I’ve looked in earlier posts at the first publication of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Tauchnitz in December 1843 (possibly the first printing worldwide of the book), and also at the Schools Edition of the story that followed in 1847. Both editions are scarce today in first printing or even in early printings, although the book continued to sell for so long that later printings are not too difficult to find.
The individual issue of ‘A Christmas Carol’ remained in print with Tauchnitz for many decades, but it was also combined with the next two Christmas stories by Dickens, ‘The chimes’ and ‘The cricket on the hearth’, to form volume 91 of the Tauchnitz main series in 1846. That volume too remained in print right up until the Second World War.
As the Schools Edition was also sold over a long period, Tauchnitz had three different editions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for sale simultaneously. The Schools Edition was probably sold right through until the 1880s, when Tauchnitz expanded the concept into the ‘Students Series’. Not surprisingly ‘A Christmas Carol’ appeared again in this series, as volume 25 in 1888 and remained in print in this format at least through until the First World War in 1914.
During the war, the firm was unable to publish much new material, but instead raided its back catalogue for shorter works or excerpts that could be published in a new series of slim paperbacks. The series started life as ‘English Text-books’ and was later renamed as the ‘Tauchnitz Pocket Library’. And sure enough, there was ‘A Christmas Carol’ again, as volume 45 in the series.
I have no idea how many copies of the story Tauchnitz sold in total between 1843 and 1943, but it must have been an enormous number by the standards of the company. A more normal Tauchnitz novel might only have sold 2,000 copies, but it seems possible that sales of ‘A Christmas Carol’ could have been a hundred times that figure, or more.
It’s worth remembering that Tauchnitz did not pay royalties. He typically paid a fixed lump sum for the continental rights to a novel, a practice he followed right from the start, when there was no international copyright agreement. As there was no obligation on him to pay anything at that time, his offer of a lump sum payment was gratefully received, and he was able to define the terms of business for the future.
The gesture certainly bought him a lot of goodwill with Dickens, who forever after regarded him as a friend and as a trustworthy business partner. It also gave Tauchnitz privileged early access to new work by Dickens, so that his editions were sometimes published ahead of the UK editions. And the terms of the deals were determined by Tauchnitz, not only in terms of the price paid, which Dickens always allowed him to propose, but also in terms of the structure.
A lump sum payment left Tauchnitz open to the risk of lower than expected sales, but with Dickens that was hardly a risk at all. If on the other hand, sales were higher, Tauchnitz would make additional payments, at his discretion. In this way he was able to extend his reputation for fair dealing and for generosity, while still managing his costs and his profits.
In the case of ‘A Christmas Carol’, he could certainly afford to be generous. He had a very valuable property on his hands, particularly after copyright treaties restricted the issue by any other European publishers. So he made the most of it. There’s no record, so far as I know, of what Tauchnitz paid for the initial right to publish ‘A Christmas Carol’, or what later payments he may have made, but for a full length work by Dickens some 20 years later, he offered £35. On that basis, the initial payment for ‘A Christmas Carol’ could possibly have been £20 or less. If so, it must surely have been one of the best bits of business ever done. I feel sure that Tauchnitz would have made regular additional payments to reflect its success, at least over the rest of Dickens’ lifetime. Whether he continued to be as generous to Dickens’ estate after his death may be a little more doubtful.
When your whole business is based on the cultural links between two countries, and hostilities then break out between them, you’re in a difficult position. It can’t be easy at the moment to sell Russian folk music in Kiev. So imagine how Tauchnitz must have felt at the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany a hundred years ago.
For over 70 years the firm had been publishing English literature in Germany and selling their books across the European continent. A large part of their market, including selling to British and American travellers, disappeared more or less immediately and their basic product, contemporary English literature, became unacceptable to the censor. Like any business in wartime they would also have faced many practical difficulties, including the loss of a large part of their staff. From publishing at the rate of around 6 volumes a month up to August 1914, they were reduced to a total of 20 volumes in their main series between September 1914 and December 1918.
And yet somehow Tauchnitz survived. They may never have quite recovered their pre-war strength, but there were many reasons for that and arguably the signs of decline were evident even before the outbreak of war. That they survived at all was due partly to a series known originally as ‘English Text-Books’ and later as the Tauchnitz Pocket Library. It may have been born out of desperation, and was one of the least attractive of their products, but it may also have been one of the most important.
The series started life in 1916 as ‘English Text-Books – selected from the Tauchnitz Edition’ – a description perhaps chosen for political reasons, although the books don’t appear to have been aimed particularly at schools. In practice they were all parts of books previously published, and even printed from the original plates with the original page numbering. Most were relatively slim volumes, typically 100 to 150 pages in drab covers, and sold for around 90 pfennigs, just under 1 Mark. The first selection consisted of 38 volumes, followed later in 1916 by a further 40 titles, with the series title now altered to ‘Tauchnitz Pocket Library’. A lot of the first 38 were also reprinted either at this stage, or possibly in 1917, with the new series title.
First printing and reprint with new series title (and censor mark on cover)
A final 11 volumes taking the series total up to 89, were published in 1918 and again earlier titles were then reprinted, distinguishable as reprints only by the rear cover listing all 89 titles rather than just the first 78.
They’re not easy to find now, particularly in first printing, and they are poorly represented in most Tauchnitz collections, although there is a full collection of them in the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig.