COLLECT: Agatha Christie "True Firsts": 1940-1944
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
This is the fifth instalment on our series on ‘true firsts’ where we review the first time Agatha Christie’s stories were published – both in magazine and book form.
Part 1: 1920 to 1932 (link)
Part 2: 1933 to 1935 (link)
Part 3: 1935 to 1937 (link)
Part 4: 1938 to 1940 (link)
Part 5 will focus on 1940 through to 1944.
Of these seven titles, which include some of Christie’s most successful books, five were first published in the U.S.A. while two were first published in the U.K. Thus collectors of true firsts will need to scour US websites and dealers for the majority of these titles. It should also be noted that a couple of these titles are ‘national variants’ where the text varies between the US and UK editions. For our full story on these national variants please click here.
While first edition hardback books are the pinnacle of many Christie collections, for others, the less travelled world of magazine collecting is appealing. All seven of these novels first appeared in U.S. magazines before being published in book form.
All estimates of values are for very good books in complete very good jackets and are based on recent auction results or known sales. Lesser quality jackets or books from the 1940s sell for significantly less and are much more common. For UK versions, all domestic books below had their price on the front flap. Identical but unpriced jackets were produced for the export market. Correct, but unpriced jackets are generally worth 5-10% less, while correct but price clipped jackets are often worth 10-15% less. US books are rarely price clipped, but if they are, it is a flaw that along with faded spines, chips, repairs, etc. all result in a significantly lower price than those cited below. For the magazines discussed below, collector quality copies are quite affordable, and most can be found for £20-£30 per issue.
First Appearance: A nine-part serialisation in Collier's Weekly (USA) in ten parts from 25 November 1939 (Vol. 104, No. 22) to 27 January 1940 (Vol. 105, No. 4).
First UK Appearance: The UK serialisation was in nineteen parts in the Daily Express from Saturday, 23 March to Saturday, 13 April 1940.
True First hardback: March 1940, Collins, The Crime Club (London, UK). Of note, while the cover art is fairly plain, it was primarily designed by Agatha Christie and is arguably period correct given the ongoing world war. Dust jacket correctly priced 8/3 net. Value: £2,500
First US hardback: [September] 1940, Dodd Mead and Company (New York). Dust jacket priced $2.00. Value: $900.
Evil Under the Sun:
First Appearance: The book was first serialised in the U.S. in Collier's Weekly in eleven parts from 14 December 1940 (Vol. 106, No. 24) to 22 February 1941 (Vol. 107, No. 8). There is no known UK serialisation.
True First Hardback: June 1941, Collins, The Crime Club (London, UK). The last of the ‘thick’ Collins books with rather unique art. Dust jacket priced 7s 6d net. Value: £2,500.
First US Hardback: October 1941, Dodd Mead and Company (New York). Dust jacket priced $2.00. Value: $1,500.
N or M?:
First Appearance: The novel first appeared in the US in a condensed version in the March 1941 (Vol. 76, No. 5) issue of Redbook magazine.
First UK Appearance: In the UK, an abridged version was serialized in seven parts in Woman's Pictorial from 26 April (Vol. 41, No. 1059) to 7 June 1941 (Vol. 41, No. 1065) under the title Secret Adventure.
True First Hardback: [August] 1941, Dodd Mead and Company (New York, USA). Dust jacket priced $2.00. Value: $1,000.
First UK Hardback: November 1941, Collins, The Crime Club (London). From this title onwards paper rationing due to the war resulted in a thinner, lighter book. Dust jacket priced 7s 6d net. Value: £2,000.
The Body in the Library:
First Appearance: The novel was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 10 May (Vol. 213, No. 45) to 21 June 1941 (Vol. 213, No. 51). No known UK serialisation.
True First Hardback: February 1942, Dodd Mead and Company (New York, USA). Dust jacket priced $2.00. Value: $850.
First UK Hardback: May 1942, Collins, The Crime Club (London). The rear panel contains a blurb promoting the Crime Club and references a selection of their authors. Dust jacket priced 7s 6d net. Value: £2,000.
Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect):
First Appearance: With the title of Murder in Retrospect, this novel was first serialised in the U.S. in Collier's Weekly (without cover credit) in ten instalments from 20 September (Vol. 108, No. 12) to 22 November 1941 (Vol. 108, No. 21). It does not appear to have been serialised in the U.K.
True First Hardback: May, 1942, Dodd Mead and Company (New York). Note: the copyright for this book states 1941, 1942 while the title page solely states 1942. Value: $750.
First UK Hardback: January 1943, Collins, The Crime Club (London). Note: the copyright for this book is 1942 despite its publication date. Dust jacket priced 8/- or 8s net. Collectors should be wary of later edition dust jackets that are frequently married to first printings. While the front panel has the same art, the rear panel is different so if the price has been clipped off be cautious. The rear panel should have an announcement to members of the Crime Club that the newsletter is being discontinued due to the war. Value: £500.
