By the time war broke out in 1939, the Collins White Circle series was well established as a serious competitor to Penguin, particularly in the area of genre fiction – crime, mystery, westerns and romantic novels. The Crime Club section of the series had published around 80 titles and the Westerns were up to 30 or more. Titles continued to be added throughout 1940 and 1941, but gradually paper rationing started to bite. Books had to meet the War Economy standard and the flow of new titles slowed to a trickle.
A paper quota was available though for the paperback Services Editions, and this was one area where Penguin had got it wrong, launching the misconceived ‘Forces Book Club’ and then withdrawing from the market. It was an opportunity for Collins to make an impression, and their product was in some ways ideal for it. Romantic fiction was not going to work, for what were then almost exclusively male armed forces, but the other categories in their White Circle series could carry straight across. Crime novels and Westerns were just what the Services wanted.
White Circle Westerns in standard format and in Services Edition
Over the period from 1943 to 1946 the Collins series of Services Editions published 164 titles, including at least 33 Westerns, and probably 36. I don’t know exactly how many because I have no idea of the titles of the books numbered c327, c328 and c330. If anyone does know, or even better has a copy of any of these books, I’d be delighted to hear from them. The other books with similar numbers are Westerns, so it seems likely that these are too, but I can’t be sure.
Certainly the series started with eight Westerns in the first sixteen titles. See my post on the early Collins Services Editions for more detail. It’s enough for now to say that those first eight Westerns have almost disappeared without trace. In over 25 years of searching for them, I have found only one in first printing and two others in reprints.
The next batch through to the end of 1944 is not much better. I have found copies of just four of the twelve books, but I do at least know the titles of the others, although not their series numbers. Any evidence of the books below in Services Editions would be welcome.
|Curran, Tex||Riding fool|
|Dawson, Peter||Time to ride|
|Ermine, Will||Watchdog of Thunder River|
|Lee, Ranger||Red shirt|
|Lee, Ranger||The silver train|
|Robertson, F. C.||Rustlers on the loose|
|Robertson, F. C.||Kingdom for a horse|
|Short, Luke||Ride the man down|
That leaves a further thirteen, possibly sixteen, Westerns published in 1945 and 1946. I have copies of seven of them, some of which I’ve seen more than once, so I suppose they’re a little more common, which is what you’d expect, but they’re still frustratingly difficult to find.
That’s true of almost all Services Editions, but Westerns do seem to be particularly rare. It’s true for the smaller number of Westerns in the Guild Books series of Services Editions as well. I’m pretty sure that the Westerns were printed in at least as large quantities as other titles, but they seem to have survived less well. I can only assume that’s because they had more use, they were read more avidly and more often, passed around more or borrowed more often from unit libraries. Services Editions were printed on poor quality paper, and often stored and read in battlefield conditions, and in hot damp climates, so they wouldn’t survive repeated use for long.
Or possibly Westerns were just seen as more disposable, and have continued to be seen in that way. When service libraries were being cleared out, were Westerns more likely to be thrown away? If they survived that clear-out and were accepted into somebody’s home, were they still more likely to end up in the bin than other types of fiction? If they got as far as a second-hand bookshop, would bookdealers have considered them worthy of a place on the shelf? Or would they have ended up in a box in a dark corner or have been consigned to a cellar to moulder and die?
Most of the Westerns in the series were written under pseudonyms, and around a third of the books came from a single author, Charles Horace Snow. He contributed books under three different names – four books as Ranger Lee, four as Gary Marshall and three as Wade Smith. Another eight books came from two brothers – four by Frederick Glidden under the name of Luke Short, and four by his brother Jonathan under the name of Peter Dawson.
I don’t think any of them are much read now. Westerns were enormously popular in wartime and in the postwar years, but interest in them seems to have gone down and down. Finding copies of these books, or even any information about them, is a race against time.
Having recently written a post about the Jarrold’s Jackdaw Library, it seems appropriate to follow it up with one about the Toucan novels. The two series seem to go together in several ways. They both came from the Hutchinson group of publishers, and they share a physical similarity, not only with each other, but with almost all the new paperback series launched in those few years after Penguin’s breakthrough. They also share, with each other and with Collins, the use of a white circle as the main title panel.
