COLLECT PAPERBACKS: Agatha Christie's First Six Books.
There are many collectors of Agatha Christie’s works who have focused on building a collection of paperbacks. However, when one considers the first paperbacks, the first question that arises is how to sequence first paperbacks. Christie’s first book – The Mysterious Affair at Styles – was not her first book to be printed as a paperback. Thus, the sequencing of titles as issued in paperback editions is entirely different from the sequencing of the hardbacks. Another question to ask is whether you will collect the first British printings or the first global printings. With hardbacks, many of Christie’s novels were first published in the USA so collectors of true firsts need to be familiar with publishers on both sides of the atlantic. This is also true with paperbacks, as many first English-language printings were not published in the UK, but were also published in the US and continental Europe.
For this article, we will explore the first global appearances of Christie’s first six books in paperback – i.e. those initially published by The Bodley Head in hardback in Britain. The variety of these printings – by publisher, region and date – shows how challenging the world of paperback collecting can be. For these six books alone, there were four different publishers for their first printings – two in Britain and two in the States, with publication dates spread across three decades.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles:
Published in July 1932 by John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd, London, UK and priced 9d. This early paperback had slightly different branding than ‘Murder on the Links’ (which was published four months earlier). This book was considered one of ‘John Lane’s Ninepenny Novels’. The cover art was by Vernon Lissendon Soper, who was a prolific cover artist – though mostly childrens books – in the 1930s and 1940s. He was potentially given the commission to do this cover as in 1929 he created the cover for The Underdog and Blackman's Wood - 2 New Crime Stories, published by The Reader’s Library that contained a Christie story. Value: £200 - £300 ($240 - $360) for a copy in very good condition. The challenge is copies rarely ever show for sale, so pricing is very variable if found at auction.
The Secret Adversary:
Published in 1946 by the Avon Book Company, New York, USA. This was #100 in the ‘New Avon Library of Best-Selling Titles’. Prior to this book, Avon Book Company had already published six other Christie titles (list at the bottom of the article) of which most are true firsts. Surprisingly, a UK printing of this book in paperback didn’t occur until 1955 when it was published by Pan Books. Value: $20 - $30 (£15 - £25) for a copy in very good condition.
Murder on the Links:
Published in March 1932 by John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd, London, UK and priced 9d. The book was branded as a ‘The Bodley Head Ninepenny Novels’ (later changed to ‘John Lane’s Ninepenny Novels’ for Styles. The Bodley Head utilized Morrison & Gibb Ltd, the Scottish printers to produce their paperbacks. Value: £200 - £300 ($240 - $360) for a copy in very good condition. As with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, this title rarely shows for sale so when at auction pricing can be significantly different from fair value.
The Man in the Brown Suit:
Published in 1949 by Dell Publishing, New York, USA. Numbered #319, this was the twelfth Agatha Christie book Dell published in their popular ‘map back’ editions. It wasn’t published in the UK until 1953 by Pan Books. Value: $20 - $30 (£15 - £25) for a copy in very good condition.
Published in March 1955 by Pan Books Ltd., London, UK. Numbered #326, the copyright page states that it was published by arrangement with John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd. Likely a rather large print run compared to early Pan books. The cover artist was Roger Hall who is better known for creating the first depiction of James Bond on a book cover (Casino Royale, Pan, 1955). The UK version of this book stated its price of “2/- in U.K.” on the bottom right corner of the cover. At lot of Pan books were sold overseas and these copies did not have a price printed on the cover. Often these show for sale with a sticker price, such as 50¢, or no pricing at all. Value: £30 - £40 ($35 - $50) for a copy in very good condition.
The Secret of Chimneys:
Published in 1947 by Dell Publishing, New York, USA. This was number #199 and the eighth Agatha Christie book published by Dell in their popular ‘map back’ editions. Value: $20 - $30 (£15 - £25) for a copy in very good condition.
More on the Avon Book Company:
Of the first 100 books Avon published, seven were by Agatha Christie. Two were true first paperbacks, while the other five were first published as paperbacks by The Albatross Crime Club in Europe, though they were still all first US paperbacks. Thus, collectors of paperbacks should be familiar with this imprint. These initial seven titles published are as follows:
1944: #46 – Death on the Nile.
1945: #61 – Murder in Three Acts (UK: Three Act Tragedy).
1945: #70 – Poirot Loses a Client (UK: Dumb Witness).
1945: #75 – The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
1946: #85 – The Regatta Mystery (note: contained nine short stories) – 1st unabridged paperback.
1946: #89 – Death in the Air (UK: Death in the Clouds).
1946: #100 – The Secret Adversary – 1st paperback.
Aside from the two Bodley Head paperbacks, the other four titles are surprisingly easy to obtain and are affordable. As to the two rarer books, collectors will need to be patient and scour as many places as they can – both in person and online – to secure copies. A wait of several years may easily be needed