FIRST PAPERBACKS: Agatha Christie's Continental Eleven.
Updated: May 21, 2022
It is highly likely that there are more collectors of Agatha Christie paperbacks than hardbacks - not solely because they are more affordable but for many readers they have a more visceral connection with them as these were the books they read when younger. Paperbacks generally had many more print runs than hardbacks, and over the years the cover art would change too. This creates multiple avenues for a paperback collector to pursue but generally first printings are the most appealing.
First paperbacks often trade for a fraction of the price of a first hardback and are usually (though not always) easier to find - once you know which ones to look for. Given the volume of resale trade in paperbacks, readers should consider trying to obtain first printings whenever they can as they will always hold their value better and have a stronger resale market. Plus, having first printings in any guise is generally a richer and more rewarding experience.
While Agatha Christie's first paperback printings usually occurred in the UK or US (articles still pending on these), there were several periods of time when first paperback printings strayed from these norms. The “Continental Editions” discussed in this article were not the only example.
In Europe during the 1930s, Agatha Christie had 14 of her books first issued in paperback by The Albatross, a European printer initially based out of Germany, though in English. Our detailed article on these books can be found here. During World War II, six of her books first appeared in paperback for the armed services around the world, published by Collins as ‘White Circle Services Editions’. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, five of her novels first appeared in paperback in Canada, under the Collins Canadian "White Circle Pocket Editions" (full story here).
At the tail end of Agatha Christie’s career her last eleven books (novels and short-story collections) were first published in paperback by Fontana as ‘Continental Editions’ before Fontana published them for the UK market. These were books published primarily for the European market, though still in English. Printing occurred both in the UK and Canada. All of them state "Continental Edition", or in the case of one "Special European Edition", on their copyright page. Many collectors have never even seen or noticed these books. They are unquestionably rarer today than the first hardbacks for the same titles. Because awareness in the collecting community is not that familiar with these books they still generally offer tremendous value.
These books were not available for sale within the UK as higher priced hardback reprints were still being retailed. Also, since these covers rarely show for sale outside of Europe it is unlikely that they were sold in Collins' traditional markets such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, despite the books showing pricing for these countries on the rear panel.
Nine of these books had original cover art not seen on Fontana’s UK covers. However, the covers of two books were reused on the UK editions. These are Sleeping Murder and Curtain: Poirot's Last Case. Of the eleven books only two had artwork by Tom Adams – Sleeping Murder and Miss Marple’s Final Cases. The others were very crude photos or artwork – perhaps rushed to market before Tom Adams could create the art that was used on the later UK Fontana books. When Fontana did publish these titles within the UK market, they often stated "First Time in Paperback" on them, despite this clearly being false.
For each of the eleven books, Fontana had an edition or catalogue number. As these books show, Fontana clearly adopted a policy that when the cover art changed so did the catalogue number. When it remained the same, the number did not change. All numbers of both the Continental Editions and the UK editions are provided. They are found on the bottom of the spine, except for the first book.
Endless Night: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #1972 (noted on bottom of cover). First published 1969 and one of the harder titles to locate. The first UK Fontana edition was #2376, published in 1970.
By the Pricking of my Thumbs: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #2268. Unlike other Continental editions, this book states it is a 'Special European Edition'. This is perhaps because the book had already been published in the US in August of 1969 by Pocket Books - which was the true first. This Fontana version was first published in 1970. The first UK Fontana edition was #2682, published in 1971.
Hallowe’en Party: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #2370. First published 1970 and also harder to find. The first UK Fontana edition was #3002, published in 1972.
Passenger to Frankfurt: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #2647. First published 1971. The first UK Fontana edition was #3295, published in 1972.
Nemesis: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #2992. First published 1972. The cover art harkens back to A Caribbean Mystery, arguably its prequel. This is a harder title to locate. The first UK Fontana edition was #3458, published in 1974.
Elephants Can Remember: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #3261. First published 1973. The first UK Fontana edition was #3930, published in 1975.
Postern of Fate: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #3494. First published 1974. The first UK Fontana edition was #4255, published in 1976.
Poirot’s Early Cases: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #3885. First published 1975. The cover photo is by Andy Seymour. The first UK Fontana edition was #5676, published in 1979.
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #4277. First published 1976 with green font. The cover photo is by Robert Golden. It will state on the copyright page that it is the Continental Edition and have the 1976 date. It is easily confused with the first UK Fontana edition which retained the issue number of #4277 as the cover art did not change, but was first published in 1977. Later editions also had various font colours.
Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple’s Last Case: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #4590. First published 1977. Cover art by Tom Adams. Another one easily confused with the first UK Fontana edition which retained the issue number of #4590 as the cover art did not change, but was first published in 1978.
Miss Marple’s Final Cases: Fontana’s Continental Edition, #5960. First published 1980. Cover art by Tom Adams and his last paperback cover. The first UK Fontana edition was #6207 which did not use Adams’ art. It was published later in 1980.
There is a growing cadre of collectors who want to collect ‘true first’ paperbacks. However, since awareness of these ‘Continental Editions’ is not universal, values are still reasonable for now. While you may be able to find most of these for typical used paperback prices, there has been historic demand for Miss Marple’s Final Cases as it is essential for collectors of Tom Adams and referenced in the books on his works. Fair value for that title is now €100 ($115 or £85), though it can still often be found for less in Europe. For the other books, fair value is likely €30-€50 per title once awareness grows among paperback collectors. For now, snap them up at €10 if you can though for buyers outside of Europe navigating the online dealers and websites in foreign languages may be a challenge.
Thank you to Martijn Smits (Twitter: @ACnetherlands1), an avid collector based in Nederland, for his support in providing a few missing pieces of information that allowed us to complete this article.
Collecting is cheaper than therapy.
Corrections and additional insights are always most welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org