And of course they both use a bird as their brand and series title. They were far from the only series to do so in the period after the launch of Penguin Books.
Toucans and Jackdaws – birds of a feather
In choosing a Toucan as their brand, Hutchinson may have had one eye on Penguin and on Jackdaw, but they probably had the other eye on Guinness, whose famous toucan had appeared just two years earlier. What would previously have been a rather obscure bird, had been propelled to the centre of media attention by the Guinness advertising campaign.
In reviewing Jackdaw, I asked the question why Hutchinson needed another paperback series in October 1936. At that point they already had the Hutchinson Pocket Library, the Hutchinson Popular Pocket Library and the Crime Book Society series, all launched within the previous 12 months. So it’s even more strange that just 4 months later they launched yet another new series and another new brand. Was there really a market space left for the Toucan Novels when they appeared in February 1937?
I can’t work out whether it was a deliberate strategy not to put all their eggs in one basket, or just a lack of strategic co-ordination within the group.
Other Hutchinson 6d series from 1935 / 1936
Toucan at least showed some evidence of co-ordination, as the books came from several different publishing imprints within the Hutchinson Group. Most of the first group of titles came from Hurst & Blackett, although there were two from Hutchinson itself. Then a group of books from Stanley Paul and another from John Long. But like Jackdaw, and like several other new paperback series in the 1930s, there was then a pause after an initial rush of titles. It took time for the market to adjust to yet another new paperback series, and time for the initial print run to sell out.
After volume 20 appeared in June 1937, there were no new titles for almost a year, then a small group of titles in summer 1938, but it was not until May 1939 that the series really got going again. The main publisher in this second phase was Stanley Paul, although there were also books from Hurst & Blackett and a few from Skeffington & Son.
The covers of the early books were printed in two colours to highlight the Toucan’s yellow beak, and most of the early books were in a purply crimson colour, with a few in green. The group of books from volumes 17 to 20, all published by John Long, are missing the yellow highlighting on the book covers, although it is still there on the dust-wrappers. Was this an economy measure, saving on two colour printing in a place where it would not normally be noticed by the purchaser? Or was it just a mistake?
Front cover and dust-wrapper of volume 17
It turned out, perhaps inadvertently, to be a herald of the future. From around volume 32 onwards, possibly earlier, all or almost all books were printed with yellow covers. This allowed the toucan’s beak to be yellow without the need for two-colour printing, although it did lose some of the earlier impact. A little while later, dust-wrappers were dropped, and then prices started to creep up, with some volumes selling for a while at 7d, before wartime economy measures really started to bite.
An early Toucan in green and a later one in yellow
By mid 1940 it was impossible to continue on anything like the pre-war basis, and the numbered series came to an end with volume 62. A few more books were published during the war, effectively as one-offs, but they had to meet the war economy standard, which meant low paper quality, small fonts and small margins, making the most of the paper rationing that was hitting all publishers. I know of two wartime Toucans at 9d, although there may well be others. Then later, at least three books at 1s 3d, and post-war others at 1s 6d.
The books published in the Toucan series had no great literary pretensions, and few of them are much remembered today. The authors are generally pretty obscure, although there is one Edgar Wallace title and perhaps most significantly, two of the Maigret books by Georges Simenon. Simenon was at that time so little known in Britain that he had to be described on the book cover as ‘The Edgar Wallace of France’.
As a final comment, seven books in the Hutchinson Group series of Services Editions were also referred to as Toucan Novels in a brief mention at the top of the cover. It’s not entirely clear what the point of this was, as there was no other Toucan branding, and only one of the books had previously appeared as a Toucan novel. Indeed three were from a publisher, Rich and Cowan, which had not previously contributed books to the Toucan series. But it’s one of many examples of confusion in branding within the Hutchinson Group at that time.
By March 1944, the Council on Books in Wartime, the body responsible for publishing the US Armed Services Editions, was already starting to think about the need for books in post-war Europe. Not in an entirely disinterested way, of course. This was a project sponsored by the Psychological Warfare Branch, made up of members of the US Army, the Office of War Information and the OSS, a wartime intelligence agency that was the predecessor of the CIA. In the words of the official history of the Council, ‘Books were wanted which would give the people of Europe a picture of what Americans are like and what we had been doing since communications were closed’. Not to put too fine a point on it, this was a propaganda exercise, and one that led to a substantial publishing programme.
