COLLECT: Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage.
For the last few years Agatha Christie Limited has promoted reading (or re-reading) Christie books through their Read Christie campaigns. Each month a different novel is selected that will be a focus on an online book club, trivia and quizzes. To further build on this focus Collecting Christie is providing insights into collecting the chosen book – from first editions to recent paperbacks. July 2021’s choice was The Murder at the Vicarage.
The Murder at the Vicarage is the first novel to feature the character of Miss Marple although the character had previously appeared in short stories published in various magazines in 1927. The first Miss Marple story in book form is found in the short story collection The Best Detective Stories of 1928. For more information on collecting that title please click here. The early magazine short stories would appear in book form in The Thirteen Problems in 1932 (US title: The Tuesday Club Murders - 1933).
The Murder at the Vicarage was first serialised in the Chicago Tribune, a U.S. newspaper, in fifty-five instalments from Monday, August 18 to Monday, October 20, 1930. There is no known U.K. serialisation.
First Book Printings:
1930, October: Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. This true first edition also marks a transition for Collins as they began the shift to The Crime Club imprint. As part of this branding change, Collins changed the imprint on the spine from ‘Collins’ to ‘The Crime Club’ and changed from using black to orange cloth boards.
The Murder at the Vicarage is notable because first printings of this book can be found in both colours of cloth with the corresponding spine imprint. The first state of this book should be considered the black boards. It should be noted that when HarperCollins printed the ‘facsimile’ version of this book in 2005 the first print run had black cloth, while the later print run change to red/orange cloth – a nod to the correct first sequencing.
From 1930 onwards, Collins returned to the use of black cloth for a number of books. However, it was primarily for reprints and some colonial or export first edition copies. After The Murder at the Vicarage, orange was the dominant colour choice with a few exceptions and should generally be considered the first UK domestic version. For both versions, the dust jacket is priced 7/6 on the spine.
While the US edition was published in the same month, it is generally considered that the UK version was published first due to the dates of newspaper reviews, though this is not yet corroborated through related ephemera.
Later Collins editions:
2nd: November 1931: A full-size reprinting with black cloth boards, but states “The Crime Club” at the heel of the spine. The dust jacket used the original cover art but was priced 3/6 on the spine. The next three printings were 3rd (March, 1932), 4th (July, 1932), and 5th (December, 1932). We do not have copies of these books so if any of our readers have comments about the cloth, size or format, and jackets of the 3rd – 5th imprints please let us know.
The sixth impression is dated 6th February, 1933. Using the W. Collins & Sons name as printer with no reference to The Crime Club, it is a smaller hardback version with blue boards and a 1/- price on the jacket spine.
The cover art is similar to the first but with a green spine and a Kolynos toothpaste ad on rear.
Later Collins hardbacks changed the cover art with the 1952 and 1964 versions being similar except for a change from a green to pink background colour. The latter perhaps being one of the most unfortunate colours chosen by Collins for a Christie book.
1930, October: The first US printing was by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.
The book is particularly appealing for the map printed inside the cover - a first for a Christie book later expanded on by the Dell 'map back' paperbacks.
The dust jacket comes in two states, one without a price and one priced at $2.00. It is generally considered that the unpriced version is the first state as either Dodd Mead had not finalized the pricing or it was used on a few advance copies. Unlike in the UK where Collins did not reprint the title for almost a year, there were many reprints in the US. This implies that the first US printing had a fairly limited run size. Dodd, Mead & Co had three further printings in 1930 alone – two in October (2nd & 3rd US), and one in November (4th US). Reprinting was then given to Grosset & Dunlap who first copy (5th US) was printed in December (5th US). The Grosset & Dunlap version has red cloth and a dust jacket whose cover and backstrip art match the original Dodd Mead version.
First Paperback Books:
1936, January: Collins, UK: The first paperback.
