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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

NEW INSIGHTS: Agatha Christie's Wartime 'Polybook' printings.

From 1943 until 1946 there were a variety of small books printed in England containing Agatha Christie stories. These wartime publications contained from one to three short stories. In prior articles, I reviewed the three Vallancey Press "singles" (link) - Poirot and the Regatta Mystery, The Crime in Cabin 66 and The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest.


I also wrote about the two Polybook "triples" – Poirot Knows the Murderer and Poirot Lends a Hand – (link) - with each containing three short stories. Today we are going to look at the last group of them - the "doubles".


New Insights: The Polybook "Doubles"

Over a span of a year – from June 1943 until June 1944 – Todd Publishing printed three small format books under their ‘Polybooks’ imprint that each contained two stories - hence "Doubles". These are exceptionally scarce and I have not seen any for sale that I can recall. A special thank you to John Perry for obtaining images of these books from the British Library archives to share with our readers. These three books are as follows:


The Problem at Pollensa Bay, Polybooks, Todd Publishing, London (June 1943). Priced ‘Sixpence’. Blue cover. Artwork by Frank L. Grey. For collectors of first book printings, this represents the first UK appearance of Problem at Pollensa Bay published in a book. The book also contains Christmas Adventure. This was first published in The Sketch in 1923 under the title The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. However, this represents the first book printing of this story - a short story that has still not been published in the US.


Poirot on Holiday, Polybooks, Todd Publishing Company, London (November 1943). Priced ‘Sixpence’. Blue cover. Artwork by Frank R. Grey. Note: There is no story titled Poirot on Holiday, but it contains The Regatta Mystery and Crime in Cabin 66. For The Regatta Mystery, this is the version used in The Strand (1936) that contained Poirot. The latter story is sometimes referred to as Problem at Sea.


The Veiled Lady, Polybooks, Francis Hodgson Ltd, Temple Chambers, Temple Avenue, London (June 1944). Priced ‘Sixpence’. Blue cover with the statement 'Poirot, for once, is ungallant'. Artwork by Frank L. Grey. Also contains The Baghdad Chest. The second story is more often seen under the title The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest.


The Artist:

Frank Grey was a prolific British illustrator in the 1920s and 1930s, though he earliest known work is from 1914, and while he continued illustrating into the 1940s it was at a slower rate. His artwork was included in many well known magazines, including Punch, though he is considered most well known for his illustrations in the series of Jane Turpin books, the fictional girl detective created by Evadne Price, that were very popular in the 1930s and 1940s. A lot of his work came from the London-based publisher Robert Hale where he was on contract for many years.


The Printers:

It is interesting to note that the first two books above were published by 'Todd' while the third was published by 'Francis Hodgson Ltd'. Of note, the two 'Triples' are often referred to as published by Hodgson, but those books only state 'Distributed by Francis Hodgson' in the rear of them. They state they were actually printed by 'Andrew Holmes & Co. Ltd' in Glasgow. It is also interesting to note that the address provided for Francis Hodgson Ltd was the same address previously used by 'Vallancey Press', so they are clearly interconnected though the exact connection is still unclear. Reader insights are always most welcome. Please email me at collectchristie@gmail.com .


Summary:

Sadly these three items are not in my own collection - but hopefully one day I'll locate them. They are exceptionally scarce so should they appear for sale, I could easily see them realising a value of £500 each or perhaps even substantially more if in very good complete condition. Many Agatha Christie bibliographies tend to forget to include these printings along with the other small wartime productions referenced, so collectors should remain aware of them.


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Happy Hunting!





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