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  • David Morris

Agatha Christie's Collins World War II Variants: Indian Editions.


While World War II begin in 1939, the consequences of the war in the British publishing industry were not immediately realized. Paper rationing was one consequence, yet it wasn’t until 1st July 1940 that any rationing was required in Britain. Additional paper restrictions were put in place on the 10th April 1941. These restrictions finally impacted book publishers. While the war ended in September 1945, paper rationing in Britain did not completely end until June, 1953.


For the publishing industry during the war, other challenges included both manufacturing and distribution. Prior to the war, Collins printed Agatha Christie books for both domestic sales and for distribution around the empire – including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). For collectors of Agatha Christie books often these overseas editions pre-World War II (referred to as Colonial or Export editions) were very similar to the UK firsts, though some had black cloth and most had dust jackets that lacked pricing on the flaps.


When Collins considered the combined challenges of paper rationing, production and distribution, they sought solutions. With the advent of the tighter restrictions in April 1941, Collins changed their domestic production process to produce a new, thinner and smaller book using lighter paper. The June 1941 publication of Evil Under the Sun was the last book issued as a first edition in the older, larger format – likely since production had started prior to the restrictions. N or M? was released five months later in November 1941 and was only published in their new smaller format.


Global Editions:

A second solution Collins pursued was to establish localized production of books across the Empire. This eliminated the need for distribution, which at the height of the war was a significant logistical challenge. By 1942, Collins had partnerships with publishers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon. It is believed Collins specifically chose these locations due to the high concentration of English-speakers, expatriates and members of the armed forces. To differentiate these from Colonial or Export printings, we'll refer to these as country-specific editions - i.e. Indian editions, which is the subject of this article. Future articles will focus on Christie's published in the other regions. Of note, Penguin also considered Palestine and Egypt as regions worthy of wartime production centre.


As publishing began in these locations, Collins often tried to ensure some visual continuity with the domestic designs, but this was not always the case. Some of their titles looked similar to the UK editions, while some of the White Circle paperbacks used artwork adopted by the Canadian publisher.


Many of these regions also had rationing or supply chain problems, so books ended up going straight to paperback or used poor quality paper. Despite these challenges, Collins was able to publish some titles in hardback, others in paperback (the White Circle editions) and also a series specifically for the British armed forces – known as the Services Editions – which were published from 1943 – 1946.


For collectors, one of the challenges in building a collection of these regional variants is the lack of a definitive list of titles published, the formats used and the series branding.

In India, there were Collins editions published in both hardback and paperback. Not all paperbacks were White Circle editions. Five Little Pigs for example is unique as a standalone design. It was a quasi-paperback with slightly stiffer boards and a dust jacket (similar to The Albatross Crime Club books). Some collectors have documented up to 230 different titles published by Collins in India during this period, of which roughly 60% were under the White Circle branding. Very few of these books ever seem to surface for sale, likely because they failed to survive given the cheap paper and wartime conditions.


In India, Collins generally priced most of their paperbacks at 2 or 3 Rupees. With their White Circle branded paperbacks they dropped the price to 14 Annas (or 14/16th of 1 Rupee). Unfortunately for collectors the publisher contracted by Collins failed to put publication dates in these books, though the general consensus is most were published in 1945 and 1946. This lack of a date makes it impossible to tell whether these Indian published titles preceded the UK publications or not.


The Services Editions:

With the large contingency of British Armed Forces in India during World War II, the Welfare General in India commissioned the publication of ‘Services Editions’ within India. These paperbacks included some of the same books published in Britain for the Armed Forces and were freely distributed to service members. The Indian Services Editions had a different cover design than their UK equivalents. The covers stated both ‘Free Not For Sale’ and ‘Printed Specially for the Army and Royal Air Force in India and SEAC'. SEAC was the ‘South East Asia Command’ which was Headquartered in Candy, Ceylon (now Kandy, Sri Lanka). Collectors really struggle to find any of these books, but of those that have survived the lists of other titles contained within them suggest around forty different titles may have been published, or planned to be published. Different genres were included in the list, from westerns to mysteries – but the series included at least one known published Agatha Christie title – N or M?