The Americans were undoubtedly right though to identify the need for books, and to prepare for it. Within a relatively short time the US, along with the other Allies, found itself directly administering some quite large areas of Europe, and present in much wider areas. Its ambitions were far more than just to keep the peace. It wanted to do what it could to ensure there would never be another European war, and in pursuit of that goal it wanted to spread what it saw as American values of freedom and democracy, and suppress what remained of the philosophy of totalitarianism.
Within the directly administered areas in Germany, Austria and Italy, the US took wide-ranging control of almost all aspects of the media, through the Information Services Branch (ISB). Press and radio were tightly controlled, as were other aspects such as theatre, cinema and even art. But publishing was clearly an important area for the spread of ideas and as well as trying to influence and control the output of local publishers, the Americans issued their own publications, as did the British.
For the British, the series of Guild Books editions, published in Germany and in Austria, were the gentlest form of propaganda. The American equivalent, the ‘Overseas Editions’, were both more political and more explicit in their aim. As John Hench described it in his ‘History of the Book in America’, the books were “intended to reacquaint Europeans with the heritage, history, and fundamental makeup of the USA, plus a picture of our role in the war.”
Overseas Editions were produced by a subsidiary of the Council on Books in Wartime, and shared some of the same production methods and some of the same titles as the Armed Services Editions. But in other respects they were very different and posed particular problems. The most obvious difficulty was the intention to publish in foreign languages. That required translations, which took time, and it also required typesetters competent in those languages, who were in short supply. Plans to publish in both Chinese and Japanese had to be dropped at a late stage.
Finance was also a significant problem, only solved in the end by an offer from Pocket Books to use its credit, in return for having its imprint on the finished books. When this led to further problems though, Pocket Books waived its rights and no imprint appeared.
In shape and size, the books were closer to Pocket Books than the unconventional oblong shape of the Armed Services Edition. In one respect though they differed from both Pocket Books and Armed Services Editions and almost all other American paperbacks of the time. US paperbacks were almost defined by the colourfulness, even brashness of their covers. Yet the Overseas Editions have an extraordinarily restrained standard typographical cover, with just a small logo. Did the Americans decide that brashness would not go down well in a more sober Europe, or was it just inappropriate for the more serious subject matter here?
Most of the books, including the Italian translations, but interestingly not the German ones, carry a short message on the front cover referring to how free publishing had been ‘interrupted by Axis aggression’.
A total of 72 books were published – 22 in English, 22 in French, 23 in German and 5 in Italian. Some of the same titles appear in all four languages, but there’s also some variation. Most of them are unashamedly patriotic works – Stephen Vincent Benét’s ‘America’, Bernard Jaffe’s ‘Men of Science in America’ and Walter Lippmann’s ‘US War aims’ were typical selections. But there was also room for a small number of novels, notably Hemingway’s ‘For whom the bell tolls’ and William Saroyan’s ‘The human comedy’.
Over 3.6 million books were printed, all of them in 1945, with the final shipment in November 1945. The overall cost was $411,000, equivalent to around 11½ cents each, and as the books were sold at retail prices in each market, the project produced a profit for the Government, something that wasn’t in its original objectives. Indeed a note in the books is quite specific that they are published by a non-profit organisation.
The books were widely sold, not only in occupied Europe, but also in North Africa, Syria, Turkey, the Philippines, China and Japan. They’re still relatively easy to find in second hand markets in Europe, in Holland and Belgium as well as in Germany, France and Italy.
I’ve spent a good part of my life collecting, researching and generally championing the Services Editions, issued to the British Armed Forces during the Second World War. I’ve always felt that they have been unjustly neglected, particularly in comparison with the American Armed Services Editions, which are well known, well-researched and widely collected, including a full collection in the Library of Congress.
That contrast is heightened by a fascinating new book on the US editions, ‘When books went to war’. Amongst other articles and research, there have already been at least two quite significant books published on the Armed Services Editions. The war was barely over before ‘A history of the Council on Books in Wartime’ was published in 1946 (written by Robert O. Ballou from a draft by Irene Rakosky). Then forty years after the launch of the series, an event to celebrate them was held at the Library of Congress in 1983 and a selection of papers published the following year as ‘Books in Action’, edited by John Y. Cole.
