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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

Fontana's "Error" Printings of Agatha Christie Books

When printers make an error it typically doesn't last long and is usually corrected at the next available opportunity. For collectors, these 'errors' or 'variants' are highly collectible for their uniqueness - not only because of the error itself but also that they typically exist in fewer numbers. Errors are more commonly found within the text blocks - with spelling or format errors that often get corrected over time. These 'typos' typically don't add value by themselves, but they do aid in identifying a specific impressin or edition.


However, errors in the title of the book are far more significant. In a prior article, I wrote about how Fontana erroneously published Agatha Christie's book Third Girl under the incorrect title of The Third Girl in 1968. I've restated a lot of that information below as I believe it connects with another error in a title by Fontana that I hadn't previously noticed. More on that in a moment.


In addition to these 'Error' printings, there are many small and unique paperback printings that are also of note and valuable. I've covered many of these in prior articles and for those interested in these small publishers see the links at the bottom.


Fontana Paperbacks.

In a series of three articles recently published, I covered the early years of Fontana paperbacks printings - from inception up until the arrival of Tom Adams as their cover artist in late 1963.


Part 1 covers 1953 to 1957 and the first 15 Christie titles Fontana published (link).

Part 2 covers 1958 to 1960 and the next 21 covers created during those years (link).

Part 3 covers 1961 to 1963 and the 23 covers from those years, pre-Tom Adams (link).


During all of these early years, Fontana did not appear to publish any Christie paperbacks with an incorrect title. However, in 1967 that was not the case.


The Mystery of the Incorrect Titles.

In April 1954, Fontana's No. 23 paperback was The Seven Dials Mystery. Shown here, with its correct title on the cover. It was reissued twice with this cover. The third and final printing with this cover was May 1958.

By the late 1960s Fontana was now regularly reissuing Christie titles with updated artwork to benefit from the art created mostly by Tom Adams, and to a much smaller degree by Ian Robinson.


In September 1967, Fontana reissued The Seven Dials Mystery, now Number 1561, with new artwork from Tom Adams. This was their 'fourth impression' of this title as a paperback. However, both the cover and the spine erroneously only showed the title as Seven Dials Mystery. The 'The' had gone missing though it was still present on the title page. Shown below is the priced book for the UK market, though this title was also exported with the error, unpriced.


The Correction.

Clearly feedback was promptly provided or the error noticed internally. However, a lot of editions had already been printed and placed into circulation. The next print run of this book, the 'fifth impression', was in 1970. It now had a corrected title on the cover and spine.

However, there is potentially a more immediate implication of this error as I discuss below.


The Missing The is Used.

The feedback to Fontana that Seven Dials Mystery should correctly have a The at its start may have led to Fontana's next error. In 1968, Fontana issued the first paperback of Third Girl. Labelled as "New in paperback" and priced 3/6, the book was shod in the original art design by Tom Adams. However, Fontana mistitled the book and issued it as The Third Girl with this name appearing on both the cover and the spine. The internal fly page and title page both correctly named the book as Third Girl as Christie wrote it. Fontana numbered this printing 1759 and it was sold domestically priced 3/6 and also exported unpriced. Both covers are shown below.

This true first must have been quickly pulled from circulation as very few copies survive and it is far scarcer than Seven Dials Mystery.


My speculation is that the errors are directly corrected - the latter assuming a The was needed given the feedback from the first error. The publisher obviously made the decision that they were not going to print two books in a row without the 'The' and get in trouble again! Oh well.


When Fontana reissued the book in August of 1969 (below) with the correct title on the cover it was now priced at 4/- (20p) on the foot of the front cover. Fontana also updated the printing number on the spine to 2136 - something they had not done with The Seven Dials Mystery.

Some copies of this printing initially affixed a label stating "First time in paperback" despite the copyright page acknowledging it was actually the second printing.

Values.

The incorrectly titled Seven Dials Mystery is still quite common and can be obtained for used paperback prices. However, very good copies are scarce and will command a premium. However, as more collectors become aware of this erroneous title, I expect supply to dwindle and prices to rise. As for The Third Girl, in its first paperback state with the error it is incredibly scarce. I rarely ever see them for sale. Since there is no recent market in this book to reference, I would expect to pay £100 for a copy in any condition (if the seller knows what they have) and up to £250 for a near fine copy. Second impressions onwards solely change hands for used paperback prices.


Both of these paperbacks should be sought for your collection in addition to the subsequent correct version.


Happy Hunting!


Other Paperback Articles of Note.

The LA Bantam: The Mystery of the Blue Geranium (click here for the article)

The Vallency Press Duo: Crime in Cabin 66 and Poirot and the Regatta mystery (article)

The first five Pan Books: (article)

Pocket Book #5: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (article)

Collins Canadian White Circle books: (article)

The Albatross books: (article)


Corrections / Input.

If you have any insights on the dedicatees or if you see any errors, do get in contact with me (email: CollectChristie@gmail.com ). I view all my articles as collaborative efforts and want them to be an accurate resource for collectors.


Other News.

The next episode of Kemper Donovan's podcast "All About Agatha" (mid-July 2024) will be the recording I made with him a few months ago in which we talk about the world of collecting. I hope you'll enjoy it as I had fun sharing with Kemper a small sampling of my collection and discussing the items.


I also know many of you have listened to the podcast "Tea and Murder" - part interview show and part book club - that I recently participated on. Thank you for the positive comments about the show. If you haven't yet listened to it you can via this link.


Coming up this summer, I authored an article for the Shubert Theater Group that will be published based on my discoveries on previously undocumented Agatha Christie play scripts of Ten Little Indians and The Hollow used for the US market in the 1940s and 1950s. Once that's published, I arrange to share a copy online for all of you.


Lastly, the International Agatha Christie Festival is now only 9 weeks away and I'm pleased to say that I've completed my presentation and slide deck on the art and artists of Agatha Christie. I can't wait to share it with those in attendance. After the festival, I will convert much of it to an article or two to share with those who can't attend in person.


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If you are not a subscriber to my website, please consider subscribing here: link. This ensures you receive an email any time I write and post an article. Also, consider following me on X (formerly Twitter) @collectchristie and on Facebook (link). The content varies across platforms.


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3 Comments


Jamie Evans
Jamie Evans
Jul 02

Don’t know how rare a french copy of the aforementioned Third Girl edition with the “the” ( or in this case the French “la”) in the title but there is one on EBay in France right now! Very cheap too!

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David Morris
David Morris
Jul 05
Replying to

Interesting. Thanks for sharing. Didn't know they printed it that way in France... And it appears they only printed it with that title so not rare.

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