The Printer:

Collins arranged to use the publishing facilities of The Times of India, located in Bombay (now Mumbai). Various printers were contracted to complete production. For example, H. W. Smith handled the production of Sad Cypress (1943), A. E. R. Doctor produced Five Little Pigs (1945) and R. W. Pearce produced The Hollow (1946).


It appears Collins fully ceased production in India in 1946 after The Times of India was sold by Bennett Coleman & Co. to Ramkrishna Dalmia, a successful business man in the sugar industry. When one considers that the war ended in 1945, the paper was sold in 1946, and India gained its independence in 1947, it is understandable that the tide had shifted and domestic production was probably no longer practical or perhaps not even available to Collins. Of note, Collins didn’t return to India to publish domestically until 1991, now as HarperCollins.


While Collins did use the presses at the Times of Ceylon in Colombo, Ceylon, to publish approximately twenty different paperback titles, none are believed to have been Agatha Christie books.


The Known Indian Christies:

First and foremost, this is a list under development and is likely incomplete. Input from other collectors will be most welcome.


N or M?, Collins Services Edition, Bombay, India (1943).

Paperback. A Collins White Circle Pocket Novel. Printed specially for the Army and Royal Air Force in India and SEAC. Cover design is significantly different than the UK design for this title.


The Body in the Library, Collins White Circle Edition, Bombay, India (1943).

Paperback. While the front cover is similar to the UK version, there are differences. The UK version states ‘A White Circle Pocket Novel’ on the top of the cover and reflects a price on 1/6 on the bottom left of the cover, the Indian version solely states ‘The Crime Club A Collins White Circle’ on the bottom of the cover.


Sad Cypress, The Crime Club, Collins, Bombay, India (1943).

Hardback in red cloth with dust jacket. Copyright page states ‘First printed 1940. Reprinted in India 1943.’ . The publication year aligns with the UK publication of a ‘Services Edition’ paperback. It is unclear whether an Indian ‘Services Edition’ was also published, but it appears unlikely.


Five Little Pigs, The Crime Club, Collins, Bombay, India (1945).

Stiff boards quasi-paperback, with attached dust jacket. Copyright page states ‘First published 1942. Reprinted in India 1945'. Rear flap has an advertisement for Lifebuoy soap which was a common advertiser for books published in India. On the rear panel of the flap it lists other titles in this series but no other Christie titles are referenced. The publication year aligns with the UK publication of a ‘Services Edition’ paperback. It is unclear whether an Indian ‘Services Edition’ was also published, but it appears unlikely.


The Hollow, The Crime Club, Collins, Bombay, India (c. 1946).

Hardback in red cloth with dust jacket. No copyright date or printing date. The dust jacket is similar to the UK edition but with a two-colour design rather than solely red. “A Crime Club Selection” is printed on the foot of the front panel, the spine omits the masked gunman logo, and the rear panel lists other recent novels published by Collins in lieu of reviews. The book lists “Price Rs. 5/4” on the front flap. This book is still uncommon though does appear for sale more often that those above.


Potential Books:

Sparkling Cyanide, The Crime Club, Collins, Bombay, India (c. 1945) – referenced on rear jacket panel of The Hollow (India) as a ‘recent novel’. Format unknown. Actual publication unknown.


Values:

All of these books are surprisingly rare, though The Hollow does appear for sale slightly more often. While there may be abundant supplies hidden somewhere in India it is unlikely. Values for all of them will likely rise as collectors become aware of these oddities and completists seek them out. Should any of these books appear for sale, expect fair value currently to be around £200 for any of them - paperback or jacketed hardback.


Request for Knowledge:

This is a research project in process. Hopefully some of our readers either own Indian editions of Christie’s works or have additional insights. Please share with us your knowledge at: collectchristie@gmail.com


In addition, we have also begun working on Christie’s printed in other countries around the world during this period. If any of our readers are specialists or knowledgeable about these national editions, please connect with us.


Happy Hunting!


For additional reading on Collins paperbacks consider visiting the blog “Paperback Revolution”. It is an excellent resource (https://paperbackrevolution.wordpress.com ).

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