The first of these works is referenced extensively in Molly Guptill Manning’s new book, while the second is surprisingly neglected. The major new resource she has unearthed and used though is a wide variety of letters written by servicemen to authors and to the Council on Books in Wartime. These are what make the book, transforming it from a dry bibliographical history or reference book to a vibrant and uplifting story of triumph and adversity – at times almost an emotional read. It’s clear that many soldiers appreciated the books enormously, even to the extent that they transformed the lives of some servicemen, opening their eyes to a wider world and to new post-war possibilities. The narrative of the book is also helped by setting it in the context of the Nazi book-burnings, contrasting American freedom and liberality with Nazi censorship and destruction.
It’s a very entertaining read and I’d recommend it to a much wider audience than most books about books, which are usually pretty dry and specialist. My one real reservation is, perhaps not surprisingly, that it again fails to give due credit to the UK Services Editions. As usual, they’re mostly ignored, but in one section on the British publishing industry in wartime, the author claims that ‘book shortages … rendered distribution of free reading material to members of the Royal Army and Navy impossible’. British troops are said to have gaped at the crates of Armed Services Editions (ASEs) supplied to American forces, marvelling at how well taken care of they were. ‘Many British soldiers were left wondering: Why didn’t their government care for their morale needs by supplying paperback books?’
The answer of course is that the British Government did supply paperback books. Not only did they supply around 500 different titles as Services Editions, but they were ahead of the Americans in doing so. It seems likely that the ASEs were at least in part inspired by the British experiences in this area, although there is no acknowledgement of this. The Penguin Forces Book Club issued a series of 120 paperbacks between October 1942 and September 1943 (on a subscription basis for army units, but effectively free to servicemen) and the main programme of Services Editions with wide distribution started in July 1943. The first ASEs did not appear until September of the same year.
Of course it’s possible that ASEs reached some locations that British Services Editions never got to, leading to admiration or jealousy from the British forces. And the Americans certainly had a greater range of titles and longer print runs, meaning the books are much easier to find today, but they were not the first. They may even have been behind the Germans too, who published ‘Feldpostaugaben’, although on a slightly different basis, and I’m not sure over what period. And the Swiss, who were not even fighting in the war, issued a series of paperbacks described as Soldaten-Bücherei, or Soldiers’ Library, at least as early as 1939.
Of course all of this is just my personal hobbyhorse. It will be a minor or irrelevant point for most people reading the book and I doubt it will detract at all from their enjoyment of it. In the end this is a story, more than a bibliographical work, and as a story it’s well written and enjoyable. I hope many more people will enjoy it.
Writing a detective story with football as a background seems such a good idea that it’s surprising it hasn’t been done more often. Dick Francis, and before him Nat Gould, made an entire career writing crime stories based on horse racing, but football-themed crime stories seem thin on the ground.
There is though ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’, written by Leonard Gribble and first published by Harrap in 1939. It was made into a film later the same year and it’s perhaps the film that’s now better remembered than the book. My interest though comes neither from the film nor from the first printing of the book, but from its later issue as one of the early Services Editions for the British Armed Forces.
First though the story and its background. Arsenal were the dominant football team of the 1930s, winning the league title 5 times, including three consecutive wins in 1932-33, 1933-34 and 1934-35. They were managed by the great Herbert Chapman until his death in 1934 and from the 1934-35 season by George Allison. Both Chapman and Allison and many of the Arsenal team from those years would have been household names, as familiar as Jose Mourinho or Cristiano Ronaldo today. The story features all of them, with a significant role for the manager, George Allison, and the book starts with a page of autographs of all the team.
Without giving away any plot spoilers, the obvious difficulty is that real people featuring in a detective story can hardly be either the victim or the murderer (or the detective), and if they can’t be the murderer, it’s difficult to make them credible suspects either. So inevitably they have a limited role. To provide plenty of suspects, the author has to invent a fictional team for Arsenal to play against, and a more dysfunctional team you could hardly imagine, despite the author’s insistence that building the team has been a fantastic achievement.
