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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

INSIGHTS: The John Lane Bodley Head 3/6 Novels

Updated: Dec 17, 2023


The unique dust jacket for the 3/6 popular edition of The Secret Adversary

The first six Agatha Christie books were all published by John Lane, The Bodley Head Limited between 1920 an 1925. While Christie changed publisher to Collins, The Bodley Head preserved the rights to these books. Initially, all were sold at a price of 7/6 and in the 'Crown octavo (8vo)' size, meaning 7.5 by 5 inches. After the sales of the first editions slowed, and a new title was issued, The Bodley Head dropped the price on the second edition - or 'popular edition' - to 3/6, but preserved the 'Crown 8vo' book size. These 3/6 books were contemporaneous, with most printed between 1924 and 1927 and are now almost as hard to find in jacket as firsts. The next progression was the 'cheap edition' which lowered the price further to 2/6 and the 2/-. It is quite common for these 'cheap edition' wrappers to be married incorrectly onto early 'popular edition' books and the 2/6 & 2/- jackets are much more commonly available.

Identifying a second edition (popular ed) is easy - 3/6 pricing

The Mysterious Affair At Styles was first published in September 1920 and later printings state it was reprinted twice: second in October 1920 and the third printing in January 1921. These were essentially the US, Canadian and then UK printings in that order. Jackets on the first editions appear to have been unpriced. The first 'popular edition' (second edition) was printed in 1923 and pricing is unknown. There was a second printing of this edition in 1926, and then later that year the third edition, or 'cheap edition' was published priced 2/-. The terminology between 'popular' and 'cheap' appears to have been in its infancy with this book. It appears that the first reprint was initially referred to as a 'cheap edition' and then with later printings rebranded on the copyright page as a 'popular edition'. Input is welcomed from anyone who has clarity on this.


While not related to the Bodley Head's UK printings, it should be noted that in the U.S., John Lane Company authorized the National Book Company to issue a reprint of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Their edition, generally accepted as the 2nd U.S. edition, utilized the same printing plates and cloth binding design as John Lane Company. They didn’t even change the copyright or published date within the book, so this edition is often listed by sellers as a 1920 printing. However, it is more likely to have been printed in 1922-1923 as copies that do show for sale generally have gift or ownership inscription in them from this period. Given the almost identical format, it is likely that it had a similar dust jacket – though we have never seen one.


The Secret Adversary was first published in 1922 with only one printing. In 1924 the 'Popular Edition' was published at a price of 3/6 and this edition has a second printing in 1927. The jacket of this popular edition is different from both the first and the cheap editions. The 'cheap edition' was published in 1927 (priced 2/6 on the spine), and later reprinted in 1933 (priced 2/- on the spine) - though the jacket cover design was the same. Thus, the jacket on this book is unique and appears to have only been used once.


Murder On The Links was first published in 1923. Two reprints were also done in 1923 (first edition, second and third printings). For Murder On The Links the second edition ('Popular') was printed in 1925 (it is assumed this was priced 3/6 but no copy has been seen which could imply it was still 7/6 but had a sticker placed over it as was often done) and it had a second printing in 1928 (priced "3s 6d net" on the spine, not "3/6"). Later that year (1928), the first 'cheap edition' (third edition) was published and priced at 2/6.


Both Murder on the Links and The Mysterious Affair at Styles are gaps in my collection - the rest of the books shown here I am fortunate to own. If anyone knows of 3/6 jacketed editions of these two books for sale do let me know!

The 3/6 popular (second) edition of The Man In The Brown Suit using the same art at the 1st

The Man In The Brown Suit was first published in 1924. There was no second printing. The second edition was the 'popular edition' in 1926 and the correct dust jacket would be priced 3/6. It appears a few of these books were printed without the reference to the popular edition and later print year, even though the boards align with this later edition. Later 'cheap editions' had the 2/6 priced dust jacket, which is sometimes married to these earlier editions. All three versions, first, popular and cheap, used the same cover art depicting a tube station platform. There was also a unique version published in 1930 using an art deco jacket style that matched a similar version of The Secret of Chimneys. It was essentially a version of a 'cheap edition' priced at 2/6 but not so named.


Poirot Investigates was first published in 1924, priced 7/6. The 'popular edition' was published in 1925, priced 3/6 with the same design as the first edition on the cover with the first known representation of Poirot - here by the artist Smythson Broadhead.


A later 2/6 cheap edition was published in 1928 with a different design on the jacket. This was then reprinted numerous times - in 1935, 1938 and 1941.


The wonderful cover art by Wyndham Payne on the unique 2nd edition.

The Secret of Chimneys was first published in 1925. There was no reprinting of the first edition. The second, or 'popular' edition, was published in 1927, priced 3/6, with a dust jacket that was different from both the first and the common cheap edition (priced 2/6) - both of which used the same art. In 1930, the unique version using the same art deco jacket style for Brown Suit was published at a price of 2/6 (essentially the alternate 'cheap edition').


Collectibility:

Even if your budget allows, availability of a UK first in a first jacket for any of these books is essentially nil. A few change hands privately and a copy of Poirot Investigates was offered for £100,000 plus for several years before selling at a lower price privately. That said, the first Bodley Heads could be viewed as fairly valued in the £40,000 - £60,000 range with jackets. Consequently, the 'popular' or 'cheap editions' in jackets are an excellent second choice when they can be found (which is rarely). However, the buyer should be aware that most jackets on popular editions are sourced from the later, more prolific, cheap editions. If the jacket does not have a 3/6 price it is an incorrect married copy. Fair value for popular editions in the correct jacket is now likely £5,000 - £8,000 depending on condition and buyers should acquire what they find given the scarcity.


Cheap editions often remain unsold in the £700 - £1,000 range and are not that collectible and have little prospect for appreciation. Fair value for these books is likely £400 - £500 for the 2/6, and £300 or so for the 2/- jackets. Without a jacket both the popular and cheap edition books have minimal value - often no more than just a used book.


The art deco style 2/6 books with a silhouetted figure on the jacket unique to The Man In The Brown Suit and The Secret of Chimneys are deemed collectible by some, but often sit unsold by vendors asking around £400. Sales on online auction sites of these books imply a fair value of £250 in jacket.

The rear panel of The Man In the Brown Suit common from 1926 or earlier.

The rear panel of popular editions common from 1927.

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Tony Espino
Tony Espino
Mar 23, 2022

Hello. Great article! Very informative and helpful in trying to decipher the mystery of some of these Christie titles. I have a copy of Poirot Investigates without a dust jacket. It's John Lane Bodley Head first published in 1924. It's not labeled as cheap edition on copyright page or anywhere. I'm assuming it's a first edition, but it is not the orange cloth like the other true firsts. It's a blue grey cloth and I can't find any online. So I'm not sure of this is a first or if maybe it's the popular edition you mentioned. I don't know how to tell without the dust jacket. Do you have any clue what it might be? Thanks in advance!

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David Morris
David Morris
May 19, 2022
Replying to

Sorry for the very delayed response. Send a few images to us at collectchristie@gmail.com

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