The Tauchnitz Edition included almost every significant novel written in English over a hundred year period, including of course the novels of Dickens, the Brontes, Hardy, George Eliot and a host of others, many of them now almost forgotten. But surely some of the most significant, and the least forgotten, are the Sherlock Holmes novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They played a key role in spawning a whole genre of writing that still seems as popular as ever, had a lasting influence on a much broader range of English literature and continue to fascinate and stimulate new works.
So it goes without saying that they were published by Tauchnitz. Not immediately, it should be said. ‘A study in scarlet’, the first of the Holmes novels, was published in 1887 in a magazine, and initially attracted relatively little attention. It was followed in 1890 by ‘The sign of four’ (originally titled ‘The sign of the four’) and it was really only after that that interest in the stories started to build. The first book publication of ‘The sign of four’ was in October 1890 and the Tauchnitz Edition followed in February 1891. Tauchnitz then published two other non-Holmes novels by Conan Doyle and a collection of short stories, before ‘A study in Scarlet’ appeared in March 1892. The first printing of ‘A study in scarlet’ is therefore identified by the list of the 4 previous books by Conan Doyle on the back of the half-title, starting with ‘The sign of four’ and finishing with ‘The white company’. Later editions list many more titles. The first printing of ‘The sign of four’ of course lists no other Conan Doyle titles.
After that, Tauchnitz published all the new Sherlock Holmes stories as quickly as it could get its hands on them. ‘The adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ appeared in March 1893 (6 other Conan Doyle titles listed), ‘The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ in April 1894 (9 other Conan Doyle titles listed), ‘The hound of the Baskervilles’ in April 1902 (20 other Conan Doyle titles listed) and ‘The return of Sherlock Holmes’ in March 1905 (22 other Conan Doyle titles listed). From the growing number of other titles, it’s clear that alongside these, Tauchnitz were also publishing other non-Holmes books by Conan Doyle. There were also regular reprints of the Sherlock Holmes books, as always with Tauchnitz retaining the original publication date on the title page, but identified by higher numbers of other titles listed on the back of the half-title, or in the case of paperback copies, by the date at the top of the back wrapper.
Conan Doyle produced no further Sherlock Holmes books until ‘The valley of fear’ in 1915, by which time Germany was at war with Britain and Tauchnitz was no longer in the market for the publication of English novels. The book was instead published on the continent in the Nelson’s Continental Library, based in Paris. When ‘His last bow’ appeared in 1917, it appeared in the other main series that had sprung up to replace Tauchnitz, the Standard Collection, published by Louis Conard. So it was not until ‘The case-book of Sherlock Holmes’ was published in 1927 that Tauchnitz could add another Holmes title to its list. This final title (volume 4790) listed only 23 other titles by Conan Doyle, although it was the 32nd title to be published, probably because several of the books had gone out of print. For much of its existence, Tauchnitz had listed all previous publications and tried to keep them all in print as well, but by this time some pruning of the backlist had become almost inevitable.
19th century Tauchnitz editions are easier to find in hardback, 20th century ones in paperback
So sadly, despite a near 40 year publishing relationship with Conan Doyle, the entire Sherlock Holmes series is not available in Tauchnitz editions. There are nonetheless 10 volumes, as part of a total of over 40 volumes by Conan Doyle, so the great detective gets rather more than an honourable mention in the history of Tauchnitz.
Nelson were not the only publisher to try to take advantage of the enforced absence of Tauchnitz from at least part of the European market during the First World War. Louis Conard, another publisher in Paris, saw the opportunity too, and was quick to act. ‘The Standard Collection of latest copyrighted works by British and American Authors’ launched in 1915 with an impressive list of authors. The first 10 volumes included works by H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Arnold Bennett, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and E.F. Benson, all of whom had previously been published by Tauchnitz. Later volumes included works by Kipling, Galsworthy, Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, Katherine Mansfield and G.K. Chesterton, amongst others. As the Nelson’s Continental Library was launched at almost the same time, there must have been quite a scramble to sign up authors.
