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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

Part I: The Agatha Christie Omnibus Editions (1931-1965)

Updated: Feb 21

Over the years, publishers have tried numerous approaches to boosting sales and continuing the shelf life of a book. One approach was to bundle stories together - either from the same author (omnibus) or different authors (anthology). Most of these bundles would have a common theme. For the publishers of Christie's works their omnibus editions generally focused on collecting together several Poirot or Miss Marple stories, or novels with a common theme such as travel. In most cases omnibus conditions don't contain true first printings (there's one exception - see 1948 below), they are still collected by many and have the added bonus of usually being very affordable - certainly when compared to contemporaneous single novel first editions.


What is an 'Omnibus'?

For the purposes of this article I am defining a Christie 'omnibus' as a book that contains multiple works by Agatha Christie. It will be a collection of two or more stories of which at least one has been previously published individually. At least one of the stories must be a longer than a short story - thus a novella or novel. A collection of only short stories only is not considered an omnibus but a 'collection'. The focus is primarily on the first printings of these omnibus editions. Any omnibus collection where all the books contained have previously appeared in another omnibus is considered a reprint.


Confusingly, Collins published four different "Crime Club Omnibus" editions in the 1930s, but these contained novels from various authors - not exclusively one. Books where Christie's work is published with other authors is technically an 'anthology'. These could either be a collection of novels but are also often short story collections with a common theme.


Part I: 1931 - 1965.

I have chosen to break this article into two parts - the early years when Omnibus editions were still relatively novel, print runs appear to be smaller, and collectibility is higher. I'm considering this to be 1931 - 1965. Part II, which I will try to complete within the next month, will focus on 1965 - 1978, which marks the last year either Collins or Dodd Mead published an omnibus. This short period of time, still accounts for over a dozen books to review not counting the two dozen omnibus editions published by Hamlyn. Thus, I will not be reviewing omnibus editions published later than 1978 as in my opinion they offer little of interest to collectors. This is partly became they became cheap, mass market, and ubiquitous with numerous publishing houses getting in on the act. Plus, by then every title had already appeared in a prior omnibus collection.


The Publishers:

Most of these volumes were published by Christie's normal publishers while she was alive - Dodd Mead & Co. in the US, and John Lane's The Bodley Head and Collins in the UK. There are a few exceptions. Many other publishers frequently obtained reprint rights and these editions are not discussed below. In most cases, Dodd Mead & Co. does not include the date of the omnibus's publication but solely the copyright dates of the stories contained within it. This leads to confusion by many collectors, sellers and dealers.


Most of these omnibus editions appeared as trade editions, which may have later been reissued as a 'book club edition'. There are a few cases where the only extant printings appear to be book club editions - consequently these are the 'first editions thus' of that specific omnibus until disproved. These titles are clearly noted below and reader input is most welcome.


The Omnibi or Omnibusses!


1931: An Agatha Christie Omnibus, The Bodley Head, London, UK.

Contains: The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1921), Murder on the Links (1922) and Poirot Investigates (1924). Each novel is paginated separately. There are sixteen pages of adverts to the rear. Originally priced 7/6. Note: there are two known variants of this book with different spine designs (see images below). Both state first published in [February] 1931. The spine with the logo was a design Bodley Head used on other books in the early 1930s. For now, there is no clear 'first state'. Value: For a very good book, expect to pay £300-400. For a jacket, pay what you will. I have no market comps.


The image of the jacket below is from collector Graham Lee and is a facsimile. It is priced 5/- which implies it may be a second or later printing of the jacket. It is unclear whether the cover art is the same of the first state.


1932: An Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime, Collins, London, UK.

Contains: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), The Sittaford Mystery (1931) and The Seven Dials Mystery (1929). Published in February 1932 and priced at 7/6. The images below are from the British Library (received by them in May 1932). Images courtesy of John Perry. Value: I have no market comps, but I expect it would be similar to the Bodley Head pricing above.


