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  • David Morris

COLLECTING: The Vallancey Press Christie duo

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) or collections.

Agatha Christie's "Crime in Cabin 66" - first book version.

But first a little background on Vallancey Press... 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.

During his publishing years, Vallancey Press printed two Agatha Christie short stories. The first - Crime in Cabin 66 - is believed to have been published in 1943, priced 4d. It is highly desirable for collectors because it was the first book format printing (though a very thin paperback) of this story to be published in England. While it was published under the title "Poirot and the Crime in Cabin 66" in the Strand magazine in December 1935, and a month later under the title "Problem At Sea" in This Week in January 1936, the Vallancey Press book was the only book version of this story in the UK until it was included in the Collins Crime Club 1974 hardback Poirot's Early Cases - but under the title "Problem at Sea". In the USA, the short story was included in the Dodd Mead 1939 book The Regatta Mystery - a collection of short stories - also under the title "Problem at Sea".

Poirot (not Parker Pyne!) and the Regatta Mystery

Three years later (assumed 1946), Vallancey Press published Poirot and the Regatta Mystery at the slightly higher price of 6d. This is also highly collectible because it features Poirot as the detective and remained the only published book form of this story until HarperCollins included it as a bonus in the 2008 complete collection of Agatha Christie short stories where it is found at the end of the Poirot volume. 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. Why she felt this change was needed is unclear. However, it is this rewritten version that appears in the US collection The Regatta Mystery and all paperbacks other than the Vallancey Press edition. The only other printing of the story with Poirot as the detective was, oddly, in a US newspaper The Hartford Courant (Connecticut, USA) in May 1936.

Value: These small, ultra-thin paperbacks are fragile and delicate. Condition is often worn, creased and damaged. That said, they are 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 will vary based on condition but a 'very good' copy of each is commonly worth £100 - £150 ($130 - $200). I've seen prices all over the map for these, partly because of scarcity, but patience will pay off. Anything at these prices or below is a fair deal.

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