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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

Agatha Christie's Fontana Paperbacks - Part 3: 1961-1963.

This is the last article in my serie on the early Fontana paperbacks launched by Collins in 1953 to compete directly with Penguin and Pan.  For many fans of Agatha Christie, it is the period from August 1963 until 1980 when Tom Adams was creating most of the cover art that is cherished.  However, there was a decade of cover art created prior to Tom Adams’ first cover. 


Part 1 covers 1953 to 1957 and the first 15 Christie titles Fontana published (link).

Part 2 covers 1958 to 1960 and the next 21 covers created during those years (link).


In this third and final instalment of the pre-Tom Adams covers, I look at the 23 Fontana paperbacks published in 1961, 1962 and early 1963. I also reference the Adams covers created at the end of 1963.

 

Design Changes.

In 1961, the standard design by Fontana was a yellow stripe across the bottom of the cover with a price of 2/6 for the UK market or unpriced for the export market. The only exception to this was towards the end of 1961 for the film tie-in printing to ‘Murder She Said’ (4:50 From Paddington).  This was the first time that Fontana removed the yellow stripe and placed the price in smaller floating white or black bar (see images). The unpriced export versions typically just had two small triangle shapes where the price went which was then often covered with a priced sticker. While 1962 saw the first two Christie books continue with the yellow stripe, by the third book Fontana completed the change to placing the price in a shorter bar on the cover.


Also in 1962, Fontana issued several titles with plain ‘text only’ covers.  One can hypothecate that Fontana testing the waters to see if Christie’s name alone could sell a paperback which was an approach the parent company Collins was now doing with the hardbacks.  However, if it was it clearly failed as in 1963 the artist Tom Adams was to begin creating covers for almost 20 years.  Lastly, the end of 1962 saw Fontana raise the price of their paperbacks to 3/6.


When the artist is known, I have referenced it. It is unclear to me if Barbara Walton and Eileen Walton were related. If anyone knows or has additional information on artists for these covers do let me know.

 

Editions.

Consistent with Part 1 and Part 2 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 paperback format by John Lane, Collins or Pan.  As noted in 1960 we saw the first re-issuance of a Fontana title with a different cover – this continued in future years.  In 1961 there were three re-issues.  When Fontana changed the cover, they generally changed the series number.  However, the film tie-in printing for ‘Murder She Said’ retained the original series number.  Thus, for clarity when this occurs I am affixing an ‘r’ after the number to signify ‘re-used’.  For completist collectors, all of these covers should be sought.

 

PART 3: 1961 - 1963

 

1961: 

480: The Moving Finger (1st Fontana). 2nd January. Cover artist: John L. Baker.


493: The Listerdale Mystery (1st Fontana). 30th January. Cover artist: Keay.

This paperback, as with many of the other short-story collections appears to be slightly harder to find. I expect its print run may have been smaller. However, it is an appealing book with its photograph of Agatha on the rear.


502: The Murder at the Vicarage (1st Fontana).

513: Peril at End House (1st Fontana)


520: Taken at the Flood (1st Fontana). Artist: Barbara Walton.


546: The Hollow (2nd Fontana). Artist: Barbara Walton.


549: The Sittaford Mystery (1st Fontana). Artist: Eileen Walton.

This book also appears harder to find that most of the other titles from 1961.


552: The Labours of Hercules (1st Fontana).

Unlike many of the rear covers, this title did not integrate any interesting design elements.


574: Ordeal by Innocence (1st). Artist: Eileen Walton.


586: Death in the Clouds (2nd Fontana). Artist: John Rose.

Well the aeroplane is entirely wrong and combined with the 1960s outfits, this cover unfortunately makes the novel appear set in an entirely different era.


r.434: 4:50 From Paddington. Film tie-in edition. 2/6 first version. October 6th.

The film was released on 26th September and the book appears to have been published in early October. As noted earlier, the Fontana series number was reused. Also, note the new price placement and loss of the yellow stripe at the bottom of the front cover.



1962:

618: Murder in Mesopotamia (1st Fontana). Artist: Keay

This title also has new price placement on the cover


627: Cat Among the Pigeons (1st) (March 1962). Artist: John L. Baker.

This cover used the older design format - but was the last Fontana paperback with it.


639: The A.B.C. Murders (1st Fontana). New price placement design becomes the norm.


645: Cards on the Table (2nd Fontana). The was the first plain cover used by Fontana. As noted in my opening comments it was either to test the waters for cheaper art-free covers and sell solely Christie's name or it was a transitory period as they re-conceptualised the art design process.


