Collecting Christie's 1920s USA Grosset Editions
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Correct first editions in the USA from the 1920s can be very expensive and quite challenging to find up to, and including, The Big Four. The last three true US firsts from the 20s are more common (especially The Mystery of the Blue Train) but can still be fairly costly to acquire. For these reasons collecting the early reprints from Grosset and Dunlap can be an enjoyable challenge that is generally quite affordable and attainable.
Grosset and Dunlap: The firm was founded in New York in 1898 with the intention of printing mass-affordable books. In their early years they would rebind paperbacks with cloth boards and even bootleg copies of books. By the 1920s Grosset & Dunlap (G&D) was a partner to many booksellers, including Dodd Mead, who wanted to outsource publishing of later editions while extending the income life of a title. G&D's partnership with Dodd Mead included the majority of Agatha Christie books with the majority of their volume occurring in the 1920s and 30s.
Dust Jackets: One of the primary appeal of the early G&D books is to obtain period dust jackets. The front panel dust jacket artwork on 7 of the 10 G&D editions of the 1920s titles matches the true first edition of the Dodd Mead. 3 of the 10 had new artwork - these were The Big Four, The Mystery of the Blue Train and Partners In Crime (all from the late 1920s). There is no known reprint by G&D of Poirot Investigates, likely because of it being a short-story collection with poor volume.
Much of the sequencing of the reprints is speculation and specific records aren't available to confirm publishing agreements. However, it appears Bodley Head controlled the rights to Christie's first book and didn't hand off printing to Dodd Mead (and thus G&D) until The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published. The rear panels of the G&D books from the 1920s appear in several formats (see the images) but the defining criteria of a collectible G&D dust wrapper is that it has a list of other G&D titles published on the verso of the dust wrapper. G&D appeared to stop this practice by the end of the 1920s.
Collectibility: With the exception of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that appeared to have been printed by G&D far more than any of the other titles from the 20s, all of these are challenging to find.... some more than others. It should be noted that all the value of these books is in the dust jacket. While the prices below represent Collecting Christie's interpretation of fair value, it can often be the case of buy what you can find. These are difficult to locate and price may be a secondary consideration. Without a wrapper, the reprint books are worth little more than $5 - $10 per title. Since they are reprints, regional used book shops and certain online sites may not know what is valuable and what is not. A diligent resourceful collector can enjoy the hunt but expect it to take many years to pull together a collection of these 10 books.
The Mysterious Affair At Styles: Almost all copies of the reprint of this title that appear for sale in jacket are the wartime (1940s) issuance by Madison Square. The 1920s printing (circa 1927) by G&D is quite rare with the correct first edition cover art (except for the reference to Ackroyd) and when seen for sale in wrapper will sell for ~$400 - $500.
The Secret Adversary: G&D used the same cover art as the correct first (yellow background) and was believed to have been printed around 1923-25. What is unusual with this book is by 1930 Dodd Mead resumed printing this title, with a similar image on the cover but with a blue-green background. This makes the G&D copy an intermediary edition and quite rare. Value in wrapper generally $500-$600 when found.
The Murder On The Links: Incredibly rare with only a handful of known copies, likely printed in 1924-25. If you need this book, likely take whatever you can find. In a wrapper, expect to pay up to $1,000 if the seller is aware of the rarity. If lucky, you'll find one for $50 from an unknown book store in the middle of nowhere!
The Man In The Brown Suit: Very uncommon with the same cover art as the correct first. None have been seen for sale in several years. Also likely printed in 1925-26. The value for this book in wrapper is $500-$600.
(Poirot Investigates: No known G&D reprint. If anyone has seen one please contact me).
The Secret Of Chimneys: Very uncommon with only a few showing for sale recently. The cover art is the same as the first edition. The last sale on ebay for one with a mostly complete jacket was $500. Likely printed in 1926-27.
The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd: Quite common with many showing for sale. There are various versions of this G&D reprint that have different rear panels, but all use the original cover art. Likely printed in 1928-33. Value $50-$100.
The Big Four: The first G&D to use different cover art from the correct first - which of note was the same art for both the UK and US versions. Since most US books had their own art, it is easy to speculate that the G&D art was originally planned for the US Dodd printing but supplanted for some reason by the UK artwork. This book does show up more frequently and is valued $100-$150.
The Mystery Of The Blue Train: Another original piece of cover art that actually makes this almost more appealing that the correct Dodd first whose art is quite boring and is a copy that was certainly over produced. It can be argued that from a scarcity perspective the G&D reprint with this cover art is far rarer. Value is $200 - $300 given recent sales.
The Seven Dials Mystery: G&D returned to using artwork from the Dodd first for this book - a lovely art deco style image. Fairly common and valued $50 - $100.
Partners In Crime: While a collection of stories, G&D did pick up reprint rights for this book. The cover art was original and unique to this edition and is quite uncommon. Value $100 - $150.