1936: Hercule Poirot, Master Detective. Dodd Mead & Co, NY, US.

Contains: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), Murder in the Calais Coach (UK: Murder on the Orient Express) (1934) and Thirteen at Dinner (UK: Lord Edgware Dies) (1933). This books is very scarce in its original dust jacket. IIt should also be noted that it includes the first printing of "A Letter to My Publisher" that Christie wrote in which Poirot writes to Mr. Dodd, his US publisher. This was not republished until the 2016 Commemorative box-set that HarperCollins published that combined 'Styles' with 'Curtain'. In that box set this 'letter' was included as an extra item. Value: A very good copy is worth $300 - $400. In a jacket expect a valuation of $1,500 - $2,000.

Grosset & Dunlap who handled reprints for Dodd Mead & Co reissued this in the following year (1937) but under the title Three Christie Crimes. Though a reprint, I've included it here because of its unique jacket art. Even this Grosset reprint is fairly challenging to find in a jacket, but is more common than the first by Dodd Mead & Co. Value: The book alone in very good condition is worth ~$50. A very good jacket is worth $200-300.


[Pending] 1940: Two Detective Stories: The Mysterious Affair at Styles & Murder on the Links, Dodd Mead & Co, NY, US.

I have yet to see this book to confirm it was a 2-story omnibus, versus two individual reprints. Advertisements run in US papers imply this omnibus was published in August 1940 "because of the demand for Poirot stories". The two novels are connected with an "and" in the ad, implying it is a single volume.


1943: Triple Threat, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains: Poirot Investigates (1924), The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930) and Partners in Crime (1929). The book is subtitled "Exploits of Three Famous Detectives: Hercule Poirot, Harley Quin and Tuppence". The book was available in hardcover only and was dated 1943 on the title page. The three books included have separate pagination. Published in July 1943 and priced $2.50. I am seeking a better copy image of the cover as I don't own this book and I sourced this image from J.S. Marcum's website 'A Tribute to Agatha Christie'. Value: Appears unusually scarce in jacket - I would estimate a value of $400-500 in a vg jacket, but comps are scarce.

In 1944, reprint rights were given to World Publishing Co. (Cleveland, US) who reissued the book under the title Agatha Christie's Crime Reader. Since each of the novels within were essentially collections of short stories, World Publishing heavily abridged the omnibus. Only five short stories from both Poirot Investigates and The Mysterious Mr. Quin were included, plus six from Partners in Crime.


1948: Witness for the Prosecution and Three Blind Mice, W.J. Black, New York, US.

Contains the two novellas in the title. Since Witness for the Prosecution was published by Dodd Mead & Co three months earlier (September 1948), this book meets the definition of an omnibus - a publication that contains two or more stories of which at least one was previously published. Published in December 1948 and provided as a promotional title to new members of The Detective Book Club. For more details on this book and its value, please read the full article at: link.


1954: Mrs. McGinty's Dead and They Do It With Mirrors, The Companion Book Club, London, UK.

Contains the two novels in the title, originally both published in 1952. The Companion Book club was an imprint of Odhams, who had previously published several Christie titles, including the first edition of The Hound of Death and Other Stories. The book was distributed to club members in January 1954. It cost 4/6 for club members who kept it. It was issued in a jacket with an orange mosaic design and is quite easy to find, though often in poor condition. Value: Hard to find in very good jacketed condition, but fairly valued at £50-100 if you can find it.

A reprint of this omnibus was also distributed in June 1954 in Australia to members of the Herald-Sun Readers Book Club. The book, published by Colorgravure, used the same print stock as the UK printing but it was shod in different cloth and a different jacket. The book was priced 8/6 for club members who kept it. I've included it because the jacket art was more interesting than the UK printing, with its artwork by Australian illustrator Vernon Hayles. Value: This jacket is also harder to find than the UK edition and again challenging to find in very good condition. Expect to pay $100-150 AUS for such a copy.


