COLLECT: Death on the Nile
One of Agatha Christie most popular novels is Death on the Nile. First published in 1937, the novel still resonates today with its tale of misguided love, murder and deception. With the release of the new film, the novel is again on the front shelves at bookstores and attracting a whole new generation of readers. As one of her signature novels, it also is highly collectible. Whether your interest is in collecting first printings, early paperbacks or associated ephemera, there is a vibrant marketplace for all things Death on the Nile.
The novel first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post (USA) from 15 May through 3 July, 1937 (Vol 209, No. 46-53, & Vol. 210, No, 1). Serialised across eight instalments with illustrations by Henry Raleigh, this is the only pre-book printing of the novel. There is no known UK magazine or newspaper printing.
Value: Copies typically trade for $20 per issue when in very good condition. A little bit of patience may be needed to obtain all eight issues, but since Saturday Evening Posts were well collected in their days copies will surface.
The first book printing was by Collins’ Crime Club imprint in London, UK. Released on 1 November 1937, just in time for Christmas sales, the book was shod in Collins’ customary orange cloth with black lettering. The book is slightly unusual compared to other Christie’s of this period in that there is no gunman logo on the title page. The dust jacket, priced 7s. 6d. net on the front flap, features the art of the jacket is particularly striking and attractive. It is one of four jackets created by Christie’s friend and fellow archeologist Robin (Mac) Macartney. Portraying the S.S. Karnak in front of Abu Simbel and the temple of Ramses II, this was something that visitors were able to experience in Christie’s day. Today, the damming of the Nile and creation of Lake Nassar caused the temple complex to be moved to a higher elevation and boats no longer navigate this section of the Nile.
Value: A recent very good copy sold at auction for £5,670. The book does periodically show for sale. Retail prices will likely be £7,000 - £9,000 for a very good copy with priced jacket. Unpriced or price-clipped jackets are slightly less appealing and should reflect that in the pricing with a discount of roughly 10%. Near fine or fine copies may seek higher valuations.
First US Hardback:
Christie’s books were sometimes published first in the US. However, Death on the Nile was not published until early the following year (February 1938) by Dodd, Mead & Co., New York. There is no second Dodd printing. The book’s reprints were handled by Grosset & Dunlap who used exactly the same printing plates. The first reprint was April 1938 using identical cover and spine art on the jacket, with the exception of changing the publisher’s name at the foot of the spine.
Value: There have been a few sales of the first Dodd printing of this title in various conditions over the last few years. In September 2019, a fine copy sold at auction for $4,000; in May 2020 a near-fine jacketed copy sold for $2,100. The first Grosset reprint is gaining popularity and is fairly valued at $300 in a very good or better jacket. Retail prices for a Dodd first will now likely be $3,000 for a very good copy in like jacket.
The first paperback printing of Death on the Nile was by The Albatross, Leipzig, Germany in May 1939. The Albatross was a continental European English language publisher. From 1933 until 1950, they printed 16 Agatha Christie paperbacks among the 400 or so total books they printed. Death on the Nile is numbered #438 and was issued with a dust jacket. The Albatross’s print runs were likely small given that the market was English readers on the continent. Noted experts on The Albatross have speculated that at most each title may have been printed with only a couple of thousand copies. Given most of these were pre-war, in Europe, it is fair to speculate that very few survive, especially in collector quality.
Value: Expect to pay at least £75 retail for a very good edition. It the book still has an intact dust jacket, expect a 50% premium. While they lack cover art these books are becoming harder to obtain as they are still very affordable and many collectors have been priced out of first hardbacks.
First UK paperback:
Pan Books published the first UK version of Death on the Nile in 1949. Numbered #87, it is a “black top” book (versus the more common red covers), with cover art by Stein. It is one of the five Christie books published as part of Pan’s first 100 titles. Later paperback printings in the UK were done by Penguin and Fontana. While Penguin’s design was the customary green and white cover, Fontana had various covers from its first in 1960 through the 1970s. These included the wonderful Tom Adams cover (1968) with the mask of Tutankhamun as well as a film tie-in version with a photographic cover featuring Sir Peter Ustinov and the pyramids (1978).