Having been first published in 1939, just before the outbreak of war, ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ was an obvious candidate when the British Publishers’ Guild, an association of publishers, was looking for books that could be added to its series of Services Editions – paperbacks published for distribution to the armed forces. They wanted popular fiction, including crime fiction, and they wanted up-to-date books, preferably not previously published in paperback.
The first two books to be provided by Harrap were this one, published as volume S19 in the series, and ‘Murder at Wrides Park’ by J.S. Fletcher, published as volume S20, both books appearing in 1943. The print run was probably 50,000 copies of each book, but they are both almost impossible to find now. Even the reprint of ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ printed in a wider format by The Amalgamated Press (possibly another 50,000 copies?), with spare copies sold on by W.H. Smith after the war, has almost completely disappeared. The printing history on the reprint is not updated, so still says 1943, but it is certainly later, probably 1946. The narrow first printing, printed by C. Tinling & Co. Ltd., is like all early Services Editions exceptionally rare (although sadly, probably not very valuable). My copy was found only after almost thirty years of searching.
When I did find it though, it came with a letter written by the author, and dated some 15 years later. Leonard Gribble seems to be answering a letter that asked for information about the pseudonyms he wrote under. He refuses to answer, saying he is bound by contractual terms, but refers his correspondent to Who’s Who. The modern equivalent, Wikipedia, suggests he wrote under a series of names including Leo Grex, Piers Marlowe, Bruce Sanders, Dexter Muir, Sterry Browning, Louis Grey and Landon Grant. Few of his other works though achieved the success of ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’, and he came back to the idea of football themed mysteries in 1950, publishing ‘They kidnapped Stanley Matthews’, again featuring Anthony Slade as the detective.
New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful and successful country with much to celebrate in its own right, but seen from much of the rest of the world its fate is often to be considered as an add-on to Australia, a mere 1000 miles away. Travellers plan a trip to Australia, and think about whether they can visit New Zealand on the way home. Politicians talk to the Australian Prime Minister and wonder if they should contact the guy from New Zealand as well – if only they could remember his, or her, name. Businesses set up in Australia and then think about whether to add on a New Zealand branch. Publishers issue Australian Editions – and wonder if they should think about New Zealand.
It’s far from alone in this. Scotland has long suffered from being seen as an afterthought to England, and the Australia / New Zealand relationship parallels the England / Scotland one in very human terms as well. There are still a lot of New Zealanders of Scottish descent, and a lot of Australians with English heritage. So the Scottish publisher Collins had good reason to remember New Zealand, when it started to issue Australian editions during the Second World War.
The move by British publishers to print local editions in their former export markets was driven by the introduction of paper rationing in Britain. It no longer made any sense to print books in Britain and send them on a long and hazardous journey around the world. So Collins started to print its White Circle paperbacks locally in Canada, in India, in Ceylon (India’s New Zealand?), in Australia … and of course in New Zealand. Canada, India and Australia got long series and a wide choice of titles. Ceylon and New Zealand had to settle for just a handful of different titles.
I’m sure that today book-buyers in New Zealand have just as wide a choice as those in Australia. But back in the 1940s their choice may have been severely restricted. Presumably the logic for issuing only a few titles was that they needed a long print run to keep the price down and the only way to sell a long print run in a small market was to restrict the choice. Penguin did much the same, publishing a long series of books in Australia during the war and a much shorter series of titles in New Zealand.
So from Collins, New Zealand got a selection of titles that may have been as few as 6. There’s no record of what they published and there’s no advertising for other titles within the books themselves, so the only way of knowing what exists is to find them. John Loder’s pamphlet on the White Circle books in Australia lists 6 titles known to exist and I only have a copy of one of those.
It’s a Peter Cheyney novel, in an unusual Crime Club cover. Unusual because in the UK, Cheyney’s novels were not published in the Crime Club. They were considered Mystery novels, published in a separate Mystery series with its own cover style. That distinction, which seems to have been important in the UK, for reasons that I don’t understand, rather broke down outside the UK, and there are several examples in Australia too of books appearing in the ‘wrong’ cover style.
