COLLECT: True First Editions 1933 - 1935
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. 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 generally had a letter or slip from the publisher that stated the specific publication date which provides tremendously clarity. As 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.
In Part 1 of this series we reviewed books published from 1920 through 1932, sometimes considered to be Christie’s formative years as characters were developed and styles explored. For Part 2, we are reviewing the 8 true first editions for books published between 1932 and 1935, considered by many to be the first part of Christie’s golden years. For insights on values please visit our price guide (click here) that documents recent auction results for many of these books.
The Hound of Death and Other Stories: First edition: UK.
Published in October 1933 by Odhams Press, London, UK. This book was not sold in stores and thus no book review occurred. The dust jacket is unpriced. There is no identical US edition. Many of the stories appeared in magazines prior to 1933, but not all of them. Of the 8 books reviewed in this article, the Odhams first is the most affordable and easiest to find in jacket. The Collins version of this book did not appear until 1936 but is certainly far less common, and scarce in jacket (priced 3/6 on the backstrip). While not a true first, many view it as a 'first thus' - a first Collins printing.
Collins printed the title with both orange and black cloth boards. The orange boards (above), for the domestic market, are rarer than the export copy in black which are more common. None of these stories appeared in book form in the US until 1948.
Lord Edgware Dies: First edition: UK.
Published in September 1933 by Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. The book was first serialised in the U.S. in The American Magazine in six installments from March (Volume CXV, Number 3) to August 1933 (Volume CXVI, Number 2) under the title 13 for Dinner, which was amended to Thirteen at Dinner for the US book form. First reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement (UK) on 21st September 1933 and in the US on 24th September 1933 in The New York Times Book Review. While the publication of the book was near simultaneous between the two countries, the normative assumption is that the UK version is the true first. The first dust jacket was priced 7/6 on the backstrip. Copies are known where the price is printed in red or black (both images above). The red version often considered to be the first state. However, HarperCollins issued their facsimile version in 2007 with both red and black priced copies. No archival history has yet documented the reason for the different colours used, though it is known that Collins ran two print runs in September which may account for the difference.
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? First Edition: UK.
Published in September 1934 by Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. The novel was first published in the US in the Redbook magazine in a condensed version in the issue for November 1933 (Volume 62, Number 1) under the title The Boomerang Clue. The hardback was first reviewed in The Observer (UK) on September 16th, 1934 and published that month in the UK. The jacket was priced 7/6 on the backstrip in black, and the book is known to have been issued with the Crime Club wrap around band. The US version, still under the alternate title, was not published until a year later in September 1935, and was first reviewed there in The New York Times on the 18th September, 1935.
Murder on the Orient Express: First edition: UK.
Published in January 1934 by Collins, The Crime Club, London, UK. The hardback was first reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement (UK) on January 11, 1934. It’s first US review was in The New York Times Book Review on March 4, 1934. The story's first true publication was the US serialization in six installments in The Saturday Evening Post from September 30 to November 4, 1933 (Volume 206, Numbers 14 to 19) under the title Murder in the Calais Coach, which it retained in book form. The original first edition from Collins is of legendary scarcity, even without a jacket. The original jacket is priced 7/6 on the backstrip and the book was known to have been issued with a Crime Club wrap around band. For an expanded article on collecting this title please click here.
The Listerdale Mystery: First edition: UK.
(Dust jacket art at top of article)
Published in June 1934 by Collins, London, UK under their Collins Mystery imprint. The short story collect was first reviewed in The Scotsman (UK) on June 14, 1934. All the stories had previously appeared in UK magazines during the 1920s. None of the stories in the book appeared in any book form in the US until 1948 and later. This title is one of two published under the Collins Mystery imprint – the other being Parker Pyne Investigates. With plum cloth and silver titles on the boards, and priced 7/6 on the jacket backstrip, these Collins Mystery imprints are hard to find in very good condition, and are second only to Murder on the Orient Express in scarcity.
Parker Pyne Investigates: First edition: UK.
Published in November 1934 by Collins, Collins Mystery, London, UK. The collection of short-stories was first reviewed in The Observer (UK) on November 18, 1934. In the US, the book had an alternate title – Mr. Parker Pyne Detective – and was believed to be published in December 1934. It was first reviewed in the US in The New York Times Book Review on January 1, 1935. As with The Listerdale Mystery it was printed under the Collins Mystery imprint and was issued in plum cloth, with a jacket priced 7/6 on the backstrip. It is also extremely scarce.
Murder in Three Acts: First Edition: USA.
Published in October 1934 by Dodd, Mead & Co, New York, USA. The hardback, priced $2.00 on the flap, was first reviewed by The New York Times Book Review on October 7th, 1934. However, the novel's first true publication was the serialisation in The Saturday Evening Post in six instalments from 9 June (Volume 206, Number 50) to 14 July 1934 (Volume 207, Number 2). It is important to note that Dodd Mead (the US publisher) asked Christie to revise the motive in the original manuscript for the U.S. audience. Dodd Mead was concerned that the motive would not be believed by U.S. readers due to different laws between the countries. This variance is preserved in future US paperback versions too. The later UK edition, under the title Three Act Tragedy, which wasn’t printed until January 1935 and was first reviewed by The Observer (UK) on January 6th, 1935. Issued by Collins Crime Club in the usual orange cloth boards, with a jacket priced 7/6 on the backstrip. However, it could be argued the UK printing is a ‘first edition thus’ as the last chapter reflects the original motive for murder which is generally viewed as a more plausible reason for the criminal. Several other books were issued with these ‘national variants’ and our full article on them can be access by clicking here.
Death in the Air: First edition: USA.
Published on March 10th, 1935 by Dodd, Mead & Co, New York, USA. The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in six instalments from 9 February (Volume 207, Number 32) to 16 March 1935 (Volume 207, Number 37) under the title Death in the Air. The same title was used in the UK serialisation in Woman’s Pictorial, with each installment appearing one week later than the US printing. The hardback printing was first reviewed in The New York Times Book Review on March 24th, 1935. The first UK review was in The Observer on June 30th, 1935 and the book was published in July by Collins Crime Club under Christie’s original title of Death in the Clouds, and priced 7/6 on the backstrip.
Summary: These eight books provide many challenges to collectors of true firsts. While The Hound of Death is exceptionally common, the rest are not. With two firsts from the Collins Mystery imprint, one from Odhams, two from Dodd Mead & Co, and three from Collins Crime Club there is a real variety to the printings. While the Collins jackets are all exceptionally scarce, the Dodd Mead jacket for Death in the Air is also incredibly rare. Patience and deep pockets will be needed by any collector trying to find these first printings and exceptionally deep pockets will be needed if you want them all jacketed. Lastly, many collectors seek the Collins Crime Club edition of The Hound of Death as a complete Collins collection is appealing. 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.