"LA Bantam": Miss Marple & The Blue Geranium
For Agatha Christie collectors Bantam Publications, Inc. of Los Angeles (USA) is a publisher you need to be aware of. One of the scarcest publishers ever as they only issued 29 paperbacks between 1940 and 1941. Despite their small catalogue, one was was a collection of five Miss Marple short stories. Surprisingly this book can be found in five variant forms which will seriously challenge any collector seeking all of them. Since there is the potential for confusion with the New York firm, Bantam Books, which was founded after Bantam Publications ceased operations, this publisher is often referred to as “LA Bantam”.
Bantam Publications, Inc:
Bantam Publications, Inc. was a subsidiary of Western Printing & Lithographing of Racine, Wisconsin. Western Printing ending up partnering with Dell Books, which led to a long and successful relationship. However, “LA Bantam” was short lived and lasted for two years, with its first book published in 1940 and its last in 1942. In total, twenty-nine books were published across a wide range of topics and subject matter. For example, not only was one of the books a collection of Agatha Christie stories but other books included a Tarzan story, a collection of poems, Western fiction and children’s stories. A sampling of the titles is provided later in this article.
There has been speculation by some that these books were sold in Southern California and the west coast of the US through vending machines. However, the consensus among collectors and specialists is that they were only sold in newsagents and similar small stores through that region - hinted at by the comment on the rear panel to "watch our counters".
Another attribute that made LA Bantam unique was the varied covers used for numerous titles. There was no standardized colour palate such as with The Albatross or Penguin. LA Bantam initially printed the books solely with text on the covers – usually in a two colour design. While the primary colours were often dark blue and green, there are nine known different colour combinations. There is no discernable strategy or consistency in the colours unlike The Albatross whose cover colour was determined by the genre. In addition to text-only covers, one book (A1) only had a pictorial cover, while eight others had both text and pictorial variant covers. These are #21 through #28 (the last in the series). Books are generally numbered on the bottom of the spine and on the bottom left of the front cover.
A Sampling of the Books:
#A1: the first book: Red Threads by Rex Stout. It sold for 15 cents with a pictorial cover.
The next 20 books all had textual covers and were numbered #1 onwards. These next three were:
#1: The Spanish Cape Mystery by Ellery Queen – now priced 10 cents
#2: Little Known Facts about Well Known People by Dale Carnegie.
#3: Your Health Questions by Morris Fishbein.
As with the above three, #4 - #20 only came with text on the covers.
#21 was The Shadow and the Voice of Murder. This was the first book to come with a variant pictorial cover. Book #23 is one of the rarest and most collectible in the series – Tarzan and the Forbidden City by Edgar Rice Burroughs – especially the pictorial variant cover.
The 27th book in the series, number 26, is Agatha Christie's Mystery of the Blue Geranium and other Tuesday Club Murders.
The last book is #28 – Strangers in Flight by Mignon G. Eberhart.
#26: Mystery of The Blue Geranium and other Tuesday Club Murders:
This collection of five stories are selected from those first published in The Thirteen Problems by William Collins, London (1932) and in The Tuesday Club Murders by Dodd, Mead & Co, New York (1933). For all five stories this LA Bantam book represents their first US paperback appearances, as this book precedes Dell’s publication in 1943.
It should be noted that the parent company of LA Bantam partnered with Dell after LA Bantam's closure - thus it is logical that Dell first secured the rights to republish these stories. The stories are :
The Blue Geranium
The Four Suspects
A Christmas Tragedy
Death by Drowning
Because LA Bantam kept all books at 100 pages in length, the selection of these five from the thirteen available was likely driven by their length with each approximately 20 pages long. Note: The cover uses the title Mystery of the Blue Geranium while inside the book it is solely The Blue Geranium.
The Variant Covers:
In common with most LA Bantams there are variant covers; however, this Christie title has five known different covers. There are four solid, non-illustrated covers. One in blue with a yellow text box, one in blue with a light blue-green text box, one in green with a yellow text box, and one in green with a blue text box. In addition, there is a pictorial cover which was issued with a laminate cover that may still be present (image at top of page).
These books are incredibly scarce in very good condition. The paper used was a high acid pulp so browning is common as is brittleness. The text only variants are fairly valued at $150 US for a very good copy. The pictorial version is more desirable and worth up to $200 US for a very good copy as long as the laminate cover does not detract from the visual appeal. As with many unique or small imprints, the value is surprisingly good when one considers the scarcity. A collector could easily spend a decade trying to find one of each of these five variants so good luck!