The relationship between Charles Dickens and Bernhard Tauchnitz was much closer and friendlier than is often the case between authors and publishers. The letters between the two men were both very numerous and very cordial. They were also preserved for a long time. But where are they now?
“I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.’, writes Dickens in 1846, “But I have every reason to rely upon your honourable intentions; and if you will do me the favour to state your own proposal, I have little doubt that I shall be willing to assent to it …”. Then in 1854, “… It was a matter of real regret to me that I was abroad when you were in London. For it would have given me true pleasure to have taken your hand and thanked you with all heartiness for your friendship. I hope to do so on the occasion of your next visit, and also that it will not be long before you return here. Mrs. Dickens and her sister unite with me in best regards to yourself and family.”.
Bernhard Tauchnitz and Charles Dickens
The two men had known each other since 1843, when Dickens was 31 and Tauchnitz just 26. Dickens was undoubtedly the star author in the Tauchnitz series. The Tauchnitz Editions were the only authorised editions of Dickens’ work to be published in continental Europe in English, and covered all of his novels, as well as a long series of volumes reprinted from ‘Household Words’. So the correspondence between the two men is evidence of a long and trusting relationship.
The letters from Dickens were kept by Tauchnitz, along with correspondence from other authors. When the firm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1887 by publishing an anniversary history and catalogue, the book included excerpts from letters sent to Tauchnitz from various authors who had by then died, including Dickens. A shorter anniversary publication 25 years later in 1912 gave even greater prominence to the correspondence. This time a dedicated section on letters from Dickens preceded a general section on letters from all other authors.
In 1937 the Centenary publication contained facsimiles of a small number of author letters, with pride of place again going to a letter from Dickens. This was followed by a selection of contemporary letters of congratulation on the centenary from prominent people such as the British Prime Minister and the Archbishop of York. At that point it seems clear that the archive of author correspondence was still in existence. Presumably it remained the property of Tauchnitz, by then legally owned by Brandstetter, the firm that printed both Tauchnitz and Albatross books. However Albatross, based in Paris, exercised editorial control over both firms, so it’s certainly possible that some or all correspondence had moved location.
In December 1943, the printing works of Brandstetter in Leipzig were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, and it has since been widely assumed that the archive was destroyed at that time. On the 125th anniversary of Tauchnitz in 1962 what remained of the Tauchnitz firm, by then based in Stuttgart, published a final short Festschrift. It again quoted extracts from two letters from Dickens, but as both of these had already been published in the earlier anniversary histories, they do not provide evidence that the archive was still in existence. Instead, rather ominously the Festschrift (roughly translated) says that ‘… most of the documents relating to the history and development of the firm in its old home town of Leipzig were destroyed in 1943, or are currently unobtainable as a result of the unhappy division of our country’.
That unhappy division came to an end in 1990 and with it the first evidence that at least some of the documents had survived. For that evidence we are indebted to Gunter Böhnke, who discovered and transcribed some of the letters from Dickens to Tauchnitz, and to his son, Dietmar Böhnke, a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, who has more recently published them. Gunter Böhnke in 1991 discovered 34 of Dickens’ letters to Tauchnitz and about 30 others by various Dickens family members and other publishers, in the archive of one of the state owned publishing and printing firms that were about to be dismantled following German reunification. He photocopied and transcribed them before handing them back. Unfortunately they have since been lost and there is now no record of what has happened to them.
Other evidence that the archive may have survived comes from a single letter that I was able to buy at auction several years ago – see my post on A letter from Charles Dickens. This letter was not one of those transcribed by Gunter Böhnke, and was not acknowledged in the auction as being from Dickens, so presumably it must have been separated from other letters, probably before 1991.
It appears that at some stage the Tauchnitz archive was broken up. Large parts of it may by now have been lost or destroyed, even if they survived the 1943 attack. But there does remain the intriguing possibility that other letters, including those seen in 1991, still exist and may turn up again some day. That could include not only multiple letters from Dickens, but a treasure trove of letters from other leading authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1938 Albatross was riding high, publishing about 50 books a year under the Albatross brand and another 50 or so under the Tauchnitz brand. There were some problems in operating in Germany under a Nazi regime, but the business was an undoubted success, and there was clearly a market for English literature on the European continent. They were about to launch a new series of Albatross Giants, for novels that were too long for the main series. But the market for novels in the original language was inevitably limited, so it was a fairly natural extension to think of publishing English language novels in translation.
