• David Morris

COLLECT: Agatha Christie "True Firsts" 1948-1951

This is the seventh 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: 1940 to 1944 (link)

Part 6: 1944 to 1948 (link)


Part 7: 1948 to 1951: Here we will focus on five books published during these years, two of which were short story compilations only published in the US. While first edition hardback books are the pinnacle of many Christie collections, for others, the less travelled world of magazine collecting is appealing. All of these novels, or the stories collected, first appeared in magazines or newspapers. While magazines are still generally easy to locate, original newspaper printings will be almost impossible to obtain.


For the hardbacks, three books were first published in the USA (two of which have no UK printing), one was first printed in the UK, and one was published almost simultaneously in the UK and USA.


Crooked House:

First Appearance: October 1948, Cosmopolitan magazine, USA (Vol. 125, No. 4). Note: the story was substantially abridged. For collectors, you will compete with Raymond Chandler collectors for this issue which can drive up the cost. Value: $100.

In the UK the story first appeared from 23 April – 4 June, 1949 serialised in John Bull magazine, also abridged, across seven instalments (Vol. 85, No. 2234 to Vol. 85, No. 2240). Value £50 for the set.


First Hardback: March 1949, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: Value for a near fine copy: $300.

First UK Hardback: 23 May 1949, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Value for a near fine copy: £300.

Of note, the Canadian Collins Pocketbook White Circle edition, #478, published in 1950 is the first paperback printing of this title. For expanded details on collecting this novel, including numerous images, please go to our expanded article by clicking here.


A Murder is Announced:

First Appearance: 28 February – 11 March, 1950. The Daily Express newspaper, London, UK. The novel was serialised in eleven parts. It did not contain any chapter divisions and contained only about half of the text that appeared in the book publication, totally omitting chapters five, six, seven, fourteen and the epilogue. It had been planned for this serialisation to take place closer to the eventual book publication in June. Christie’s literary agent Edmund Cork advanced the publication to support interest in the West End play Murder at the Vicarage which was struggling for attendance.


In the US, the first publication was from 17 April – 12 June, 1950 in the Chicago Tribune. It was serialised across forty-nine issues.


Hardbacks: Both the UK and US books were published in June 1950. It is unclear which was published first. The general deference is to assume Collins published first given that the Tribune didn’t finish their serialisation until mid-June.


First Hardback: June, 1950, Collins, The Crime Club, London UK. This book celebrated this being her 50th novel (though that is debatable depending on how one measures such things). This book is becoming increasing hard to find, especially in very good or better condition with a complete jacket. Value: £500.

First US Hardback: June 1950, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. This has become a surprisingly rare book to locate in very good or better condition. Value: $600.


First Playscript: 1978, Samuel French Limited, London, UK. Adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon. Copyright by Peter Saunders. The first printing has white with blue covers, a photo of the set on the rear, and is not priced. Value in near fine condition: £20.

Other Related Collectibles of Note: When published, a promotional pamphlet accompanied this book in many UK booksellers. It is only one of two books that came with such an insert – Curtain being the other. These pamphlets have become hard to find and certainly add a further £100 to the value. This novel is also one of only three Christie titles published by the “Thriller Book Club” that used the original printing sheets from Collins but had its own unique cover art. Published in 1951, it is fairly difficult to find with a complete jacket.

The first paperback printing is believed to be the Canadian Collins White Circle #523 (1951) -below left.

The first paperback Tom Adams designed for Fontana was for A Murder is Announced - above right. While Tom painted the image in 1962, Fontana original first printing with this cover is the fourth impression, dated August 1963. It is one of those books that every Adams collector should strive to find. In very good or better condition it is fairly valued at £30.


Three Blind Mice and Other Stories:

First Hardback: 1950, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. This book contains nine short stories all of which are printed here for the first time in book form. It is an interesting collection in that three of the stories feature Poirot, four feature Miss Marple and one features Harley Quin. But perhaps of greatest significance is that one of them still hasn’t been published in the U.K. and likely will not be for many years to come. Agatha Christie stipulated that her short story “Three Blind Mice”, from which the play “The Mousetrap” is derived, shall never be published in the U.K. as long as the play is still in production.