The general trend of Collins books was to initially issue hardbacks at a price of 7/6 (seven shillings and six pence), reduced to 3/6 for 2nd editions, and then commonly reduced to 2/- and ultimately 1/- (one shilling – the equivalent of 12 pence). In 1934 Collins tested a cheaper printing format – a paperback – that allowed them to cut the price further – now down to 6d (six pence), half the price of their cheapest hardback version. These 6d paperbacks were all printed in 1934-1938. Similar cover art to the hardback’s jacket was used but these were not jacketed unlike some of the White Circle 6d books.
The first US paperback printing was under the Mercury Mystery imprint.
While the exact print date is unknown, it is likely printed in 1940-1941 when Lawrence Spivak, the publisher, split his Bestseller Library imprint into the Mercury Mystery and Bestseller Mystery imprints. While many of the titles he published were abridged, this appears to be a complete printing.
Other commonly collected paperback versions of The Murder at the Vicarage include the following:
1938, January: Collins White Circle #32. There were numerous reprints under the White Circle imprint over the years.
1948, August: The first Penguin printing #686. There were multiple reprints.
1948: Dell Books (New York), “Map back” #226
1961: Collins/Fontana Books, 1st version, priced 2/6.
1963: Fontana Books, 2nd printing., priced 3/6. This printing had the first of two Tom Adams covers created for this title. This first iteration was only Adams’ third painting for Fontana’s Christie paperbacks. Of particular note is the fact that Adams painted an unjacketed Collins Crime Club Christie book on the bookshelf below the telephone - a rather nice touch!
1977: Fontana Books. This printing had the second cover painted by Tom Adams.
First Play Script:
1950: Samuel French: Dramatized by Moie Charles & Barbara Toy. The first printing has cover art by F.J. Lewis and states French’s Acting Edition No. 1818, the title and 5s net on the spine. For more details on collecting this and other plays click here.
Other Editions of Note:
1932, France: Published by Le Masque (#114) under the title L’Affaire Prothero and translated by Claude Pierre-Langers.
While most countries maintained the original title, France was the exception where it was published under this alternate title. These French first printings are highly collectible and appealing as they came with creative and vibrant dust jackets.
2005: HarperCollins ‘facsimile’ edition, London, UK. Note: this book had black cloth, while the later facsimile editions had orange/red cloth. A nod to the correct first printing sequence referenced earlier.
2012: The Folio Society, London, UK.
Vintage copies of The Chicago Tribune unlikely exist in a complete set. If they did, a collector would likely be willing to pay up to $1,000 given the uniqueness of them.
For the hardback first, there have been no recent auctions in jacket for this book. An unjacketed Collins first (black cloth) in very good condition is likely worth £500. If one could be found in jacket it would likely sell for £20,000 given other firsts at auction from this period. A 2nd edition with a 3/6 jacket would likely command 20% of this – around £4,000. The 1/- 6th edition periodically shows for sale and is worth £500 in a very good jacket. Later Collins hardbacks from the 1950s are worth £30 in very-good jackets.
For the US first edition, copies with significant flaws do regularly show for sale in the $1,500 - $2,000 price range. At the 2019 Heritage Auction a very-good jacketed copy sold for $3,250. The first French edition in jacket would likely sell for €300-500.
For the paperbacks, the early Collins 6d is very hard to find in complete very-good condition. When it does show for sale in this condition expect to pay £250. The US first paperback is easy to find and worth ~$50. All later paperbacks are very affordable and generally can be obtained for £5-50 depending on vintage and condition. The play script if fine is valued at £70-100, while poorer copies can likely be found for £25-40. The earlier black cloth facsimile edition will sell for £30, while the later red cloth version is worth £10. The Folio Society edition will often sell for £100 or more in fine condition.
Note: All the data below regarding printings, editions and dates is to the best of our knowledge. Since we have not seen every edition in person, some specifics are missing. Those that are provided are accurate. Any information that fills in the gaps or other updates from our readers is most welcome. They can be sent to CollectChristie@gmail.com.