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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

COLLECT: Christie's two most beautiful USA dust jackets.

Golden age mysteries, the roaring twenties and the looming great depression - all three moments collide for collectors in arguably the two most beautiful dust jackets ever designed for the US market.

Throughout the 1920s Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, had published all of Christie's books except for her first, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Agatha Christie had proven a tremendous success for Dodd, Mead & Co, especially after the critical debate & sales of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). Paired with the optimism of the times - this was after all the 'roaring twenties', a period when wealth in the USA doubled and everyone was living large, Dodd Mead started to increase print runs. The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) is by far the most common book from the decade indicating the print run was very large. However, by the end of 1928 and into the early months of 1929, the US economy was starting to show signs of stress. US production was declining and unemployment was rising, but the stock market kept growing, despite warnings from banks and business leaders.

It is likely during these final months of economic boom that the cover art for The Seven Dials Mystery and Partners in Crime was created. Collectively these two jackets are arguably the most beautiful US covers ever created for Christie's works. While that is a bold statement, all the Dodd Mead covers prior and all those since never quite had the vibrancy and joy that these two did. Collectively their striking art deco designs, both of which wrapped onto the rear panel, captured the glamour, glitz and wealth of those final months before the bubble burst. While it is unclear who the artist (or artistic team) was, it is probable that the same artist(s) designed both jackets.

The Seven Dials Mystery: While it is known that the Collins edition of this book was published in January 1929, the exact issue month for the Dodd Mead version is unknown. However, it is fair to assume it was at the same time or within a few months. As noted earlier, at the start of 1929 the US economy was just starting to show signs of stress. Total print runs are unknown, but having studied the market for first edition books for many decades it is clear that far fewer copies of The Seven Dials Mystery were published than The Mystery of the Blue Train. Since economic changes were unseen to most in early 1929, it is fair to speculate that poor sales of the prior title (Blue Train) influenced both a substantial improvement in the cover art and the more conservative print run.

Partners in Crime: The Collins edition of this book was published in September 1929, so it can again be assumed that the Dodd Mead version was published then or shortly thereafter. Much had changed and was about to change further in the US during this period. In March 1929, the stock market had started to become more volatile after the Federal Reserve warned of speculation. Despite small sell offs, the market kept rallying and reached its all time high for the era in August. But economic concerns were now much more widespread. The US had a mild recession in the summer of 1929 and a significant drought had impacted farmers. Banks had lent heavily and the economic slowdown was causing concerns of a banking failure. In October, the stock market crashed - falling 24% in two days. The Great Depression was starting. With this as a backdrop, Dodd Mead appears to have significantly cut the size of the print run for Partners in Crime. The fact that the book was a collection of short stories also didn't help justify a larger printing as most of these stories had previously been published in magazines. While the jacket was extremely glamourous, it sadly became the swan song to an era that had just had its last dance.

By 1930, the art work for the covers of Christie's books in the US reflected the times. The Murder at the Vicarge (1930) and The Murder at Hazelmoor (1931) are both particularly uninspired. While a hint of art deco resurfaced in the cover of Peril at End House, the stylish art from the heyday of the roaring twenties would never return.

Values: The condition of the jacket is of utmost importance in determining a fair price for either of these books. Both can be found and often appear in auctions, online book sites, and even periodically Ebay (though these tend to be lower quality). The Seven Dials Mystery is more common, and prices will generally range from $650 US (£500 UK) for a jacket with numerous chips or flaws, up to $2,500 US (£2,000 UK) for a complete jacket in near fine condition. Partners in Crime is less common, and prices will range from $1,000 US (£1,300 UK) for a flawed jacket up to $3,500 (£2,900 UK) for a near fine example. That said, the right price is one a buyer and a seller agree on. Both books were sold were wrap around cream coloured advertizing bands - these can easily add another $200 US (£150 UK) to the price.

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