A single Albatross edition in German had appeared much earlier, in 1934, but that had been a one-off, a prestige publication to mark the release of a previously unpublished Dickens manuscript. There was no attempt at the time to follow this up with other German language publications, and it was not until 1939 that a series was launched under the title ‘Deutscher Albatros’. Even then, the books were not published by Albatross themselves, but by the publisher W. Spemann in Stuttgart. There was certainly still some involvement by Albatross though, and the books were printed by Brandstetter in Leipzig, who was not only the printer for both Albatross and Tauchnitz, but also at this point the owner of Tauchnitz. In recognition of this, after a first volume published only in Stuttgart, the title pages of the remaining pre-war volumes show the place of publication as Stuttgart and Leipzig.
The first book, ‘Mein Vater das Genie’ was a translation of a book that had earlier appeared as Tauchnitz volume 5286. It was published in paperback, in a similar format to the standard Albatross and Tauchnitz editions, although with an illustrated cover, which is actually an integral dustwrapper, folding over plain card covers. Advertising on the flap announced a further 7 books to be published, all translations of books that had appeared in either the Albatross or Tauchnitz series. Just three of these were published before the outbreak of war a few months later and as far as I can tell all three appeared only as hardbacks.
After the war, another one of the books from the original list was published in 1946, although with some noticeable differences. ‘Encore for love’ by Katherine Dunlap had appeared as Tauchnitz volume 5313 in 1938 and a translation with the title ‘Glückliche Tage auf Schloss Boisbrault’ was announced in 1939. By the time it appeared in 1946 as volume 5 of the series, the title had changed to ‘Und noch einmal Liebe’. Brandstetter, whose premises had been destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, was no longer the printer, and the title page now again refers only to Stuttgart.
Was this post-war publication approved by Brandstetter, who presumably held the copyright, or by Albatross whose brand and logo were being used? Or was it just resuming work that had been planned before the war, as if nothing had changed? At more or less the same time, rival Albatross and Tauchnitz firms, in Paris and in Hamburg, were publishing from the Tauchnitz backlist with probably little recognition of Brandstetter’s rights. Was Spemann a third firm doing much the same?
A sixth book in the series, ‘Silber in Burma’, again one that had been previously announced, was published in 1948, and at least two of the pre-war titles were re-printed around the same time. The two remaining unpublished books from the pre-war list are again announced, to be published in 1949, but I can find no evidence that they actually appeared. Were sales disappointing, or had Wolfgang Brandstetter asserted his rights, as he seems to have done with the Tauchnitz Hamburg operation?
Before the Second World War, Max Christian Wegner and John Holroyd-Reece had worked together in Paris to launch Albatross, first in competition to the old-established firm of Tauchnitz, and then to run the two companies as a joint operation. Wegner seems to have been more in control of the editorial side in the early years, but relations between the two may have soured, and in 1936 he moved from Paris to Hamburg, taking over the sales and distribution business from Kurt Enoch. From that point on, Holroyd-Reece ran the editorial side of the business from his home and office on the Ile de la Cité.
When the war came, the two found themselves on opposite sides. Holroyd-Reece had been born in Germany as Johann Hermann Riess, but had become British and fled to London, with the Nazis appropriating the business and appointing a German manager to run it. After the war, he re-launched the business from the same offices, although he himself continued to live in London.
Wegner meanwhile set up in effective competition, using the Tauchnitz brand from Hamburg. His short-term ambitions were relatively modest, and by 1948 he had re-issued about 10 of the previous Tauchnitz books in a new series, with no new publications at all. Those 10 were selected from the more than 5000 previously published by Tauchnitz. On the face of it, it’s quite odd to publish them as a new series, rather than under their original Tauchnitz series numbers, but it probably reflects the lack of clarity over rights to the Tauchnitz brand and copyrights. Wegner had no ownership of the original Tauchnitz firm and had simply created a new company, Tauchnitz Edition GmbH in Hamburg, taking advantage of the uncertainty over property rights in post-war Germany, as Holroyd-Reece was doing from Paris.
The post-war conditions in Germany however meant that the books were printed on poor quality paper and did not look attractive, either in comparison with the pre-war publications or with some of the same books being issued from Paris under the Albatross brand. Perhaps not surprisingly they don’t seem to have been a great commercial success.