Conard clearly modelled their series on Tauchnitz, as Nelson did. The books are the same shape, the same buff colour and the same price, at least to start with. In comparison with Tauchnitz, their market would have been restricted geographically, but did the war itself create a new market? Over 5 million British soldiers served in France and Flanders during the war. They would have had little opportunity to visit bookshops, but it seems possible that at least some of these volumes might have found their way into battledress pockets.
By the end of the war the series had extended to over 100 volumes. The price had risen steadily to 3.50 Francs by 1919 although this was described as a temporary price, and the quality of the paper had declined. Conard persisted though and by 1920 was heading towards 200 volumes, as Nelson, with fewer than 100, was winding its series down. The market dynamics were inevitably changing with the end of the war and the return of Tauchnitz to the market, and Conard too decided to move on.
This though was not the end of The Standard Collection. Some time around 1920, the series was taken on by the Scottish publisher William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. from a base in Brussels, and the price increased again to 4.50 Francs. They continued it for another 2 years or so, and up to at least 230 volumes, before finally ending it. The last volume I have seen is G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Eugenics and other evils’ published in 1922. This is also the only volume I have seen with an illustrated dustwrapper, following the example of the Nelson series, although it is quite possible that there are many others.
This is the second in what I intend to be a series of posts about the publishers in competition to Tauchnitz. I looked at Thomas Nelson a few days ago. Louis Conard and William Collins Sons represent competitors two and three.
I looked last week at how Tauchnitz just about coped with World War I – a war that placed it on the opposing side to most of its customers. There were many more trials to come, but it did at least survive the war, and could return to its main business of publishing contemporary English literature for the European continent.
The recovery was slow. Before the war Tauchnitz had been publishing around 70 new volumes a year in its main Collection of British Authors. In 1919 it published just 6, followed by 12 in1920, 23 in 1921, 25 in 1922 and 29 in 1923. Many of the books printed in this period were on poor quality paper, and the company also had to deal with the problem of hyper-inflation in Germany. It also faced new competitors, who had taken advantage of the enforced absence of Tauchnitz from much of Western Europe, to launch new series.
Amongst these new competitors was Thomas Nelson and Sons, a Scottish publisher, which had set up a Paris office in 1910 and very successfully launched a series of French language novels, which was to continue for over 50 years. Seeing the gap created by the absence of Tauchnitz from the market in France and other European countries, they launched the ‘Nelson’s Continental Library’ in 1915 and quickly recruited several authors who had previously contributed novels to Tauchnitz, including Marie Corelli, Rider Haggard, John Galsworthy and Jack London. They were also able to call on works from John Buchan, who was a Director of the firm.
The books looked very similar to Tauchnitz edition, the same size and the same buff colour, and could easily be mistaken for them – in fact they still often are. There was though one major difference, that would have made them stand out. Many of the Nelson books had brightly illustrated dustwrappers. I don’t know whether these were used on just some, or on all the books – I suspect maybe not on the earliest issues, but on all the later ones and on reprints. Tauchnitz did eventually use dustwrappers on their paperbacks, but only many years later, and much less garish than these. Like Penguin later on, Tauchnitz seem to have had an aversion to illustrated covers, fearing they would project the wrong image – perhaps attract the ‘wrong’ type of customer.
The initial price of the books was 2 Francs, the same price at which Tauchnitz had sold before the war. But by volume 43 it had increased to 2.25 Francs, and after that there was a steady increase to 4.50 Francs for the later titles. Unhelpfully the books carry no date or printing history, so it’s difficult to be sure about the dates or about first printings. Usually the list of other titles on the back cover is the best guide, and the price can also be an indication. As far as I can tell though, the series didn’t last long after the end of the war. The final titles may have been issued around 1921. The last volume I have is volume 88, by now with an illustrated wrapper attached directly to the book and no separate dustwrapper, but there is some evidence of later volumes, possibly up to volume 99. Whether the series ended because of falling sales or increased costs, or the desertion of their authors back to Tauchnitz, I don’t know.
When Albatross, the company that eventually toppled Tauchnitz, launched in 1932, they were reported to be around the 40th competitor that Tauchnitz had faced in its long history. I can’t identify anything like that number at the moment, but I intend to look at as many as I can of them in this blog. Nelson’s Continental Library is the first of those.