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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

COLLECTING: Dumb Witness & a dog in a thousand.

Updated: Mar 11

Over the fifty plus years that Agatha Christie books were published, very few books used a photograph for its cover art. While many books had portraiture photographs of Christie on the rear panel, only the first edition of Dumb Witness used an undoctored photograph on the cover.

For Dumb Witness all three dust jacket panels (the cover, the spine and the rear) had images of the book's main character based on Agatha Christie's own dog, Peter. Christie even dedicated the book to Peter as follows:

"To Peter, most faithful of friends and dearest of companions, a dog in a thousand."

The front flap of the original dust jacket states that Peter "disclaims any connection with the events of the tale" and that the photograph was taken by Malcolm Nicholson.

The first edition was published by Collins in July 1937. The US edition did not use this title, but instead chose Poirot Loses a Client, nor did it use an image of a dog, in the role of Bob, on the cover art.

Prior to the first hardback printing, the book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven instalments from 7 November (Volume 209, Number 19) to 19 December 1936 (Volume 209, Number 25) under the title Poirot Loses a Client with illustrations by Henry Raleigh.

In the UK, the novel was serialised as an abridged version in the weekly Women's Pictorial magazine in seven instalments from 20 February (Volume 33, Number 841) to 3 April 1937 (Volume 33, Number 847) under the title Mystery of Littlegreen House. There were no chapter divisions and all of the instalments also carried the illustrations by Henry Raleigh. Prior to all these versions, Dumb Witness was based on a short story entitled The Incident of the Dog's Ball. This short story was lost for many years but found by the author's daughter in a crate of her personal effects, in 2004. The Incident of the Dog's Ball was published in Britain in September 2009 in John Curran's Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making. The short story was also published by The Strand Magazine in their tenth anniversary issue of the revived magazine in 2009.

Christie loved dogs, usually a terrier of some sort. Her first dog was a Yorkshire terrier and her happiness at this gift rendered her speechless:

On my fifth birthday, I was given a dog. It was the most shattering thing that ever happened to me; such unbelievable joy, that I was unable to say a word.’

She named this dog Tony, while her father gave it the name George Washington. Yet her favourite dog was the short-haired wire fox terrier called Peter who she gave the starring role to in Dumb Witness - but why she chose to give him the pseudonym of Bob is unknown. Christie went on to become a lifelong owner of dogs, with her preference leaning more towards terriers. Her dogs meant so much to her that she often referred to them as belonging to the OFD, which stands for Order of the Faithful Dogs. This personal connection linking Christie to this novel makes Dumb Witness and its jacket truly a desirable book to own for any collector. For me personally, this is one of my most cherished first editions in my collection even though many others are more valuable.

Value: All Agatha Christie first editions by Collins Crime Club from this period are now incredibly rare and very expensive, especially when in the original dust jacket. For very good plus copies of the book itself, expect to pay £250 - £500 UK, but add an original very good plus dust jacket and expect to pay £10,000 - £20,000 UK. The nuances to pricing that provide such a large range are as follows: most expensive would be unrestored, no chipping affecting lettering and still with the original UK price of "7/6 net"; a 10% reduction in pricing for a 'Colonial' dust jacket (unpriced flap) or price-clipped jacket; and last sizeable reductions for significant restoration or chips that impact lettering. While less nuance exists to the pricing of the book itself, look for books with bright orange cloth and if fading exists that it matches the chipping to the jacket. It is common for jackets to be married to better books, but finding originally matched pairs also adds tremendous value.

Cheaper ways to own this book are available to the fan. HarperCollins did reissue this book with the original jacket in 2007, though in a slightly smaller format. It can generally be found for £10 - £20 UK. Alternatively, one could find a poor first edition or a later printing of the book alone from the late 1930s - 1940s and then purchase a replica dust jacket from one of the online vendors who sell facsimile jackets.

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