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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

Agatha Christie's Fontana Paperbacks - Part 2: 1958-1960

Fontana paperbacks were launched by Collins in 1953 to compete directly with Penguin and Pan.  For many fans of Agatha Christie, it is the period from the early 1960s until 1980 when Tom Adams was creating most of the cover art that is most familiar.  However, there was a decade of cover art created prior to Tom Adams’ first cover which included some wonderful designs that I believe are worthy of any Christie collection.  Over three instalments, I will be reviewing all of these books. In part 1, I covered 1953 to 1957, when 15 Christie titles were published (link to that article).


In this second instalment, I look at the 21 Fontana paperbacks published in 1958, 1959 and 1960. In a future third and final instalment, I will look at the rest of the Fontana paperbacks printed in 1961 through 1963 before Tom Adams began creating covers.

 

Design Changes.

In 1953 until 1957, all the first printings had a blue stripe on the bottom that contained the price (or a placeholder for it for the export printings). For details on the differences between books printed for the UK and export markets, please see Part 1. In 1958, Fontana changed the design of the books to have a yellow stripe across the bottom of the cover (except for one, No. 263). The price was also increased on all the books during this period from 2/- to 2/6 for those sold in the UK. Otherwise, the visual elements remained the same. There are some wonderful covers (and rear panels), so when known, I have given the name of the artist who created the cover.

 

Editions.

Consistent with Part 1 of this series, I have noted whether the printing was a 1st paperback globally (1st), a 1st British paperback (1st UK) or a first Fontana printing (1st Fontana).  Several titles had already been published in earlier years in paperback format by John Lane, Collins or Pan.  Also of note, 1960 saw the first re-issuance of a Fontana title with a different cover (No. 403).  When Fontana changed the cover, they usually changed the series number, though there are a few exceptions as you'll see in Part 3 when it's published.  IIt is my understanding that Fontana changed the covers periodically to re-energize sales and to adjust to current market trends. For completist collectors, all of these covers should be sought. Lastly, I have provided the documented date of publication when known.

 

1958:

216: A Pocketful of Rye (1st). 6th January. 


228: Destination Unknown (1st). 3rd March.


237: Hickory Dickory Dock (1st). 5th May.


250: Dumb Witness (1st Fontana). 7th July.


258: The Mystery of the Blue Train (1st Fontana). 4th September.

263: Partners in Crime (1st Fontana). 29th September.

You can see below by comparing these two books, that Partners in Crime surprisingly had a blue stripe across the bottom - the only one from this period.


282: Witness for the Prosecution. A Play in Three Acts (1st). 3rd March (though often dated April on the copyright page). Note: It is the playscript Fontana published, not a novelisation of the play. Fontana also used images from the film on the rear panel.


1959:

299: Murder on the Orient Express (1st Fontana). 5th January. Cover artist: Eileen Walton.

309: Five Little Pigs (1st Fontana). 2nd February.

319: Towards Zero (1st Fontana). 4th May.

You'll note that No. 309 was the first time Fontana used a text-based cover. More of these would be seen in the period just priot to Tom Adams' designs.


328: Crooked House (1st Fontana). 6th July. Cover artist: John L. Baker.

334: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1st Fontana). 7th September.

342: Sad Cypress (1st Fontana). 12th October. Cover artist: John L. Baker.


1960:

374: Death on the Nile (1st Fontana). 4th January. Cover Artist: Eileen Walton. Note: Consistent error in reprints state the first Fontana was 1950.

381: Death Comes as the End (1st Fontana). 1st February.

403: They Came to Baghdad (2nd Fontana). 9th May.  This is the first title Fontana re-issued with a different cover. It was originally No. 15 published in 1954.

419: Sparkling Cyanide (1st Fontana). 13th June. Cover artist: John L. Baker.

428: Murder is Easy (1st Fontana). 4th July. Cover artist: John L. Baker.

434: 4:50 From Paddington (1st). 25th July.

440: Dead Man’s Folly (1st). 29th August. Cover artist: John L. Baker. Note: The first version has a reddish brown background. The reprint changed the rear colour to green (both UK ans export versions).


451: Appointment with Death (1st Fontana). October. Cover artist: John L. Baker.



Values

Most of these books can be obtained for used book prices, but it will challenge any collector to assemble all of them in the correct first printing. In addition, books in a 'very good' condition are scarcer as these are now essentially 70 years old and likely have been well read. For collectors, strive to find copies where the number is present at the foot of the spine. For a very good, UK first printing, showing the 2/- price and the edition number on the spine, an appropriate price would be up to £20 ($30). Given this pricing, this era of Fontana books are affordable collectibles that I expect will gain value as the scarcity of collector quality copies becomes clearer and awareness grows.


Corrections?

As I usually do, I've likely missed a few things or made a few errors and I'm still in need of a few images to replace those with the yellow stripes above - so do get in contact with me if there's an improvement to be made to this article (email: CollectChristie@gmail.com ). I view all my articles as collaborative efforts and want them to be an accurate resource for collectors.


Podcast: Tea and Murder.

Reminder: I was recently invited onto the podcast "Tea and Murder" - part interview show and part book club. While I provided some comments and insights into the world of collecting, the host (Rebecca Thandi Norman) and I dove deep into Christie's wonderful novel The Hollow. I hope you'll find some time to listen to it and that you enjoy it. You can find it on any podcast platform (Season 3, Episode 1) or by clicking this link.


Subscribe & the Socials:

If you are not a subscriber to my website, please consider subscribing here: link. This ensures you receive an email any time I write and post an article. Also, consider following me on X (formerly Twitter) @collectchristie and on Facebook (link). The content varies across platforms.


2024 International Agatha Christie Festival:

Also, tickets are still available for my presentation at the 2024 International Agatha Christie Festival, though the remaining slots are starting to dwindle down, so if you do plan on coming please consider acquiring tickets soon. I hope to see you there. For more details or to obtain tickets go to this link: Festival Link.

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jjcook654
Jun 04

Love that Orient Express cover, quite different from what we usually see for that title.

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