printing works

So Brandstetter may have been reluctant and largely nominal owners of Tauchnitz, there only to satisfy the authorities, happy to benefit from the substantial printing work, but with little interest in the publishing side of the business.   It’s hard to know for sure.  They were certainly not just printers.  They did have other publishing interests, but publishing contemporary English literature would be quite a specialised area that they might not have felt able to take on.  They surely would not have wanted anyway to go into direct competition with Albatross, one of their major printing clients.  A partnership where Brandstetter were the legal owners of Tauchnitz, but Albatross controlled the editorial side, would tie the two companies together and guarantee a substantial volume of printing work from both businesses.

But if that arrangement suited Brandstetter, other changes under way were more threatening.  The department of Brandstetter dealing with Albatross was run by Jakob Hegner, who despite converting to Christianity, came from an Austrian Jewish family and was strongly opposed to National Socialism.  He had been a publisher in Vienna, but his firm had run into difficulties in 1930 and was acquired by Brandstetter, with Hegner himself moving to Leipzig.  In 1936 though he was excluded from the Reichsschrifttumskammer, which effectively barred him from the book business in Germany, and he moved back to Vienna, before fleeing to England in 1938 after the Anschluss.  Interestingly Brandstetter published a short volume in 1937 celebrating the work of the Jakob Hegner business, with the title ‘Wirklichkeit und Wahrheit’ (Reality and Truth).  The title came from a work by Josef Pieper published by the firm, but could it also have been a commentary aimed at the German authorities that had effectively driven the founder of the firm out of the country?

Jakob Hegner book title page

Albatross had similar problems to deal with.  The distribution business of the company was run from Hamburg by Kurt Enoch, who was also Jewish.  Although a decorated officer in the German Army from the First World War, he was effectively required under the Aryanisation programme to sell his business, and he too emigrated, first to Paris and then in 1940 to the US, where he went on to work for Penguin Books and to found the New American Library.   Max Wegner moved back to Germany from Paris to take on Enoch’s role in distribution, leaving John Holroyd-Reece in charge of the editorial side.

Holroyd-Reece is rather demonised by the Tauchnitz bibliographers, Todd & Bowden, but almost certainly unfairly.   He did have some potentially difficult decisions about which books to publish under the Albatross brand, and which in the Tauchnitz Edition, but did so in a way that distinguished the brand images – Albatross more edgy and modern, Tauchnitz more conservative and traditional.  While Todd & Bowden accuse him of unfairly favouring Albatross, his decisions were restricted by censorship in Germany, and in any case the reality is probably that without the intervention of Albatross, Tauchnitz would have had no new publishing programme at all after 1934.   They had failed commercially and anyone else would have struggled to compete with Albatross in anything other than reprinting previous successes from their back catalogue.  Brandstetter, as legal owners of Tauchnitz would have had little cause for complaint about Holroyd-Reece’s stewardship of the company in the few years before the Second World War.