INSIGHTS: The 1926 Dodd, Mead & Co. edition of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
In this article we will explore a collectible, but less well known, printing of a Christie – but from a well-known publisher - Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, USA.
Christie's First Book:
While Dodd, Mead & Co. was essentially the exclusive publisher of Christie’s first editions in the United States, they did not publish Christie’s first novel. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was first printed in the U.S. by John Lane Company, New York, in September 1920. The U.K. edition was published the following year (January 1921) by John Lane, The Bodley Head, London. Both of these books are incredibly scarce and original dust jackets are essentially non-existent and, if found, unaffordable to all but a few. Of note, the US and UK jackets for these first printings used the same cover art though printing nuances caused the colour of the lettering to vary slightly.
In the U.S., John Lane Company authorized the National Book Company to issue a reprint of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Their edition, generally accepted as the 2nd U.S. edition, utilized the same printing plates and cloth binding design as John Lane Company. They didn’t even change the copyright or published date within the book, so this edition is often listed by sellers as a 1920 printing. However, it is more likely to have been printed in 1922-1923 as copies that do show for sale generally have gift or ownership inscriptions in them from this period. Given the almost identical format, it is likely that it had a similar dust jacket – though we have never seen one.
For Agatha Christie’s second book, The Secret Adversary, and onwards, Dodd, Mead & Co. became her U.S. publisher. After the initial print run, Dodd, Mead & Co. often awarded the reprint rights to Grosset & Dunlap. Most, but not all, of these early books were reprinted. While Grosset & Dunlap generally used the same printing sheets and format, their cloth covers differed and the dust jackets did not always use art from Dodd, Mead’ &Co.'s first editions.
Images below: The first Dodd Mead & Co. book and rear panel of the jacket.
By 1926, Dodd, Mead & Co. had acquired the copyright and thus the reprint rights for Christie’s first book. When they first published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in July 1926 they also printed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. While the third U.S. printing of this title, it was the first Dodd, Mead & Co. printing and is assumed to have been published in either July or August. This book, particularly in jacket, is highly sought by collectors because it utilizes the unaltered first edition artwork on the front panel – the same art that covered the John Lane Company (US) and The Bodley Head (UK) first editions. In addition, there are many Christie collectors in the U.S. and globally who desire a complete collection of first Dodd, Mead & Co. printings of Christie titles, making this 1926 imprint an essential addition.
Images below: The title and copyright pages of Dodd, Mead & Co.'s first printing.
Dodd, Mead & Co. did reprint The Mysterious Affair at Styles in [Jan-Feb] 1927. It is unclear whether the cover art was still unaltered, or now included the added text “Author of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”. We have not seen a jacket still on the 1927 edition but expect that if it was unchanged from the 1926 version all have likely been married off.
Images below: The 1927 Dodd, Mead & Co. printing title and copyright pages.
The success of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd really put Christie in the mainstream. The demand for this title was so strong that between Dodd Mead and Grosset & Dunlap it was reprinted six further times in 1926 alone. As demand for Christie grew, Dodd Mead & Co. focused their efforts on the full priced new titles and the early 1927 printing of Styles was the last time it was printed under their name. The first Grosset & Dunlap reprint of Styles was in March 1927. By now the cover panel of the jacket had been altered to promote The Murder of Roger Ackroyd making it less appealing to collectors. From this point on all reprints had this reference on the cover, including the ubiquitous World War II period edition under the Madison Square imprint.
It should be noted that when Grosset & Dunlap issued their first reprint they cited it as the ‘Fourth Printing’, while it was actually the fifth printing.
Images below: The title and copyright pages from the first Grosset & Dunlap book.
They were likely failing to acknowledge the National Book Club edition. Errors in printing sequences continued to be common all the way through the 1980s with many of Christie's books.
U.S. Printing History:
First Edition: John Lane Company, October, 1920. States 1920 on the copyright page. Dated MCMXX on the title page.
Second Edition: National Book Company, [1922-1923]. Only states 1920 on the copyright page. No change to the title page.
Third printing: Dodd, Mead & Co., [July-Aug], 1926. Date on the title page. Copyright page states 1920.
Fourth printing: Dodd, Mead & Co., [Jan-Feb], 1927. Date on the title page. Copyright page states 1920.
Fifth printing: Grosset & Dunlap, March, 1927. Stated “Fourth Edition March 1927” under the copyright. No date on the title page.
There is no recent public sale history of either the first (John Lane) or second US edition (National Book Club) in a dust jacket of this title that can be referenced. Given other sales, one can estimate that the first edition would likely command $75,000 - $125,000 US in very-good condition, while the book itself is worth ~10% of this. A jacketed NBC edition has never been seen by us but it is assumed to be almost identical. If this is correct, it is likely it would command $10,000 - $20,000 US in jacket in very good condition, though the book by itself is perhaps worth 5%. The Dodd, Mead & Co. 1926 version (1st Dodd, 3rd edition) periodically shows for sale as a book only and is fairly priced at ~$200 US. Using the 5% - 10% range, it is fair to consider a very-good jacketed copy would be worth $1,000 - $2,000 US. The later 4th edition Dodd is likely worth ~$500 US jacketed, while the 5th (stated 4th) edition Grosset & Dunlap is worth ~$200 US jacketed. The later Madison Square versions are worth under $50 US.
Happy hunting... may you find the above!