Otherwise the books look very like UK, or Australian, or Indian White Circle editions. Appropriately they were printed in Dunedin, a city named after the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, in another reminder of the historic links between Scotland and New Zealand.
I’ve recently come across a small pamphlet by John Loder on the Collins White Circle editions published in Australia. The books themselves I’ve seen from time to time and without trying to collect them systematically, I’ve put together a small group of them over the years. I’ve never known much about them though and certainly never had any knowledge of what titles existed, or how many. So it’s great to find that somebody else has had enough interest to produce a checklist and a short history.
As I’ve found before with series that are little researched, there are more books than you might think. They’re not numbered, so there’s no easy indication of how many there might be, and most are also undated, so I wasn’t even sure when they were published. It’s no surprise that they come from the 1940s, starting around 1942, possibly even a bit earlier. But I am a bit surprised to find that there are over 100 different titles. That includes several I have copies of that are not in John Loder’s checklist, so there are probably still other unrecorded ones as well.
The stimulus for the creation of the series was probably the introduction of paper rationing in the UK and the increasing difficulty of shipping books out to Australia. At much the same time, and for the same reason, Collins started local printing of paperbacks in Canada, in India and in Ceylon, Penguin started local printing in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Egypt, and Guild Books also started an Australian series. The Australian market must have been getting quite crowded.
All three of the UK publishers starting to print locally in Australia stuck with their basic UK format. Penguin’s launch in 1935 had transformed the UK market, with standard designed covers almost universally adopted, so that was what Australia got too. Over the years the design of White Circle covers in Australia gradually diverged from the UK original, but they never seem to have followed Canada or India in rejecting the UK orthodoxy and adopting fully illustrated covers.
The basic UK design with some unusual colour combinations
As in the UK, Australian White Circles come in different sub-series – Crime Club novels in green, Westerns in yellow, Mysteries in purple / magenta and ‘Famous Novels’ in mauve / lilac. There were about 30 to 35 titles in each of the first three sub series, but only around 13 titles in the Famous Novels series, which seems to have been principally aimed at women, combining the general fiction and romance categories in the UK. I think it’s fair to say that few of the titles could be described as famous today.
I’ve never quite understood the distinction between Crime novels and Mystery novels that applied in the 1930s and 1940s, although I imagine it was something to do with the rules of fair play between author and reader in classic stories of detection. In Australia though the rules seem to have been slightly different, with more than one title switching to a different category from the one applying in the UK.
The books sold at 1s 3d, equivalent at the fixed exchange rate of the time to 1 shilling in British currency. This was more or less in line with post-war prices for paperbacks in the UK, although double the standard pre-war price. Only around half of the titles published in Australia were also in the UK White Circle series, but the others are mostly books published by Collins in hardback in the UK and quite a few also appeared in the Canadian White Circle paperbacks. There are though a few by local Australian authors, which were not all published elsewhere by Collins. In particular, two ‘Jeffery Blackburn’ thrillers by Max Afford and two novels by Eleanor Dark.
I’m sure there’s much more to discover about the Australian editions, so I’ll come back to this another time. Some day there are also a few New Zealand editions to investigate.
Books have a history that can sometimes be very strange. It’s bound up with the history of their owners, their authors and their publishers and of course with the history of their times. But they don’t always give it up easily. This is part of the story of one book that lived through some of the most turbulent times of recent history – a time when books were banned and burned, but also a time when books were part of a great war of ideas.
At first sight the book is rather drab and uninspiring – a two volume edition of ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ by Israel Zangwill, bound in a dark cloth binding with plain boards and just the title in gilt on the spine. It’s an edition from 1898 published by Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig, over 100 years old but showing little sign of its age. The volumes would originally have been sold as paperbacks and then privately bound. Tauchnitz editions, in both paperback and bound copies were a common sight in continental Europe over a period of 100 years, roughly from 1840 to 1940.
Israel Zangwill, a British Jew, had made his name as an author a few years earlier with the publication of ‘Children of the ghetto’ in 1892. That had been an instant success in Britain and in the US, although unusually it didn’t appear in a Tauchnitz Edition. So ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ was the first of Zangwill’s works to be published by Tauchnitz, followed later by ‘Ghetto comedies’ in 1907 and ‘Ghetto tragedies’ in 1908.
