COLLECT: Christie’s first 5 Pan paperbacks.
Updated: Jan 7
Pan Books: The genesis of Pan Books occurred in 1939 when Alan Bott, a British World War I fighter ace, started the Reprint Society. In September 1944, he launched the firm “Pan Books” with the goal of building a successful paperback reprint company to make affordable versions of then-modern books for the UK and international markets. Pan became a serious rival to Penguin Books. One of the significant differences was Pan's decision to use art on their covers - a significant divergence from Penguin's 'white stripe' books, with no art. Pan's founder, Alan Bott, died in 1952. In 1962, Pan was purchased by a consortium of several publishing houses, including Macmillan, Collins, Heinemann, and, briefly, Hodder & Stoughton. It ultimately became wholly owned by Macmillan in 1987.
Pan's Early Years: In their first decade, Pan published many best-selling authors, including Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and Agatha Christie. Between 1945 and 1946 Pan published six books that were unnumbered. Beginning in 1947 Pan started numbering each book. #1 was “Ten Stories” by Rudyard Kipling. Books #1 - #43 had a similar visual look, with a solid coloured band across the top of each cover that changed with each title, and an art image below it. Book #44 (1948), “Yeoman’s Hospital” by Helen Ashton, began the standardized look of these early books – the “black tops”. Penguin had been using green and orange bands on the top and bottom of each cover, with no art, so Pan's decision to go with black and art was likely a decision to clearly differentiate themselves.
This style continued until #115 (1949) Wallace’s “The Clue of the Silver Key”. These are generally considered the most desirable of the early Pan books, though many just focus on the first 100 numbered books (plus the six originals). Initial print runs were for 25,000 copies but later increased to 40,000 of which half were sold abroad which did not have a price on the cover. Surprisingly, Christie’s Pan paperbacks are often ignored or forgotten by collectors, while Fleming fans view his Pan paperbacks from the mid to late 1950s as must-haves that command strong values.
The Christie Five: The rarest Christie books published by Pan are those that were part of
Pan's first 100 books. While Pan published many golden-age mystery authors, Christie was the only author to have five titles published. Of note, it is believed that all these books were actually printed in France by Imprimerie Paul Dupont in Paris despite Pan still citing their address as in London. This was because of paper shortages that continued post World War II. In 1950, Pan finally returned to printing in the UK. Pan did reprint these paperbacks with different covers in future years, but shown below are the images from the correct first Pan printings.
The first book of Christie's they published used the original, and now offensive title, rather than choosing the American title. It is presented below as published for historical accuracy only. The image of these book is at the foot of the article.
PAN #4: Ten Little Niggers. First published by Pan in 1947. A “red top” book. Cover art by Plante.
Pan #54: Towards Zero. First published by Pan in 1948. A “black top” book. Cover artist unknown.
Pan #55: The Moving Finger. First published by Pan in 1948. A “black top” book. Cover art by Sington.
Pan #82: Dumb Witness. First published by Pan in 1949. A “black top” book. Cover artist unknown.
Pan #87: Death on the Nile. First published by Pan in 1949. A “black top” book. Cover art by Stein.
Values: All of these books are quite uncommon in the first version and command collectible prices for paperbacks. The rarest is #4, and generally will be offered between £30 - £60 UK ($40 - $80 US) depending on condition. The other four books can often be found for sale for £15 - £30 UK ($20 - $40 US) though collectors will need to be patient. These do not often appear for sale. A lucky collector will find a cheap one at a used book store or online resale site... it does happen!
Pan resource: The website www.tikit.net run by Tim Kitchen is an excellent resource for information on early Pan books.