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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

Paperbacks: Christie's 'Harlequin-Pan' Canadian Editions

Harlequin books and Agatha Christie are not usually used in the same sentence - especially when we aren't discussing her character Harley Quin.  Today, Harlequin books are generally associated with ‘romance’ novels or books focused on a female audience.  However, this wasn’t always the case.


Harlequin's History.

Founded in 1949 in Winnepeg, Canada, Harlequin began life with the objective of republishing paperbacks at an affordable price.  The first book they published was in May 1949 – ‘The Manatee’ by Nancy Bruff. In almost all cases the rights to the books were held by other publishers. In the 1950s many well-known authors were republished by Harlequin in Canada.  These included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, James Hadley Chase and, of interest to us, Agatha Christie.

In the late 1950s, the wife of one of the founders encouraged her husband to secure the North American distribution rights to the UK publisher Mills & Boon, whose books were all romance novels that she had been reading and enjoying. So far the reprinting of paperbacks had not been as profitable as the firm hoped, but fortunately for them this new venture became extremely successful.  Consequently, Harlequin shifted its focus to this genre – something it is still known for today. By 1970, Harlequin purchased Mills & Boon to ensure the rights to their books and their talent was permanent. Distribution was expanded globally via various partnerships with other publishing houses. Ownership has since changed hands multiple times, with the firm currently a subsidiary of HarperCollins.  It is still Canadian but the firm moved its headquarters to Toronto in 1969.


The Paperbacks.

In their first three years of business - 1949 through 1952 - Harlequin published just over 200 paperback non-romance books – all under their own imprint.  In 1953 through 1957, while the majority of books published were solely branded ‘Harlequin’, they published a dozen books that were co-branded with Pan from the UK.  These were sold as ‘Harlequin-Pan Books’. Pan had first published paperbacks in the UK in 1947 and had the paperback rights to many novels including numerous Agatha Christie books. Of the dozen co-branded books, three of them were Agatha Christies.  In addition, there was one Harlequin-only Christie title – and that was printed twice.  Thus, in total there are five numbered Agatha Christie books from Harlequin for collectors to seek.


At the end of 1957, Harlequin published their first romance paperback resulting from their collaboration with Mills & Boon. In 1958 a large portion of the paperbacks were romance, and certainly by 1960 almost all the Harlequin books were now romance.  This makes the 1950s Harlequins and especially the Harlequin-Pans unique collectibles that are getting quite hard to source in very good condition.


The Christie Harlequins:

 

1953: #242 – The Murder on the Links


1955: #337 – The Man in the Brown Suit*


1956: #359 – The Secret Adversary*


1957: #377 – The Secret of Chimneys*


1958: #441 – The Murder on the Links (2nd Harlequin version).


*: In the UK, Pan published three of these titles prior to Harlequin: The Man in the Brown Suit in 1953; The Secret Adversary in October, 1955; and The Secret of Chimneys in July, 1956.  These are three books that were thus co-branded ‘Harlequin-Pan’.  The other title - The Murder on the Links – wasn’t published by Pan until 1960.  Thus, both #242 in 1953 and its reprint #441 in 1958 were solely branded as ‘Harlequin’ books.


Values and Scarcity.

Of these books #242 is the hardest to find but all can be found with a little patience. They are also generally all quite affordable with values generally around CAN$25 or less. Because there are only five to find, this also makes it a fun and achievable activity for hobbyist collectors.


For collectors of these paperbacks there are a number of excellent sites that offer additional insights.  For Pan books in particular, I recommend tikit.net and the Youtube channel by Jules Burt.  For Canadian books, Canadian-fly-by-night.blogspot.com is a solid resource.


Other News.

2024 International Agatha Christie Festival.

I am pleased to share that I will be presenting at the Festival again this year on the 15th September in Torquay, Devon, UK. My presentation is "The Art and Artists of Agatha Christie". I will be sharing fascinating insights into the iconic dust jacket artwork that adorned Agatha Christie’s British and American first editions. My research has unveiled some surprising information about the artists which I'll be sharing. In addition, I'll talk about how they helped to bring her books to life and shape the public's perception of her work, as well as how Agatha herself was involved in their design. For more details or to obtain tickets go to this link: Festival Link.


Summary.

If I have missed anything or have any incorrect information cited, or if you have any questions or feedback, please email me at:


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Happy Hunting!


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