COLLECT: True First Editions: 1920-1932
The most traditional way individuals collect Agatha Christie books is by acquiring first edition hardback books. While many of Christie’s books appeared in magazines or newspapers prior to being published in book form, the hard back book is still the default version of choice. In the early decades true firsts are very expensive to collect in dust wrappers (if you can even find them), but books lacking jackets can be found and many are more affordable than you may think. However, collecting the true first editions is not as simple as buying the UK versions. A significant number of Christie’s works were first published outside the UK. Unfortunately, not all printed books cited the month of publication.
Review copies & Newspaper Reviews:
The definitive insight to original publishing dates are review slips or letters that publishers provided to reviewers which would advise of the specific publishing date. This would help reviewers determine when to publish their review. As more of these are found or shared, gaps can be filled in.
Beyond specifics from publisher correspondence and estate archives, there are established norms and beliefs as to the printing sequence of national editions. While the data that supports these norms may not always be clear, incontrovertible evidence would be needed to shift these viewpoints. Contemporaneous newspaper reviews can also be helpful in determining sequencing, so they are discussed when appropriate below.
In a few cases, specific titles had different content depending on where they were published. In such cases it could be argued that both are essentially first editions of their respective content. This will be referenced where appropriate but for our full article on ‘National Variants’ please click here. Lastly, a few assumptions are made which could always be in error. Any corrections are most welcome or if our readers have documents showing publishing dates please let us know.
The True Firsts:
Below are the details on the first editions for the 16 Christie books published from 1920 to 1932. For collectors of true first editions, these are the ones you want to obtain. Before reading the details, take a guess at how many were actually first published in the UK!
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: First edition: USA.
Published in October 1920 by John Lane, New York, USA. The second nation to print this book was Canada where Ryerson Press, Toronto, printed the book in 1920 shortly after John Lane, who provided Ryerson with the same printing sheets. The UK edition was not published until January 1921. The New York Times Book Review reviewed the book on December 26th, 1920 while The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the book on February 3rd, 1921. This supports the US then UK sequence.
The Secret Adversary: First edition: UK.
Published in January 1922 by John Lane, The Bodley Head, London. Based upon contemporaneous newspaper reviews, the US edition was likely released in late May 1922 by Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the book on January 26th, 1922 while The New York Times Book Review was on June 11th, 1922. This confirms the likely printing sequence.
The Murder on the Links: First edition: UK (but debatable).
While the published date for the John Lane, The Bodley Head Ltd, Vigo St., London, W1 edition is known to be May 1923, the US edition did not have a month specified. While it is historically assumed that the US version was not published until after the UK version, it should be noted that The New York Times reviewed this book in their ‘Latest Fiction’ section on March 25th, 1923. This could certainly lead one to infer it preceded the UK edition as it seems logical to assume The New York Times would only publish the review once the book was available to buy and this was well in advance of the May release in the UK. The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the novel on June 7th, 1923. In aggregate it leads to a verdict of ‘debatable’ as to where the first edition was printed despite the normative belief that the UK version was the true first. Insights welcome!
The Man in the Brown Suit: First edition: UK.
Published on August 22nd, 1924 by John Lane The Bodley Head Limited, London, UK. While the US version published by Dodd Mead & Co., New York is not dated, it is historically assumed to be later than the UK version. The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the novel on the 25th September 1924. There was no review of this book in The New York Times until 1926. While it is possible the sequencing may be in error, it is unlikely.
Poirot Investigates: First editions: UK & USA.
This is one of the variant editions where there are differences between the UK and the US editions. The UK version was the first published in March 1924 by John Lane The Bodley Head Limited, London. However, the US edition published in 1925 by Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, contained three additional stories not included in the UK version. These were The Chocolate Box, The Veiled Lady & The Lost Mine, which weren’t printed in book form in the UK until 1974.
Thus, for this more complete version of Poirot Investigates, the US version is the first printing. The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the book on the April 3rd, 1924. Of note, The New York Times chose to review the UK version on the April 20th, 1924 despite no version currently for sale in the US.
The Secret of Chimneys: First edition: UK.
Published in June 1925 by John Lane The Bodley Head Limited, London. The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the novel on the July 9th, 1925. There is no known book review in The New York Times, but it is commonly believed the US version was published later in 1925.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: First edition: UK.
Published in June 1926 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London. It was reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement (London) on the June 10th, 1926. In the US, Dodd, Mead & Company published the book on the June 19th, 1926 and it was first reviewed in The New York Times Book Review on the July 18th, 1926.
The Big Four: First edition: UK.