Zangwill was a political activist and initially an advocate of Zionism, although he later became one of the main supporters of territorialism, the movement that called for a Jewish territory that was not necessarily in Palestine. He was also a supporter of cultural integration and popularised, if not invented, the phrase ‘The melting pot’, when he wrote a play with that name about the absorption of immigrants into American culture. According to his entry on the Jewish Virtual Library, he was ‘probably the best known Jew in the English-speaking world at the start of the twentieth century’.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ should have been bought by Dr. Georg Landauer (1863 – 1943), who came from a wealthy Jewish banking family in Vienna. It has his bookplate on the front pastedown, with a rather cute picture of a cat and the motto ‘Ganz oder gar nicht’, which roughly translates as ‘All, or nothing at all’.
Vienna at this time was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, under the Emperor Franz Josef. Dr. Landauer appears in a list of the 929 richest people in Vienna in 1910, published in a recent book, ‘Traumzeit für Millionäre’. But the good times were not to last. The first world war led to the break-up of the empire and there were other clouds on the horizon for Jewish families. Dr. Landauer converted to Catholicism in 1920, but it was not enough to save him. After the Anschluss in 1938 he was arrested and his property confiscated under the Aryanisation programme. He was held for two days before being allowed to emigrate to Britain, but he had to leave his books and other property behind.
The next evidence of ownership is a stamp on the reverse of the title page in each volume for the Studienbibliothek Linz, showing the eagle emblem used by the Nazi party. After the Anschluss, the National Socialist Walter Luegmayer was appointed as Director of the Linz Library and it’s known that many collections of books were forcibly acquired.
Perhaps more puzzling is why a book like this, essentially celebrating Jewish culture, should have been preserved in a library under Nazi control. This was the era of banned lists, banned authors and book burnings. Did it survive simply because the library didn’t realise what it was about, perhaps because they couldn’t read English and had never heard of Israel Zangwill (‘probably the best known Jew in the English-speaking world at the start of the twentieth century’ – see above!). Or was it perhaps saved by a subversive librarian, whose respect for books was greater than for his or her political masters?
After the war the Annual Report of the library refers to the gradual return of many foreign book collections that had been acquired by confiscation. Was this book returned, and if so to whom? Landuaer had died in 1943 in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Was it returned to someone else in the family or did it remain in the library? There is no cancellation stamp to show it was sold from the library’s collection, so it may well have been returned.
One way or another it eventually ended up in the care of a British bookdealer, from whom I bought it a few years ago. What happened to it in the meantime we can probably never know, although if any member of the Landauer family feels they may still have a claim to it, I’d be happy to hear from them.
There seem to be surprisingly few early paperback editions of Rex Stout novels in the UK, but perhaps fittingly, one area where he was well recognised was in the Services Editions produced for the British Armed Forces. I say fittingly, because it was Stout who established the Writers’ War Board in the US, and he was heavily involved in American efforts to use books to help win both the physical war and the “war of ideas”.
His early books had been published in the UK by Cassell & Co., but by the time war broke out, like most other crime writers, he had been enticed to the Collins Crime Club, and it was Collins who were by far the largest publisher of Services Editions. The Guild Books series was longer, but as the Guild was an association of publishers, their series included books from a wide range of different companies, including both Cassell and Collins.
The first Stout novel to appear in a Services Edition was ‘Black Orchids’, a combination of two Nero Wolfe short stories that had been published in the US in 1942 and then in a Collins Crime Club edition in the UK in July 1943. The Services Edition was not long after, published in 1943 as number c218 in the Collins series (which started at c201). I’ve never seen a copy, and I’d love to hear from anyone who has one or knows of one.
The same goes for the next Rex Stout novel to appear in a Services Edition. I’ve never seen a copy of ‘The red box’, but again I know it exists as number S133 of the Guild Books series, published in 1944. This was one of the early Nero Wolfe novels, first published in the UK by Cassells. So Stout became one of the very rare authors to appear in both the main series of UK Services Editions.
