The recent collapse of the Thomas Cook travel firm brings to an end a history of over 175 years, since the original Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) founded the firm in 1841. In some ways and at some times in the past, Thomas Cook was not just a travel firm, it was the travel firm – the firm responsible for organising and popularising the idea of travel in the second half of the 19th century.
Many of the travellers in 19th century Europe, particularly the British, would have booked their travel with Thomas Cook. Many of them were also of course customers of Tauchnitz, the dominant publisher of English language books in continental Europe at the time. Bernhard Tauchnitz had founded his publishing firm in 1837, but it was in 1841, the same year that Thomas Cook set out in business, that he launched the ‘Collection of British Authors’, the series that was to make his fortune.
So it was fitting that when Thomas Cook (the firm) commissioned W. Fraser Rae to write a 50th anniversary history in 1891, the resulting book, ‘The business of travel’, should also appear in the Tauchnitz series. Corporate histories are not always easy to read or popular to sell, but if anyone was going to be interested in this one, it was likely to be travellers, particularly those whose travel had been arranged by the firm.
‘The business of travel’ appeared as volume 2802 of the Tauchnitz series in January 1892, with an additional introductory chapter written by the author for the Tauchnitz Edition. This chapter, like the rest of the book, lavishes praise on John Mason Cook, the then head of the firm, and rather brushes over the contribution of Thomas Cook, his father. Thomas Cook was at that point still alive, although he died later in 1892. There had been a big argument between father and son, which had led to the founder retiring from the business in 1878. Rae, the author of the history, clearly knew on which side his bread was buttered.
Although the Tauchnitz bibliography shows only one edition of Rae’s volume, a paperback copy of the book dated 1928 on the wrapper is recorded, and the hardback copy in my own collection may be even later, judging by the binding. So it seems it must have sold reasonably well over an extended period, almost until the firm’s centenary was approaching.
By the time that centenary came in 1941, the firm would have been in no mood to celebrate it, and even less likely to ask Tauchnitz to publish a history. But after the war there were various attempts to revive the Tauchnitz brand, including a series of 40 titles published from Stuttgart as numbers 101 to 140 of the ‘New Series’. Volume 127, published in 1953, was ‘The Thomas Cook Story’ by John Pudney, a book that had been published in the UK by Michael Joseph in the same year, although not commissioned by Thomas Cook. It appeared both in paperback and in hardback versions.
The Tauchnitz Stuttgart Editions were not a great success. Post-war market conditions were very different from those that had existed before the war. Amongst other things, the rise of Penguin had brought in a formidable new competitor, so the series was short-lived and sales were almost certainly disappointing. The books continued to be sold for several years after the flow of new titles stopped, presumably to dispose of a substantial level of unsold stock. ‘The Thomas Cook story’ is one of the few titles in this series that I have seen with a dustwrapper on the hardback edition, so it may be that it was added later to freshen up old stock.
In the search for a profitable market in the 1950s, Tauchnitz also looked again at the idea of publishing German translations of foreign books. John Pudney’s book was one of five books translated into German and appearing under the series title of ‘Der Deutsche Tauchnitz’. Rather unfortunately this was the same title that had been used for a series of German novels published under Nazi control during the war, for sale outside Germany, although there was really no connection between the two ventures.
The translation appeared in 1955 under the title ‘Alles inbegriffen’, meaning ‘everything included’ or ‘all-inclusive’. So far as I know it was published only in hardback and sported a brightly coloured dustwrapper. Again, given that the series ran to only five volumes, it seems unlikely that it was a best-seller.