COLLECT: Agatha Christie "True Firsts" 1944-1948
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
First Editions part 6: 1944 - 1948
This is the sixth instalment in 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: 1940 to 1944 (link)
Part 6 will focus on six books published between 1944 through to 1948. We have chosen not to include ‘Poly Books’, such as those published by Todd. A separate article on these Poly Books can be found here.
For the six titles discussed below, all books were first published in the U.S.A. One potential explanation for this is that Collins was consciously aligning release dates in the UK closer to Christmas for their ‘Christie for Christmas’ strategy. The last title discussed is a collection of short-stories and was only published in the US. Collectors building a collection of true firsts may need to scour US websites and dealers for the majority of these titles.
While first edition hardback books are the pinnacle of many Christie collections, for others, the less travelled world of magazine collecting is appealing. Several of these novels first appeared in US magazines. For the short stories in The Labours of Hercules, some first appeared in The Strand (UK) while others appeared in The Week (US) – details below.
All estimates of values are for "near fine" books in complete "near fine" jackets and are based on recent auction results or known sales.
Death Comes as the End:
First Hardback: October 1944, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: This is the first appearance of the book as it was not published in a magazine(s) first. Value for a near fine copy: $300.
First UK Hardback: March 1945, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Note: The second impression was published in April 1945. The correct first edition first version dust jacket is priced 7s 6d on the front flap. Value for a near fine copy: £300.
Note: Set in Thebes in 2000 B.C., it is the only novel Christie wrote that was not contemporaneous. There is a yet-unpublished version of this novel that contains Agatha Christie’s original ending. Her friend, Stephen Glanville, heavily influenced the ending that was published. Christie stated that in hindsight she believes her original would have been a better choice. Hopefully fans of Christie will one day get the ability to read her preferred ending.
Sparkling Cyanide (US: Remembered Death):
First Appearance: Under the US title of Remembered Death, the novel was serialised in The Saturday Evening Post from 15 July (Vol. 217, No. 3) to 2 September 1944 (Vol 217, No. 10). In the UK, a heavily abridged version appeared in The Daily Express newspaper in the summer of 1945 before the book was published there.
First Hardback: February 1945, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA, with the alternate US title. Near Fine value: $300.
First UK Hardback: December 1945, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Note: Value: £300.
Note: This novel was based on her own short story, Yellow Iris (The Strand, July 1937). While the short story featured Poirot, Christie replaced his character with Colonel Race for the full length novel. She also changed the identity of the murderer. It should be noted that the BBC broadcast the short story in 1937, which marked the first appearance of Poirot on radio.
First Appearance: The story was first serialised in the US in Collier’s Weekly from 4 May (Vol. 117, No. 18) and 25 May 1946 (Vol. 117, No. 21) under the title of The Outraged Heart. Several months later, it was serialised in the U.K. in Woman's Journal (Jul - Oct 1946) under the title Sword in the Heart.
First Hardback: [summer-autumn] 1946, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: Despite the exact publication month being unknown, it is documented that the US edition was published before the UK version. Value: $300.
First UK Hardback: November 1946, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Value: £250.
First Playscript: The play, adapted by Christie, was published in July 1952 by Samuel French Ltd. Value in Near-fine condition: £70-100. The first hardback printing of the playscript was in The Mousetrap and Other Plays by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1993 and in the UK by HarperCollins in 1993 Values: £10-20.
Note: The Canadian edition was essentially a reprint of the US Dodd Mead book but with credit given to Collins as the publisher. There is also an Indian edition of the title, printed by Collins in 1946 in Bombay. It’s jacket is similar to the UK jacket, but with a two-tone design. It is sought after by completists. Lastly, this book was also printed in the US under the title Murder After Hours when published by Dell as a paperback in 1954. For our more detailed article on collecting The Hollow, click here.