After that it was back to the Collins series for two volumes published together in 1945 and featuring other private investigators. Volume c313 was ‘Alphabet Hicks’ and c314 ‘The broken vase’, both stories that had been published in the US in 1941 and then in the Collins Crime Club in 1942. Alphabet Hicks is a one-off mystery featuring Alfred ‘Alphabet’ Hicks and ‘The broken vase’ is the third Tecumseh Fox story. These two are perhaps a little bit easier to find in Services Editions, but that’s only in relative terms. Both were later published by Collins in standard White Circle paperbacks – The broken vase’ as volume 185c in 1950 and ‘Alphabet Hicks’ as 208c in 1952, and these editions are certainly easier to find.
And finally in 1946, there was a Services Edition of ‘Double for death’, the first of the Tecumseh Fox novels. This had already been published in the main White Circle series, as volume 153c in 1945 and by the time it came out in a Services Edition, the programme was almost at an end. Many, if not most, of the Services Edition copies never reached the armed forces, and were released for general sale. So they’re mostly found these days with a WH Smith sticker on the front or the remains of one, authorising their sale, which at least means that they do turn up more often.
The timing of this post is to coincide with a series of posts on Rex Stout by the Tuesday night bloggers. Click on the link to see other posts by the group.
The Christmas of 1938 must have been a rather tense one. The Munich agreement had been signed three months before, but Europe was sliding inexorably towards crisis and within a year it would be engulfed by war.
John Holroyd-Reece, at that point effectively the Managing Director of Albatross Books in Paris, may have had more to fear than most. The business of Albatross, selling English language books throughout Continental Europe, depended on peace in Europe, and his personal situation was both very European and very exposed to the risk of a war between Britain and Germany. He had been born and brought up in Munich as Johann Hermann Riess, to a German Jewish father and English mother, had opted for British nationality and anglicised his name, was now living in France and his (second) wife Jeanne was Belgian.
But despite the difficult political situation, he had a lot to celebrate. He was living in a magnificent apartment on the Ile de la Cité, one of the most prestigious areas of Paris, in the shadow of Notre Dame, in a building shared with the offices of the firm. Business was going well, publishing not only Albatross Books, but also the long-established series of Tauchnitz Editions, which they had effectively taken control of 4 years before.
So when he decided to send out a Christmas card, it was never likely to be a simple nativity scene or a cute picture of snow, robins and holly. He commissioned an artist to produce it and ended up with an astonishing card, almost 4 metres long and folded concertina style into a 30 page booklet featuring images from their home and office.
The artist was Gunter Böhmer, then 27 years old, but who was to go on to become a significant artist across a range of styles. He was born in Dresden in Germany, had studied in Italy, and had worked at Officina Bodoni in Verona with Giovanni Mardersteig, who had created the book design for the Albatross series. In 1934 he had provided illustrations for one Albatross book – the German language edition of Dickens’ ‘The life of our Lord’, and in the course of 1938, he had illustrated another – ‘Victoria Regina’ by Laurence Housman, a series of dramatised episodes in the life of Queen Victoria. He also worked on cover illustrations for an Albatross /Tauchnitz marketing brochure at the end of 1938.
For the Christmas card, Böhmer seems to have been given free rein to produce something that not only glorified Holroyd-Reece as his patron, but extraordinarily featured a significant role for himself as the artist. He appears on the very first page of the card, apparently arriving at Rue Chanoinesse with his sketchbook, palette and a hunting horn, accompanied by a donkey, to meet Holroyd-Reece and an angel. The symbolism of the card is not always easy to understand!
Throughout the rest of the card there are images of Holroyd-Reece and his wife in various settings, both in the office and in their private rooms, and also of various other Albatross staff working in the offices. Some of the staff can be identified by initials written alongside them – ‘WO’ for Wolfgang Ohlendorf, or ‘SB’ for Sonia Bessarab for example, but others are more mysterious.
Perhaps most mysterious of all though is the near constant presence of the artist himself, who wanders in and out of the pages of the card, before again taking centre stage at the end. He’s shown saying goodbye to the Holroyd-Reece family outside the house, before departing past Notre Dame with his donkey, in a scene that seems to evoke Mary and Joseph. The final page shows him and his donkey relaxing together with the hunting horn after a hard day’s work. I can’t think of any other work of art produced for a wealthy patron, where the artist seems to have as large a role as the patron.