Of even more concern for Wegner though was that by 1948 Wolfgang Brandstetter, the owner of the firm Oscar Brandstetter, had succeeded in re-establishing his ownership rights over Tauchnitz. Wegner was effectively forced into a short term partnership with Brandstetter as joint Managing Director. As well as extending the series further to an eventual total of 18 titles, they also created a new Students’ Series aimed at German schools, again using texts that had already been published by Tauchnitz in its pre-war Students’ Series.
The partnership between Wegner and Brandstetter was short-lived, and by 1950 Wegner was moving on again, forced out of Tauchnitz for the second time in his career. The Tauchnitz name and business was sold off, although the Students’ Series continued for several more years under a Brandstetter imprint.
At the end of the Second World War it was unclear exactly what remained of the combined Tauchnitz and Albatross publishing business that had been so successful before the war. Albatross had been owned by Sir Edmund Davis, who had died in 1939, and Tauchnitz had been owned by the printers Oscar Brandstetter, whose premises in Leipzig had been destroyed in an Allied bombing raid in 1943. The editorial office in Paris of the combined business had been taken over by the Nazis during the war, and although it continued to sell existing stock for a surprisingly long time, as well as launching a number of other ventures, the business had effectively disappeared by the end of the war.
What did remain though were the rights to a backlist of almost 6000 volumes, containing the cream of English literature from the past century. For anyone who could establish their rights to this backlist, and to the goodwill and brand recognition that went with it, there was the possibility of re-creating a significant business. At least two men – Max Christian Wegner and John Holroyd-Reece – were interested in doing so. They had both worked for Albatross before the war, although relationships between the two seem to have been difficult at times.
Holroyd-Reece chose to re-launch using the Albatross brand and series with the backing of Collins in the UK, and using the previous Albatross office in Paris, while Wegner attempted to revive Tauchnitz from Hamburg. It is unclear whether either of them could genuinely claim rights to the brand name or the Tauchnitz backlist, but in the chaos of post-war Europe, with uncertain property rights in Germany, that was perhaps not totally untypical.
Wegner started with a short series of 18 books, published between 1946 and 1949, all of them previously published by Tauchnitz. From 1948 to 1950 he added a Students’ Series of a further 12 titles, again drawn from the Tauchnitz backlist, and probably largely aimed at schools in Germany.
Early post-war Tauchnitz editions from the main series and the Students’ Series
Holroyd-Reece had rather larger ambitions, resuming the Albatross series with new titles as well as re-issuing pre-war titles. More controversially, he also re-issued books previously issued by Tauchnitz, in Albatross branding and format, but with their original Tauchnitz numbering. Some of these books were, at much the same time, being re-issued by Wegner in his Tauchnitz series. So for instance Hemingway’s ‘A farewell to arms’, originally issued by Tauchnitz in 1930 as volume 4935, also exists as Albatross volume 4935, issued in 1947, and then as volume 9 of the new Tauchnitz series, published in Hamburg in 1948.
Wegner took steps to legitimise his claims to the Tauchnitz brand in 1948, by appointing Wolfgang Brandstetter, the owner of Tauchnitz, as joint chief executive. Holroyd-Reece on the other hand could claim that when Brandstetter had bought Tauchnitz in 1934, it had ceded editorial control to Albatross. Indeed the evidence suggests that the purchase by Brandstetter may have been little more than a political fig-leaf to cover the embarrassment of a German firm being acquired by a Jewish-owned business, shortly after the Nazis came to power. Brandstetter at the start probably had no interest in running a publishing firm, or ability to do so. However it’s doubtful that an agreement entered into in 1934 in Germany, was still valid in 1947, with all that had happened in the meantime. Even if it was, some payment would presumably have been due to Brandstetter.
Of the two rival ventures, Albatross seems to have been the more adventurous and probably the more successful, launching a number of partnerships with other publishers. These led for instance to local language series under the Albatross brand in Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Germany. By 1950 though, both businesses were in terminal decline. Tauchnitz was sold and enjoyed a brief final resurgence in the 1950s, but in the end they were not really in competition with each other, they were both in competition with Penguin and the other new paperback publishers in Britain. The world of paperback publishing had changed for ever by the end of the Second World War and the conditions in which Tauchnitz and Albatross had flourished would never return.