Published on January 27th, 1927 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London. The Times Literary Supplement (London) review was on February 3rd, 1927. The US first edition just states ‘1927’, but the second edition states that the first printing was in September 1927. The New York Times Book Review covered the book on October 2nd, 1927 supporting this. Of note, this is the only book where the UK and US front cover art on the dust wrappers were identical (the US copy is shown with the rare wrap around band).
The Mystery of the Blue Train: First edition: UK.
Published on March 29th, 1928 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London. The Times Literary Supplement (London) reviewed the book on May 3rd, 1928. The US version was published July 20th, 1928 by Dodd, Mead & Company and was reviewed by The New York Times Book Review on August 12th, 1928.
The Seven Dials Mystery: First edition: UK.
Published on January 24th, 1929 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London. The earliest review in the UK was in The Scotsman (UK) on January 28th, 1929. While the US first printing just states ‘1929’, the second US edition, published by Grosset & Dunlap does start that the first edition was printed in March 1929. The New York Times Book Review review was published on April 7th, 1929 supporting this publication date.
Partners in Crime: First edition: US (but debatable).
As with Murder on the Links there is a lot of conflicting information for the publishing sequence of this book. While the common position is that the US version is the first, there is no specific date known for its publication. Dodd, Mead & Co, New York published the book with a ‘1929’ date which was not updated or clarified even with the Grosset reprint. W. Collins Sons & Co, London, first published the book on September 16th, 1929. However, it should be noted that in future editions, Collins stated the first printing was in April 1929. The first known newspaper review was in The Scotsman (UK) on September 16th, 1929. The first US review was in The New York Times Book Review on September 22nd, 1929. Given the dates of newspaper reviews the April date from the Collins reprint certainly seems to be an error but they also seem to cause uncertainty on the sequence of printing. Regardless, the issue dates in the UK and US must have been very similar and until specific print dates are documented the normative assumption that the US version was first remains.
The Mysterious Mr. Quin: First edition: UK.
Commonly believed to have been published on April 14th, 1930 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, still under just the ‘Collins’ imprint. Despite later editions from Collins stating that March 1930 was the date of the first impression, these are likely in error given that the first newspaper review was in the Daily Express (UK) on April 25th, 1930. The US version just states 1930 but must have been within a week of the UK release given The New York Times Book Review article on May 4th, 1930.
The Murder at the Vicarage: First edition: UK.
October 1930: Collins, The Crime Club, London. The first review was in the Daily Mirror (UK) on October 15th, 1930. The US version from Dodd, Mead & Co also states October 1930. With the first US review in The New York Times Book Review on November 30th, 1930, it supports the position that the UK version was printed first. Of note this book marks a transition for Collins shifting to The Crime Club imprint and transitioning from black to orange cloth boards. Copies of this book can be found in both colours of cloth. However, the black covered book only states “Collins” on the foot of the spine, while the orange covered book states “The Crime Club”. It appears that with this book Collins was beginning to test the use of a new cloth. The first version of this book should be considered the black boards. While Collins later returned to the use of black cloth for a number of books, it was primarily for reprints and some colonial or export first edition copies. After this book, orange was the dominant colour choice with a few exceptions and should then be considered the first UK version.
The Murder at Hazelmoor: First Edition: USA.
The first printing of this title was the Dodd, Mead & Co, New York version, likely in July 1931. In the UK, Collins, The Crime Club published the book on September 7th, 1931, with the original title Christie had assigned to the book – The Sittaford Mystery. The New York Times Book Review's issue of 16 August 1931. In the UK, the Daily Mirror wrote a review on October 23rd, 1931.
Peril at End House: First edition: USA.
Published by Dodd, Mead & Co, New York, in February 1932. Collins, The Crime Club published this title in March 1932. While the first UK edition only states 1932, later editions add in the month. The New York Times Book Review for this book was published on March 6th, 1932. In the UK, the first review was in The Times Literary Supplement on April 14th, 1932.
The Thirteen Problems: First edition: UK.
Published by Collins, The Crime Club, London, in June 1932. The book was not published in the US until February 1933 under the alternate title The Tuesday Club Murders. The first review in the UK was in The Scotsman on June 6th, 1932. The first US review was in The New York Times Book Review's March 5th, 1933 issue.
Across the first 16 Agatha Christie books published between 1920 and 1932, there were 10 books that were definitely first published in the UK, 3 that were first published in the US, 2 where the sequence is currently debatable (one assumed UK first, one assumed US first), and one title (Poirot Investigates) that was first published in the UK but the US version contains additional stories, so for those extra three stories the US copy is their true first. As stated earlier, if you have insights that can help clarify any of the missing dates or bring certainty to any of the sequences, please do let us know. In future articles we will explore the rest of the 1930s and then move into the 1940s ~ a period of time when most of Christie’s books were published in the USA first.