INSIGHTS: Agatha Christie’s The Under Dog.
Updated: Feb 8
Most collectors of Christie’s first edition books generally seek out those by The Bodley Head, Collins or Dodd, Mead & Co. However, a number of Christie’s works were originally published in hardback by publishers less familiar to the average collector. One of these is the ‘novelette’ The Under Dog, that was first published in book form in 1929 for the Readers Library Publishing Company Ltd by The Greycaine Book Manufacturing Company Limited, Watford, England.
The Under Dog was one of two stories contained in the Readers Library volume 287. The other story included in the volume was E. Phillips Oppenheim’s Blackman’s Wood.
A Brief History of the Publisher.
The Readers Library started in 1924 and sold books primarily in the UK, but also some in the US. The UK published books were known for wrap around art design that covered the full dust wrapper; however, the books published were often poor and many of the titles published are long gone from anyone’s reading list. They were sold at Woolworths and newsagent stands for 6d and the most successful titles sold approximately 300,000 copies. The size of some of the print runs are known as the printer, Greycaine, periodically published their data. Of note, Greycaine also printed books for Odhams up until 1936 so they may have handled the printing of Christie's The Hound of Death in 1933.
In the US, the publisher J.H. Sears Co was used and the books had plain text-driven wrappers. In 1930, the publisher became the Sears Publishing Company. In 1929 the Readers Library sold its US rights to Dodd, Mead & Company.
In the UK in 1935, better quality lower cost books were now being published by Penguin, which began the rapid decline of the Readers Library. By 1937 the company failed and sold the rights to its books to various other publishers including The Daily Express Fiction Library who continued printing many of the titles. In 1936, they reprinted Christie’s The Under Dog, also with Oppenheim’s story, under the title “Two Thrillers: The Under Dog; Blackman’s Wood”.
The First Printings: A chronology.
The Under Dog was first published in a magazine, as were most of Christie’s works. It first appeared on April 1st, 1926 in Mystery Magazine (New York, USA), Vol. 8. No. 6.
The first hardback printing (images below) is the 1929 Readers Library edition volume 287.
Other editions of note include the September 1951 edition by Dodd, Mead & Co. (New York, USA) as this was the first time The Under Dog appeared in a collection of Christie-only stories. Of note, the correct first Dodd, Mead & Co book is fairly uncommon as 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.
The first paperback containing The Under Dog is the October 1955 Pocket Book (USA) volume #1085.
Lastly, the first Collins Crime Club (UK) printing of The Under Dog appeared in the 1960 book "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées."
Values and Collectability.
The first magazine printing is surprisingly difficult to find and is fairly valued at $150 US for a very good condition copy, if you can find one.
The first edition book (1929), in jacket, in very good condition is fair value at £250 ($350 US). Compared to other 1929 first editions by Christie it is very affordable in relative terms primarily because of the larger print run and thus more commonly appears for sale in jacket than other titles from the late 1920s. The book lacking the jacket is quite common and worth at most 1/10th of the value. In almost all cases the paper will be browning. The Daily Express reprint book appears for sale often, but we have yet to see one with a jacket so it is unknown if the cover art was retained. If any of our readers have a jacketed copy please share an image.
The 1955 Dodd, Mead & Company edition in very good condition is fairly valued at $600 US, but may require some patience to find correctly priced.
The 1955 Pocket Book is very affordable and worth $10 US in very good condition.
The 1960 Collins printing is quite common, so be selective and only buy a very good or better copy with a complete jacket. Fair value is £50.