Dodd Mead & Co. Book Club Editions:

The next three books (1954 - 1957) raise unanswered questions for collectors. All three books were advertised in public newspapers as trade editions with a price of $3.50. I have included copies of some of these ads for each book below showing their prices and confirming trade distribution. When Dodd Mead sold books to the public, the price was almost always placed on the top of the front flap. However, these trade editions with priced jackets seem elusive as it is the unpriced jackets with a notation that they are a 'book club edition' that invariably show for sale.


Given the ads and Dodd Mead's historical practices, I believe trade editions exist. It is possible the book itself was identical meaning that jacket-less books cannot be distinguished as trade or book club (unlike later titles where the spines or paper are different). It is possible very few were issued to the trade or very few sold and thus survivors are scarce. Unsold stock may have been reshod in a book club jacket or it is possible they only printed them as 'book club' editions.


However, until a book with a higher quality spine or a jacket without the book club notation is seen, the book club editions will be considered 'first thus'. If anyone has an image they can share of a Dodd Mead edition for any of the following three titles that has a different spine design or does not reference the book club on the jacket flap, please let me know (email at the end of this article).


1954: Perilous Journeys of Hercule Poirot, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: Death on the Nile (1937), Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), and The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928). Retailed for $3.50. So far, only seen as a Book Club edition - so noted on front flap - despite being marketed to the trade.


1956: Surprise Endings by Hercule Poirot, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: The A.B.C. Murders (1936), Murder in Three Acts (UK: Three Act Tragedy) (1935) and Cards on the Table (1936). Retailed for $3.50. So far, only seen as a Book Club edition - so noted on front flap - despite being marketed to the trade.


1957: Christie Classics, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains two novels, one novella and two short stories: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), And Then There Were None (1939), Witness for the Prosecution (1948), Philomel Cottage (1948) and Three Blind Mice (1948). First published in April 1957, priced $3.50. So far, only seen as a Book Club edition - so noted on front flap - despite being marketed to the trade.


1960: Murder Preferred, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: The Patriotic Murders (UK title: One, Two, Buckle my Shoe) and A Murder is Announced and Murder in Retrospect (UK title: Five Little Pigs). Like many Dodd Mead titles of this era, there is both a regular edition and a Book Club edition with the same content (noted book club on front flap). The regular edition was published in October 1960, and sold for $4.95.


1962: Make Mine Murder, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: Appointment with Death (1938), Peril at End House (1932) and Sad Cypress (1940). There is both a regular edition and a Book Club edition. The regular edition promotes 'Murder Preferred' on the rear flap, was published in April 1962, and sold for $4.95. It appears that the correct first edition state was dated on the title page and had gold lettering on the books spine. The book club edition appears to be undated and has cheaper black lettering on the spine. It is also noted as a book club edition on front flap with a blank rear flap, thus even if the reference has been clipped off, the blank rear flap is a later issue jacket. See images below for the comparison.


1965: Murder International, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: So Many Steps to Death (UK: Destination Unknown) (1955), Death Comes as the End (1944) and Evil Under the Sun (1941). Another book where the correct first edition has a more costly spine to produce with its silver embossing and black strip, while the book club edition is the simpler black text on red only. The correct first edition jacket is priced $4.95 with no reference to the book club on the front flap. It was issued in November 1965 at the same time as the US short story collect "Surprise, Surprise!" - both just in time for Christmas!


In preparing this article, I want to thank several individuals: John Perry for being willing to visit the British Library to confirm the existance of titles and track down images - some of the elusive ones which will hopefully be added to this article once sourced, and to Chuck Vukotich, a US based collector, who provided inspiration to write this article and insight into some of these omnibus editions that he has been collecting for years.


Summary:

Aside from the earliest titles, omnibus books are afforable collectibles. With some additional research pending and a few unanswered questions, this article will be updated as knowledge is gained. If any readers have information or images to share, please email me at: collectchristie@gmail.com


As always, thanks for reading and comments are always most welcome. 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 in both places is different.


Happy Hunting!





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