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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

Part II: The Agatha Christie Omnibus Editions (1966-1978)

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 focuses 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 discussed in Part 1), 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.


Part II: 1966 - 1978.

This article is part two of two discussing omnibus editions. Part one reviewed the early years when Omnibus editions were still relatively novel, print runs appeared to be smaller, and collectibility is higher. I'm considering this to be 1931 - 1965. To read part one, which also defines what an 'omnibus' is and discusses the common publishers, click here.


Part II, discussed here, focuses on 1966 - 1978. I chose 1978 as the final year as it marks the last year either Collins or Dodd Mead published an omnibus. This short period of time, still accounts for over a dozen books that are reviewed, not counting the two dozen omnibus editions published by Hamlyn. 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 Omnibusses or Omnibi!


1967: Murder in our Midst, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

The first Miss Marple omnibus. Contains three novels: The Body in the Library, The Murder at the Vicarage, and The Moving Finger. The first edition has red boards with a black title box, and silver lettering on spine. The dust jacket is priced $5.95 on the bottom of the front inside flap and the rear flap promotes At Bertram's Hotel. There is a 'book club edition' (BCE) and this is noted on the flap in lieu of the price. The BCE also has a plainer spine (picture below for comparison) with no black title box, and the rear flap of the DJ is blank aside from noting printed in the USA. For collectors, the BCE is very common and worth used book prices. The correct first edition is much harder to find and is worth $50 in a very good jacket.


1968: Spies Among Us, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels with a spy or espionage theme: N or M?, They Came to Baghdad and Murder in Mesopotamia. As with other omnibus books by Dodd Mead, the true first edition is much more scarce than the BCE. The first edition is priced $6.95 on the top of the front flap and promotes Third Girl on the rear flap. Lastly, the first edition colours on the front have more blue tint for both N or M? and a richer green for Murder in Mesopotamia. The BCE edition states as such on the bottom of the front flap and has a blank rear flap. The book spine is similar for both the first and the BCE.


1969 - 1971: The Agatha Christie Crime Collection, Hamlyn, London, UK.

Contains: Twenty-four volumes, each an omnibus in its own right that contains either three novels or two novels and one novella. Thus, in total thre are 72 Agatha Christie stories across the set. All were issued in attractive black cloth with gilt titles over red. Each volume was issued with an unpriced photo designed dust-jacket and volume 1 has a new introduction written by Christie. When Hamlyn ended this subscription based run, the series included all Christie's published crime novels up to 1971. Value: £1,000 for a complete set in very good or better jackets. Faded jackets or damage substantially reduce the value.



1970: The Nursery Rhyme Murders, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: A Pocket Full of Rye, Hickory Dickory Death (UK title: Hickory, Dickory, Dock) and Crooked House. The original first edition sold for $6.95. While very uncommon, it does have a different notably different dust jacket than the book club edition (BCE). The first edition dust jacket has three review quotes on the front flap - from The New Yorker, The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, the rear panel of the first edition dust jacket has a red number seven and red text on the upper part of the panel (see images). The book club edition (which is very common) removed the quote from the San Francisco Chronicle and replaces it with 'Book Club Edition'. The rear jacket panel of the BCE is all in black ink. Values: The correct first edition is very scarce and fairly valued at $50. The BCE is available for used book prices.

The correct first edition jacket details (left) vs. BCE (right):


1972: Murder Go Round, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: Thirteen at Dinner (UK title: Lord Edgware Dies), The A.B.C. Murders and Funerals are Fatal (UK title: After the Funeral). Retailed for $7.95. The correct first edition reflects this price on the top of the front flap along with the a stylized title in purple. The BCE removes the title and price atop the flap, and states 'book club edition' on the bottom of the front flap.


1974: Murder on Board, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: The Mystery of the Blue Train, Death in the Air (UK title: Death in the Clouds), and What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw (UK title: 4:50 From Paddington). Obviously the common theme here is travel - trains and planes. I have only been able to locate a book club printing of this title - so noted on the front flap. In addition, Dodd Mead did not run any advertisements for this book in newspapers, implying there was no trade edition. If anyone is aware of a trade edition of this omnibus, please let me know.


1975: Curtain and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Dodd Mead & Co., New York, US.