First Playscript: Agatha Christie rewrote this novel into a play, titled Go Back For Murder, with Poirot removed from the story. The play was first published in wraps by Samuel French, London in 1960, priced 6s. net on the spine. Value: £30.
Note: Five Little Pigs is one of the ‘national variant’ books where the US and UK editions vary. While the text is the same, Dodd Mead used the serialised version of the story for its hardback which was framed significantly differently than the manuscript version used by Collins. In the UK version the novel is framed into segments – an ‘Introduction’, ‘Book I’, ‘Book II’ and ‘Book III’. Each ‘book’ is then further delineated into titled chapters – many playing off the novel’s nursery rhyme theme of ‘Five Little Pigs’. Collier’s Weekly restructured the story to provide 10 equal length installments. To accomplish this Collier’s eliminated the entire structure of the novel and repackaged all the edited chapters into ten new equal length segments – Chapters 1 – 9, plus a ‘Conclusion’. Dodd Mead retained this format when they printed the novel, which meant readers of the US version lose the framing and structure Christie created. For collectors this makes both books appropriate to own as part of a collection.
The Moving Finger:
First Appearance: An abridged version was serialised in Collier's Weekly (US) in eight instalments from 28 March (Volume 109, Number 13) to 16 May 1942 (Volume 109, Number 20).
First UK Appearance: An abridged version with the title Moving Finger was serialised in the UK in six parts in Woman's Pictorial from 17 October (Vol. 44, No. 1136) to 21 November 1942 (Vol. 44, No. 1141).
True First Hardback: July 1942, Dodd Mead and Company (New York). Priced $2.00. Value: $700.
First UK Hardback: June 1943, Collins, The Crime Club (London). This is another title where later versions of the jacket are frequently married to first printings. Check the pricing on the front flap, and if clipped confirm the rear panel references only Five Little Pigs. Priced 7s 6d net. Value: £400.
Note: The Moving Finger is another ‘national variant’ novel. The Dodd Mead printing had approximately 20% (9000 words) of the content redacted, similar to the Collier's serialization. For example, Dodd Mead omitted all of Chapter 1, part I, which is five full pages at the start of the novel that provides a lot of the background to the characters and sets up the story narrative. These large-scale omissions continue throughout the US version. Because of this, collectors (and readers) should acquire both copies as both are effectively first printings.
First Appearance: The novel was first serialised in Collier's Weekly (US) in three installments from 6 May (Vol. 113, No. 19) to 20 May 1944 (Vol. 113, No. 21) under the title Come and Be Hanged! There is no known UK serialisation.
True First Hardback: June 1944, Dodd Mead and Company (New York). Priced $2.00 on the flap. Note: This is an exceptionally difficult book to first in its correct first state. It is estimated that only 5-10% of the books printed in 1944 were printed by Dodd Mead & Co (New York), with the majority of the printing shifted to the Blakiston Company in Philadelphia. Most books for sale that claim to be firsts are actually this second state. Value: $700+ (no recent sales).
First UK Hardback: July 1944, Collins, The Crime Club (London). The correct first edition jacket has the bell on the spine’s backstrip and the rear panel references Five Little Pigs and The Moving Finger. Priced 7/6 net on the flap. The rear flap is a BBC promotion for Britain Calls The World. It does appear that the 4/6 priced jacket is otherwise identical, so price clipped versions may have been married to first printings. Value: £350.
First Playscripts: There are two adaptions of this book into a play. The adaption by Agatha Christie and Gerald Verner was the first play to appear it print. It was written in 1951, first performed in 1956 and first published by Samuel French Limited in 1957. A US version of this playscript was published by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. – also believed to have been published in 1957 though it is generally considered that the French edition was first. Of note, Agatha Christie adapted the play herself in late 1944 to early 1945, and it was first performed in 1945. Her adaptation differs in that it is set entirely outdoors. It was first published by Samuel French in September 2018 as is referred to as Towards Zero (outdoors).
First edition books from the 1940s are substantially easier to locate than those from the 1930s. However, patience will still be needed especially if very good copies are wanted and even when found pricing can be broad ranging. Specialist dealers who have very good or better copies in stock know that quality demands a premium. On the other end of the spectrum, online auction sites such as eBay often have fairly poor examples. As we’ve always stated buy the best you can afford.
The most difficult first to locate from these seven books is the correct first Dodd, Mead & Co printing of Towards Zero. Since we haven’t seen any recent sales of a very good or better example of this title in many years it is hard to know where the market is today. It is also one of those titles where some sellers may not know the difference in scarcity between the true first and the Blakiston printing – so be vigilant.
As always, the information provided is believed to be accurate. Any corrections, enhancements or additional points are clarity are most welcome. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org