Value: The Pan book can often be found for sale for £15 - £30 though collectors will need to be patient to find a collection worthy copy. Other early paperbacks are still affordable at used book prices.
First US paperback:
The first American printing was by Avon in 1944. Numbered #46 (1944), it was also sold in Canada (image on left). Avon later issue in 1951 had an even more sensational cover (centre and right). All these early Avon paperbacks have a strong following given their creative cover art and thus great shelf appeal.
Value: Both these early Avon books are still very affordable as they usually trade for $20 when in very good or better condition.
Other Printings of Note:
The Folio Society: The hardback books printed by The Folio Society (UK) have gained a strong following and are now sought by many collectors. Four Poirot titles, including Death on the Nile, were published by The Folio Society in 2014. All four had wonderful illustrations by Andew Davidson. Their values have continued to grow as collectors have sought them out. Expect to pay at least £150 for a near fine copy.
HarperCollins Facsimile Edition: In 2006, a facsimile version of the original 1937 printing was issued by HarperCollins. Featuring a replica of the original dust jacket on the front panel, this thinner book presents a very affordable way to obtain a visually similar copy to the true first. They can be readily found for £15.
The Play: Murder on the Nile.
In addition to the novel, Agatha Christie also penned a play titled Murder on the Nile. It is believed that the original iteration was known as Moon on the Nile, and it is unclear as to the sequencing of writing by Christie. There has been some speculation that Moon on the Nile came first, and then the story was expanded into a novel, and then later the play was rewritten to contain more of the novel’s plot points – though lacking Poirot among others. As with most plays, the public printed version for purchase appeared several years after the professional production began. The play was first performed professionally in 1944, and for some reason used the name Hidden Horizon. When it opened in 1946 in London's West End, the name was finally settled on as Murder On The Nile.
The Play Script: First published in 1948 by Samuel French as French's Acting Edition No. 174, the first edition printing has a copyright date of 1948 and a price of 'Four Shillings Net' on the cover spelled out underneath the artwork (image below left). The second edition would have '4s net' printed in the top right corner of the cover. This is one of the more appealing Christie plays to collect because of its use of cover art - something Samuel French soon moved away from. For those that did have an artistic cover this is arguably the best one published.
Value: Quality copies can be found at reasonable prices as a clear understanding of correct first points is broadly unknown by many sellers. A true 1st Edition can be found for £50 (well read, used) - £125 (clean, unread). 2nd Edition (same cover art but '4s net' in top right corner of cover) is only worth £25 - £40. The first edition offers tremendous value and will likely appreciate as awareness of how to collect plays grows.
The Cover Art: What is unique about this play by Samuel French was the use of cover art, and of a key scene - something uncommon on play scripts, but widely popular by the 1940s on hardbacks. The artwork was by Joyce Dennys who was more well known as a novelist and short-story writer (image above right). Of note, she was creator of Henrietta, a character for a series in Sketch magazine about a heroine in World War II whose daughter's name was Linnet - the name used by Christie in the book Death on The Nile. Since Dennys attended the Exeter Art School in the early 1900s so her path may well have crossed with Christie leading to this commission.
Value: Cover art for play scripts is very rare to find. Illustrated here is the actual proof sheet used by Samuel French. It was provided to them on 6-Nov-1947 by the printer William Lewis for final authorization. Items such as proof sheets or other similar collectibles do periodically emerge for sale, though each one is likely unique so price is hard to estimate. It is probably a case of what the market will bear.
Because of the popularity of the novel and its numerous film and television adaptations, there is plenty or related ephemera to collect. A few examples are provided below (with images beneath):
Publicity book: EMI, UK (1978). This promotional publicity book has 16 pages. A copy from the StudioCanal archive sold at auction last year for £207.
Photograph: David Niven: on set (circa 1977-78). This photograph sold last year for £120 UK. The back of the photograph had details of the film attached.
Soundtrack Album: The 1978 film is one of the few Agatha Christie related vinyl albums available to collect. Recorded and released by EMI in the UK and most of the world with a predominantly gold album cover. In the USA, the album was released by Capitol Records and featured a different cover that was predominantly black, but with similar art design. Copies can still be obtained for normal used vinyl pricing.
Hopefully this article has shown the broad range of collectibles related to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. There’s something here for everyone and every budget. Happy hunting!