Contains two novels (as stated in the title). The book was published shortly after Curtain to enable readers to easily revisit the first novel which has prequel elements to it. I have only been able to locate book club editions of this book. In addition, Dodd Mead did not run any advertisements for this book in newspapers, implying there was no trade edition. If anyone is aware of a trade edition of this omnibus, please let me know.


Between 1975 and 1982, Book Club Associates (BCA), at that time one of the largest postal order booksellers in the Britain published a series of four omnibus editions of Agatha Christie's works. Each of the four hardcover books contained three novels and had bright single colour, text driven dustjackets. They were known as Agatha Christie Companions. Two of them are discussed below. Since my review on omnibusses ends in 1978, the other two that were published after 1978, included: (i) the 1980 omnibus The Third Agatha Christie Companion (contains: Dumb Witness, Murder in Mesopotamia and Mrs. McGinty's Dead); (ii) and the 1982 omnibus The Fourth Agatha Christie Companion (contains: The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger and Nemesis). In addition, BCA reprinted many other Christie novels, all by arrangement with Collins.


1975: The Agatha Christie Companion, Book Club Associates, London, UK.

Contains three novels: The Mystery of the Blue Train, Lord Edgware Dies and Death in the Clouds. This omnibus marks the first time since 1954 that Collins allowed a different publisher to reprint Christie titles. Perhaps the realisation that Christie would no longer be writing novels (she died in January 1976) caused Collins to start to loosen their control on publication.


[1976]: Sleeping Murder and Murder at the Vicarage, Dodd Mead & Co., New York, US.

Contains two novels as per the title. A pairing of Miss Marple's first and last thus novel. I have only been able to locate the Literary Guild's book club editions (BCE) of this book. However, there was a trade edition of this book that retailed for $15.90. If anyone has images of this trade edition omnibus, please let me know. Sleeping Murder was published in September 1976 and it appears that Dodd Mead issued the trade edition of the double at the same time. The BCE was distributed in 1977 according to comtemporaneous advertisements. Surprisingly, there are three variants of this title: (i) dark brown spine and boards, (ii) dark brown spine and partial light brown boards, and (iii) grey spine and boards. All are known to be shod in 'Book Club Edition' noted jackets. In addition the placement of the text on the title page is slightly different between them. My hypothesis is that the two-tone boards/spine printing was the correct first state trade edition, but left over printings were reshod in BCE jackets. They then likely finished up the stock of spines and then converted to the cheaper light grey boards with non-foil imprints.


1977: A Poirot Quintet, Collins, London, UK.

Poirot novels comprising: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; The Mystery of the Blue Train; Dumb Witness; After the Funeral; and Death on the Nile. A "Collins Collectors Choice" imprint. Initially sold for £3.75. It was reissued in 1978 when the Miss Marple Quintet was published at a price of £4.75. It was later retitled The Best of Poirot when reprinted in later years.



1977: Masterpieces of Murder, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels and one novella: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, Witness for the Prosecution and Death on the Nile.

There was a trade edition of this book that retailed for $9.95, though I've been unable to locate a copy.

The common variant is the Literary Guild's book club edition which is the only one I have to share images of. If any reader has a image of the priced first state jacket and book, please do share it. Of note, as with the prior Dodd Mead omnibus, there are multiple variants of the book's boards: (i) red spine, dark grey boards, black lettering, (ii) all red, but silver lettering, (iii) all red with black lettering. My assumption is (i) was the version for the trade edition, or which leftover stock was used for the BCE.



1977: Starring Miss Marple, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, US.

Contains three novels: A Murder is Announced, The Body in the Library and Murder with Mirrors. The trade edition was released in March 1977, priced $10.95. The dust jacket was unpriced and it does not appear that this omnibus was distributed by any book club.


1978: The Second Agatha Christie Companion, Book Club Associates, London, UK.

Contains three novels: A Murder is Announced, They Do it With Mirrors and 4:50 From Paddington. As discussed earlier, BCA was effectively becoming the authorized reprint firm for Collins.


However, 1978 did mark the last time Collins (pre HarperCollins) published their own omnibus.


1978: A Miss Marple Quintet, Collins, London, UK.

Contains five Miss Marple novels: The Murder at the Vicarage, A Murder is Announced, A Pocket Full of Rye, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side and At Bertram's Hotel. The collection is introduced by H. R. F. Keating. A "Collins Collector's Choice" imprint. Sold for £4.95.



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  


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Happy Hunting!






  



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