The Labours of Hercules (US: The Labors of Hercules):
First Appearance: All of the stories were first published in magazines. Five first appeared The Strand in the UK while seven first appeared in The Week in the US. A complete set of the appearances in The Strand (some true firsts, some seconds) is worth ~£1,000. Collectors of true firsts will want to the collect the following magazines:
The Strand (UK):
The Nemean Lion: November 1939 - Issue 587 The Arcadian Deer: January 1940 - Issue 589
The Erymanthian Boar: February 1940 - Issue 590
The Augean Stables: March 1940 - Issue 591
The Horses of Diomedes: June 1940 - Issue 594
The Week (US):
The Lernaean Hydra: 3 September 1939 under the title Invisible Enemy
The Girdle of Hyppolita: 10 September 1939 titled The Disappearance of Winnie King
The Stymphalean Birds: 17 September 1939 under the title The Vulture Women
The Cretan Bull: 24 September 1939 under the title Midnight Madness
The Apples of the Hesperides: 12 May 1940 under the title The Poison Cup
The Flock of Geryon: 26 May 1940 under the title Weird Monster
The Capture of Cerberus: 16 March 1947 under the title Meet Me in Hell
First Hardback: [summer] 1947, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: Despite the exact publication month being unknown, it is documented that the US edition was published before the UK version. Value: $250.
First UK Hardback: September 1947, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Note: Value: £250.
Note: The book collection include a forward that was not included in any magazine version. In the US, where alternate titles were used for these stories, two were later printed in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine - The Nemean Lion (September 1944) under the title The Case of the Kidnapped Pekinese and The Horses of Diomedes (January 1945) under the title The Case of the Drug Peddler.
Taken at the Flood (US: There is a Tide):
First Appearance: Hardback: March 1948, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: Published under the US title There is a Tide. Value: $250.
First UK Hardback: November 1948, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Note: Priced 8s 6d on the flap. Value: £250.
Note: We are not aware of any serialisation of this novel, either in the US or the UK.
The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories:
The first appearances of the 11 short stories contained in this collection were all in various magazines from 1924-1947. Many were printed in the US in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1947, the year prior to the book publication. Only one story in the collection features Hercule Poirot – The Second Gong. For the title story, collectors should seek out Flynn’s Weekly, published in the US on 31 January 1925 (Vol. IV, No. 2) under the title Traitor Hands.
This is the true first printing of one of Christie’s most famous stories and more information can be found here.
First Hardback Thus: [month unknown], 1948: Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: A near fine copy sold at auction on 5-Sep-2019 at Heritage Auctions for $1,375.
There is no UK Hardback equivalent. All of the stories had previously been available in the UK market so Collins chose not to release the collection. The UK collections that contain the stories are The Hound of Death and Other Stories, The Listerdale Mystery and Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories.
First Playscripts: Two of the short stories in this collection were also adapted to be plays by Agatha Christie: Philomel Cottage and The Witness for the Prosecution. The first was written under the title The Stranger (later Love from a Stranger when adapted by Frank Vosper). For information on collecting this play please click here.
The playscript Witness for the Prosecution was first published in the UK in Famous Plays of 1954 by Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1954 (value: £30).
The first printing in the US was also in 1954 as an Acting Edition by Samuel French Ltd. French also published the play in the UK in 1957 as French's Acting Edition No 648 priced at five shillings. It was reprinted in hardback for the US market in The Mousetrap and Other Plays by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 1978 and in the UK by HarperCollins in 1993.
As we have now moved into the later 1940s these books have become substantially easier to locate than those from the 1920s and 30s. However, patience will still be needed especially if "very good" or better copies are wanted. 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 six books is the US short story collection Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories.
A few other thoughts on pricing: Lesser quality jackets and books sell for significantly less and are much more common. For UK versions, all domestic books below had their price on the front flap. In some cases, identical but unpriced jackets were produced for the export market. These are generally worth 5-10% less. Many of the UK books also had later printing jackets with cheaper prices. Often these prices are clipped off and the jacket is then married to a first printing. As such, price clipped jackets are often worth at least 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 – often cutting the value by more than half. For the magazines discussed, collector quality copies are quite affordable, and most can be found for £20-£30 per issue. As always, the information provided is believed to be accurate. Any corrections, enhancements or additional points of clarity are most welcome. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Collecting is still cheaper than therapy!