INSIGHTS: Forgotten Anthologies & Christie's The Third Floor Flat & S.O.S.
This article looks at collecting the true first printings of two Agatha Christie short stories – The Third Floor Flat, a Hercule Poirot story, and S.O.S., the only Christie story containing Mortimer Cleveland.
As we discussed in a prior article, collectors of Christie’s full-length novels have plenty of accurate resources to reference to determine true first printings. However, short stories are much harder to collect as first printings occasionally did not initially appear in omnibus collections – ones where all the stories were by Agatha Christie. Many true firsts of short stories appeared in anthologies – collections of short stories from many different authors in a single volume. Many Christie collectors are unaware of these anthologies. We’ve previously discussed two examples of such anthologies - The Best Detective Stories of the Year - 1928 (Faber & Gwyer, UK, 1929), containing the first Miss Marple story in book form, and Many Mysteries (Rich & Cowan, UK, 1933) containing the first book printing of the Hercule Poirot story The Second Gong.
In 1930, Faber & Faber published a follow-on anthology to their first The Best Detective Stories of the Year 1928 with a new collection – Best Detective Stories of the Year 1929. This book is of particular importance to Agatha Christie collectors as it contains the two short stories previously unpublished in book form. S.O.S. and The Third Floor Flat. Both are true firsts.
In the U.S. this book was released by Horace Liveright (New York, 1930) under the title Best English Detective Stories of 1929 (images above). It is unclear of the publishing sequence between the UK and US editions, but commonly accepted that the UK edition was printed first.
In future years, Faber & Faber rebranded their two volumes as Best Detective Stories Series One and Best Detective Stories Series Two – clearly so sales could continue well beyond the original publication years without feeling dated.
This short story first appeared in February 1926 in the UK’s The Grand Magazine (Vol. 48, No. 252). It later appeared in the May 1929 edition of Hutchinson’s Adventure & Mystery Story magazine (UK: Vol. 21, No. 4).
Most references guides and Christie resources incorrectly state it was first published in book form in the UK in October 1933 in Odhams Press’s The Hound of Death and Other Stories. For the US, The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1948, is generally erroneously cited as the first American printing.
The Third Floor Flat:
This Hercule Poirot short story first appeared In the UK in the January 1929 edition of Hutchinson’s Adventure & Mystery Story magazine (Vol. 21, No. 1) - though uncredited on the cover. In the US, it appeared in the January 5th, 1929 edition of Detective Story Magazine (New York, USA), Vol. 106 No. 6.
Most Christie sites and resources incorrectly state it was first published in book form in Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1950. For the UK, it is commonly incorrectly stated to have been first published in book form in Poirot's Early Cases, Collins Crime Club (London), 1974.
The first magazines containing these short stories are surprisingly difficult to find. When they do appear expect to pay up to £75 for a very good copy for any of the ones referenced above.
For the first book editions, a jacketed copy of the Faber edition is not known to us. Expect, if one appeared for sale, that it would likely command £500 plus for a very good copy - a bargain compared to Christie novels of the same era. An unjacketed copy would likely command a fifth of this price in very good or better condition. For the US version expect to pay $400 for a very good jacketed copy.
Later versions published in the UK included the 1937 issue with its wonderful cover art (worth £100 - above) and other more uninspired jackets (below - worth £30). All are more common and can generally be found (though with patience for the 1937 version) easily.
Happy book hunting!