One of the fun aspects of collecting Agatha Christie related items is that there are so many little gems to pursue. For her published stories, one can collect newspaper printings, magazines, paperbacks & hardbacks. For most collectors the first printed book form is the most valuable and appealing. For short stories, you can seek the single printings (which are uncommon), anthologies or collections. One of the uniquely rare Christie imprints is that of Vallancey Press from the 1940s which printed several short stories individually. These are the focus of this article.
The Vallancey Press History:
F. Hugh Vallancey (1879-1950) was an avid philatelist, philatelic author and editor - that is to say - he was really into stamps. He invested tremendous amounts of money into the acquisition of famous stamp collections - all sadly stored in his so called "Philately House" on St. Bride Street in London. Sad because in 1941 during the blitz, a German bomb destroyed the house and most of his collection. In 1942 Vallancey gave up on the stamp business and sold what was left of his collection. He retained his publishing business, printing short stories - mostly crime fiction - and small books on stamps. But poor health caused to him to cease all work by 1948, and he sold off all his remaining business ventures. The publishing company, Vallancey Press, was sold to Tom Todd. Vallancey died in 1950. It was during his publishing years that Vallancey Press printed three Agatha Christie short stories.
Crime in Cabin 66:
The first - Crime in Cabin 66 - is believed to have been published in 1944, priced 'Fourpence'. This Vallancey Press printing is a small, delicate paperback with covers made from very thin paperstock. There is a line drawing on the inside front cover. Todd-Bantam, London, first published this story as a single book in 1943, and this Vallancey Press edition was likely printed the following year. The story was also included in the small paperback Poirot on Holiday published by Todd in November 1943 that contained this story, along with "The Regatta Mystery" (Pyne version).
This story was originally published under the title "Poirot and the Crime in Cabin 66" in The Strand Magazine (UK) in December 1935, and a month later under the title "Problem At Sea" in This Week (US) in January 1936. In 1939, the story was first published in book form by Dodd, Mead & Co (US) in the short story collection The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories - as "Problem at Sea". Another highly collectible appearance is in Poirot Knows the Murderer (Polybooks, UK - March 1946) along with two other stories. It was included in a traditional UK short story collection until Collins Crime Club published the hardback Poirot's Early Cases (1974) - but now under the alternate title "Problem at Sea".
The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest:
The second Vallancey Press publication was The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest and is believed to have been published in May 1945. As with the first title, it is a very thin paperback with equally thin covers. Also priced 'fourpence' and with a line drawing on the inside of the front cover. While Christie later rewrote the story, this is the original version of the story featuring Captain Hastings.
This story was first published in January 1932 both in The Strand Magazine (UK) and in Ladies' Home Journal (US). It was also included in the US book The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories (1939). It was first published in the UK in book form by Todd-Bantam, London, in 1943 as a single and then in 1944 paired with "The Veiled Lady." It was not until 1997 that this story was included in a UK short story collection - While the Light Lasts and Other Stories - by HarperCollins.
Poirot and the Regatta Mystery:
The third and final Vallancey Press Agatha Christie story is Poirot and the Regatta Mystery. Though undated, it is believed to be published in 1944, it was priced 'sixpence' and came with stiffer boards. Sadly, this printing lacked any line art. Given its lack of art and stiffer boards, it may have preceded Crime in Cabin 66.
This short story was first published in The Chicago Tribune (US) on 3 May 1936, and in The Strand Magazine (UK) in June 1936. While The Regatta Mystery short story was published many times over the years, Christie had rewritten the story to replace Poirot with Parker Pyne as the detective. It is this rewritten version that appears in the US collection The Regatta Mystery & Other Stories (1939) as well as the Todd published version included in Poirot on Holiday (November 1943) and Poirot Lends a Hand (1946). Todd-Bantam, London, did publish this book as a single in 1943, though I have yet to see it to know whether it is the Pyne or Poirot version. Until known, this Vallancey Press printing could be the only published book version of this story (featuring Poirot) worldwide until it was included in Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories published by HarperCollins (UK) in 2008.
These small, ultra-thin paperbacks are fragile and delicate. Condition is often worn, creased and damaged. That said, they are very hard to find, especially in very good or better condition. The best place to find them is typical online book resellers as well as mainstream auction sites. Prices have escalated significantly over the past few years as scarcity has become apparent. Currently, collectors should expect to pay £300 - £400 ($370 - $500) for a 'very good' copy. That said, I've seen prices all over the map for these, partly because of scarcity, but patience may pay off. Anything at these prices or below is a fair deal.
As noted earlier Vallancey sold his business to Tom Todd in the later 1940s. Todd was also publishing many of the same stories though typically in small 'Polybooks' - three singles (same as Vallancey above) and collections of 2-3 stories. These are all very scarce. For more details on these books, please refer to our article on them (link).
As always, insights from readers that allow us to update the article - whether corrections or fresh information - are always welcome. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .