As we recently wrote, we want to start sharing the experiences of collectors of all things Agatha Christie through a new column we’re titling “Collector Profiles”. Our inaugural article looks at the collection of Hugh Rivington, a UK based collector who focuses on the first UK paperback editions. We asked Mr. Rivington to share some insights about his collection and learnings that he can impart to other collectors. We are certain you will find his knowledge and passion for this area of focus interesting.
In His Own Words (with a few editorial additions):
I collect the first UK paperback editions of Agatha Christie's detective books. This is not a simple task as no definitive list exists. I was prompted to start by Richard William's article on the subject in the Antiquarian Book Review Monthly (January 1983). He produced a list which he accepted would probably need amending as further research was done. I have made several improvements over the years but am certain I still do not have the final answer. One problem is I am not aware of anyone else seeking to build this same collection, so I struggle to exchange information with fellow collectors.
A further difficulty is there are five different publishers involved - John Lane, Collins, Penguin, Pan and Fontana. First paperbacks published by Collins come in several different styles and formats. These include their large format paperbacks priced 6d (1930s), the White Circle paperbacks (1936-1952), the similar but unique Services Editions (1943-1945), and arguably a fourth format – a smaller soft back version of first edition hardbacks that incorporated the dust jacket artwork (late 1920s – early 1930s).
Another challenge is about a third of the books have no date in them! On the positive side many of the titles are not that expensive and they do crop up from time to time. Of the 78 books I have on my current list I have 74. And some of you will query the number 78 as there can be discussions about plays and various collections of short stories.
Sadly, paperbacks are hard to find and keep in very good condition so there is often room to improve a book one already has. So, all in all a challenging but enjoyable treasure hunt which is still ongoing as there are four books I still seek.
The missing items are all Collins White Circle books, including three Services Editions. One aspect worth noting is that although the Collins White Circle books did not have dates for the most part, they had different rear covers (and sometimes different prices on the front cover). One of the books I am searching for is the Collins White Circle edition of One Two Buckle My Shoe - No. 186 - with the rear cover that states "Bravingtons Happy Bride" and with the price not shown.
Over my years of collecting, I don't think I have overpaid drastically for any of the books. In terms of favourites, I like them all but would single out two that I am particularly pleased to own as they were very hard to find. The first is my paperback copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (image at the top of the article) published July 1932 by John Lane, the Bodley Head and priced 9d. The second is the Collins White Circle Services Edition of The Moving Finger, numbered c219 and issued in 1943.
There are still gaps in the creation of a definitive list of first UK paperbacks and it is likely paperback books will be found over time that challenge some prior assumptions. It should also be noted that there are many cases where the UK printings are not actually the first english language printings. Many books published by The Albatross in Europe, the Canadian White Circle imprints and the Fontana Continental editions are actually the true firsts.
However, for those specifically seeking UK firsts the following should provide some additional information that would be of use.
John Lane, the Bodley Head, appears to have two books on the list of firsts – The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Murder on the Links. Both are believed to have been published in 1932.
Hugh Rivington has two of the small format soft-back editions of the Collins first hardbacks in his collection – The Mystery of the Blue Train and The Mysterious Mr. Quin.
Both were acquired from Richard Williams, the author of the article on paperbacks referenced above. On the rear of The Mystery of the Blue Train it states that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Big Four and The Seven Dials Mystery were also all printed in this format. This creates uncertainty as to the actual correct first paperback – so again, reader comments are most welcome.
There are six known Services Editions of the Collins White Circle books that represent the first UK printings, even though technically they were never sold to the public. These were One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, N or M?, The Body in the Library, Five Little Pigs, The Moving Finger and Towards Zero. Five Little Pigs and Towards Zero are believed to have been published in 1945 with the other four published in 1943.
Penguin also has two books on this list. The Labours of Hercules and Crooked House – both published in May 1953.
Fontana published all the first edition UK paperbacks from Crooked House (1953) through to the end of her publishing career with Miss Marple’s Final Cases in 1980.
The most valuable books in this collection are likely the soft-back versions of first edition books. There is very limited information about them. Were they equivalent to review copies or actually mass-sold small format paperbacks? Reader insights are most welcome. For these books, given their scarcity, value is what the buyer is willing to pay. The two John Lane paperbacks cited above are also very rare and values could easily exceed £500 if in very good or better condition. The early Collins large format paperbacks priced 6d are also scarce in very good condition and generally worth £200 plus in that condition. The Services Editions are also exceptionally scarce and can potentially garner similar valuations in very good or better condition.
Mr. Rivington welcomes connecting with other collectors of UK first edition paperbacks and has asked us to share his email should you chose to connect. He can be reached at: Hugh.Rivington@gmail.com
In addition, if you are interested in sharing information about your collection – however large or small, broad or niche – do get in touch with us at email@example.com