All the short stories did appear in magazines previously as detailed below:


The Adventure of Johnny Waverly: October 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1602).

The Love Detectives, under the alternate title At the Crossroads: 30 October 1926, Flynn’s Weekly, USA (Vol. XIX, No. 3).

The Third Floor Flat under the alternate title In the Third Floor Flat: 5 January 1929, Detective Story magazine, USA (Vol. CVI, No. 6).

Four and Twenty Blackbirds: 9 November 1940, Collier’s magazine, USA (Vol. 106, No. 19).

Strange Jest under the alternate title A Case of Buried Treasure: 2 November 1941, The Week magazine, USA.

The Tape-Measure Murder: 16 November 1941, The Week magazine, USA.

The Case of the Caretaker: January 1942, The Strand Magazine, London, UK (No. 613).

The Case of the Perfect Maid: April 1942, The Strand Magazine, London, UK (No. 616).

Three Blind Mice: May 1948, Cosmopolitan magazine, USA (Vol. 124, No. 5).


This book is exceptionally difficult to obtain in very good or better condition with a complete jacket. It is an essential volume for any collector of true firsts. Value: $800.


Related Playscript: The Mousetrap, adapted from Three Blind Mice, 1954, Samuel French, London, UK. Value: for a near fine copy £70.


They Came to Baghdad:

First Appearance: 13 January – 3 March 1951, John Bull magazine, London, UK. Serialised across 8 issues (Vol. 89, No. 2324-2331). In North America, an abridged version of the novel was published in the 1 September 1951 Star Weekly newspaper supplement, Toronto, Canada.

First Hardback: March 1951, Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. Value for a near fine copy: £300

First US Hardback: [September] 1951, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Value for a near fine copy: $300.

This book also was printed by The Thriller Book Club in the UK – one of three titles including A Murder is Announced and A Pocket Full of Rye. For this title it was published in the same year as Collins’ first edition. For details on these 'book club' printings see the referral link at the bottom of the page.


The Under Dog and Other Stories:

First Hardback: September 1951, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, USA. Note: Contains nine short stories, all of which are printed here in book form for the first time and all feature Hercule Poirot. This was the first time The Under Dog appeared in a collection of Christie-only stories. The correct first Dodd, Mead & Co book is now very difficult to obtain. Most editions from this period are the reprinted book club edition that used the same cover art as the first. The correct first edition jacket references other Red Badge Detective Mysteries on the rear panel. We’ve recently increased our value estimate for this book given its scarcity. Value for a near fine copy: $600.

All of the stories contained in this collection were previously first published in the USA as detailed below:

The Under Dog: 1 April 1926, Mystery Magazine, USA (Vol. 8, No. 6).

The Affair at the Victory Ball: March 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1571).

The King of Clubs: March 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1573).

The Plymouth Express: April 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1575).

The Market Basing Mystery: October 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1603).

The Submarine Plans: November 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1606).

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook: November 1923, The Sketch magazine, UK (No. 1607).

The Cornish Mystery: October 1925, the Blue Book magazine, USA (Vol. 41, No. 6).

The Lemesurier Inheritance: November 1925, the Blue Book magazine, USA Vol. 42, No. 1) or potentially The Magpies Christmas Issue, 1923. Further insights sought.


Of note: The Plymouth Express was later refashioned and extended to become the full length novel The Mystery of the Blue Train, published in 1928.


Summary:

It used to be that Christie’s books from the late 1940s and early 1950s were fairly ubiquitous. This has changed in the last few years and collector quality copies of all these titles with complete jackets will require patience. In particular, the two short story collections will really challenge investors to find in very good or better condition. Be particularly cautious of reprints in the US. Ensure the copy you are buying is the correct first (Dodd, Mead & Co as publisher) and that the jacket is not a book club jacket. There are online sites that sell facsimile jackets and these can be used as reference. 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 affordable prices.

The information provided is believed to be accurate. Any corrections, enhancements or additional points are clarity are most welcome. Please email them to collectchristie@gmail.com


Collecting is still cheaper than therapy!


Thank you to Jimmy Karlsson for providing some updates to this article.

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