649:  They Do It with Mirrors (2nd Fontana). March ’62.  Again, a plain cover.

I love the rear quote - "Death Amid Delinquents".


650: The Mystery of the Blue Train (2nd Fontana). I still wonder if this reissuing a title with fresh artwork was part of Fontana's plan to test what sold more books - fresh art or just Christie's name. Given what was to come, art clearly won. The cover on the left is the first Fontana from 1958. The new cover from the artist John Baker is in the middle, with the new rear panel on the right. As you can see, several design elements changed including a brighter cover, bolder jewellery and a bit more pulpy sexuality. The train is clearly of the wrong era, but Christie's name also pops more across the top.


654: Destination Unknown (2nd Fontana). June ’62. Another plain cover.


667: Parker Pyne Investigates (1st Fontana). The export version is shown with its two black triangles where the price sticker would be affixed.


674: N or M? (1st Fontana).


731: The Body in the Library (1st Fontana). Plain cover. This is the first book Fontana issued with a starting price of 3/6 in the UK. Any titles previously issued prior to this with a 3/6 price are reissues.


 1963

In the first half of 1963, Fontana re-issued many of the prior books with no change to the cover – only a price increase to 3/6 - and so no new edition number was assigned. Only one new title appears to have been issued in 1963 that retained the plain cover style.


806: Ten Little N-----s (1st Fontana). Published now under the more suitable title of And Then There Were None. Plain cover. Priced 3/6. This book typically sells for 3-4 times more than the other titles prior to it. It is the last book Fontana published prior to Tom Adams' arrival.


 

Tom Adams Covers: August 1963 onwards

The first Tom Adams book was published in August 1963. However, it was numbered 657.  This implies it should have been issued in the summer of 1962.  My speculation is that a title was set aside for Tom to create art for. After this book was published, the numbering of the Adams titles went back into the correct sequence – beginning with 839.  I’ve listed the rest of the Adams titles that were first published in 1963 though I will do future articles solely on his covers.


657: A Murder is Announced.

839: The Murder at the Vicarage.

864: The Hollow.

896: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and Other Stories.

897: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

901: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.


You'll also notice from the images below that Fontana reverted to placing the price (UK) and their name in a stripe across the foot of the cover while Christie's name spanned the top.



912: Murder at the Gallop (After the Funeral). Late in 1963, Fontana did release a film tie-in cover that did not use original artwork but used images from the film.

This completes all the 1963 titles published by Fontana.


Values.

Most of these books can be acquired for typical used paperback pricing of around £10. However, expect to pay a premium of up to £20 for those in 'very good' or better condition. As noted earlier, some of the titles appear harder to find in the correct 2/6 version. These are primarily the short-story collections and the 1962 re-issue of The Mystery of the Blue Train. The first Fontana of Ten Little N's (And Then There Were None) will cost significantly more - often up to £100. The first Tom Adams cover from 1963 is also worth more, and should fetch £80 in 'very good' condition.


Summary.

Across these three articles, all the information needed to build out a complete collection of these pre-Adams Fontana covers is now available. Building this collection is an affordable but challenging exercise and patience will be needed. With these books now 60-70 years old collectors serve a key role of 'preserver' - so I do recommend you have reading copies and store the true firsts securely. I view the correct first printings of each of these editions as undervalued and I expect that now that a detailed resource is available to use as a checklist, demand will start to grow.


Corrections / Input.

If you have any insights on the dedicatees or if you see any errors, do get in contact with me (email: CollectChristie@gmail.com ). I view all my articles as collaborative efforts and want them to be an accurate resource for collectors.


Other News.

I recently updated a few older articles - my collectors guide to Lord Edgware Dies (link) and my article about Agatha Christie plays adapted by others (link).


I know many of you have listened to the podcast "Tea and Murder" - part interview show and part book club - that I recently participated on. Thank you for the positive comments about the show. If you haven't yet listened to it you can via this link. I expect that in July a recording I made a few months ago with Kemper Donovan will go live on the "All About Agatha" podcast. We talk about the world of collecting so I'll notify all my subscribers once that goes live too.


The International Agatha Christie Festival is now only 10 weeks away and I'm pleased to say that I've completed my presentation and slide deck on the art and artists of Agatha Christie. I can't wait to share it with those in attendance. After the festival, I will convert much of it to an article or two to share with those who can't attend in person.


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