INSIGHTS: Collecting Tom Adams US Christie paperbacks
Updated: Jan 11
Tom Adams is the most well known artist associated with Agatha Christie. His cover art for the European & UK Fontana books started with A Murder Is Announced in 1963 and continued through to Miss Marple’s Final Cases in 1980 (which is extremely rare to find with his art on the front panel). While these UK covers are widely collected and admired, his US covers are not as widely sought likely because of a lack of familiarity given the different style.
Tom Adams was contracted by Pocket Books to design covers for 26 US covers, all of which were published between 1971 and 1974. Pocket Books had a different vision for the covers - ones that provided more narrative, utilizing the full cover with no white space and an image that wrapped around the whole book, using the spine and rear panel. The narrative that these covers communicate has a lot of depth and should be closely scrutinized to fully appreciate.
Among these 26 US covers, a few are particularly unique. The Mystery of The Blue Train is one of these for several reasons. It is the only US cover Tom Adams created that did not have a landscape format designed for the wrap around image (note: Nemesis was designed to be a wrap around cover though the publisher chose to use the full image on the front and rear panels, likely because the face would have been too dominant otherwise). On The Blue Train, the cover image used a painting of a hand Tom Adams had created for The Man in the Brown Suit - a book neither Fontana nor Pocket Books published as they could not secure the rights - so it was repurposed here. In addition, the rear panel image is not an extension of the cover. This rear panel image is significant because the Christie estate did not want Adams to portray an image of Hercule Poirot in any of the art he designed. However, on the rear panel of The Mystery of The Blue Train a character can be seen standing alongside the train. In an interview with the artist he confirmed that the character is Hercule Poirot - one that slid by the censors. As such it is the only paperback Adams ever did with an image of Poirot.
Another book in the US series that is particularly unique is Death Comes As The End. It was the one of two images Adams duplicated in style for the UK and European book. While a few changes were made, the most significant being the change in the artifact placed next to the dead body, the image clearly resonated well with publishers on both sides of the atlantic. The other book where art was similar across the UK and US versions was Mrs. McGinty's Dead though this book is much more common.
Collectability: Finding these US Tom Adams covers is generally fairly easy with a few exceptions. However, many are well read, creased and worn, and so the condition is always an issue. Most of these books are currently worth $5 (well used) - $15 (like new) with four exceptions (see below) that have more value. All of these books are generally underappreciated as his UK books seem to garner more attention. Thus, in my opinion offer good upside potential.
The Rarer Ones: As with all paperback collecting, buy the best quality you can. But on the four below, acquire what you find. These four are likely to offer more long-term value to collectors for the reasons cited and should be acquired when available:
1. Mystery of the Blue Train: due to the image of Poirot and the unique two panel cover ($10 - $20 value).
2. Murder on the Calais Coach: due to scarcity and collectability of the title ($10 - $20 value)
3. Third Girl: due to scarcity for unknown reasons ($15 - $25 value).
4. Death Comes As The End: due to its extreme scarcity. It seems the number published was much smaller for unknown reasons, but perhaps due to its historic setting that US publishers may have felt would sell less well ($20 - $30 value).