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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

INSIGHTS: Collins "White Circle" Paperbacks

Collins ‘Crime Club’ mass market paperbacks first appeared in the UK in April 1936 following a successful partnership on the continent with The Albatross. While Penguin beat Collins to the launch of mass market paperbacks in the UK in 1935, Collins quickly followed suit and launched their issue number 1 in April 1936. This first Collins mass market paperback was Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

This paperback format continued being published by Collins through to September 1959, with the issuance of number 297c, which was Elizabeth Ferrars Always Say Die. Given their visual branding they become broadly known as ‘White Circle’ paperbacks – a label Collins adopted formally by 1937. In addition to the standard ‘Crime Club’ series, a number of Crime Club books were also printed in paperback for members of the armed services. This will be reviewed in a future article.


Finally, before delving into greater detail about these paperbacks, it should be noted that this is an article in need of input from knowledgeable collectors as there are many questions that remain unanswered and gaps in the knowledge. If you have insights, updates or corrections, please let us know at: collectchristie@gmail.com


Pricing of the Collins White Circle Crime Club Books:

The price of a Collins White Circle Crime Club novel changed over the years as follows (all pre-decimal prices):

6d (sixpence): 1936 – 1941.

9d (nine pence): 1942 – 1946.

1/- (one shilling): 1947 – 1949.

1/6 (one shilling and sixpence): 1950 – 1957.

2/- (two shillings): 1958 – 1959.


Note: these date ranges are slightly flexible. It is known that some of the books in later 1949 transitioned to prices of 1/6 (179c & 182c), while later books were seen priced 1/- (186c & 189c). Pricing appears to have transitioned during the publication of 189c as it can be found priced 1/-, or 1/6 (where the /6 is of a different font size), or with a 1/6 sticker overlaid atop the 1/- printed price.


While the jacketed books only had the price on the jacket, many of the later unjacketed books are known to be in both priced and unpriced editions. More knowledgeable collectors of Collins White Circle books can provide light on this subject for us, but it appears many of these titles were published for the export market unpriced – similar to Collins’ business model for hardback jackets. Even the highly respected researcher Richard Williams, whose white paper on these books is highly regarded, lists some books as unpriced when priced copies are known, and vice-versa.


Printing Styles & Dates:

Other items to note for collectors are that book #1 through to book #87 has dust wrappers, which was through October 1939. From January 1954, all the books were issued with a glossy cover. By 1956, the cover design changed from the two figures to a stippled image of Agatha Christie. It should also be noted that many of the early books had an incorrect issuance date listed – likely because Collins released the books in batches. Thus they may have been printed a month or two prior to being released to the public. They solved this in later years by avoiding the inclusion of a date altogether. Another area for further exploration is Collins’ use of overseas printers. We know Collins printed paperbacks around the world. Amsterdam and Bombay are two cities known to have printed White Circle paperbacks.

Printer of 179c: Sad Cypress

Editions & Branding:

A number of the early Crime Club paperbacks state their edition number. This references their printing sequence including earlier Collins hardback printings, but does not appear to include The Albatross printings. Thus, it should be assumed these reference UK printings only - from the hardback first through to the White Circle paperback. Also to further confuse collectors, Collins did reprint some of these White Circle titles without changing the edition number – primarily the earlier issuances. Later titles were often renumbered when reprinted.

Prior to 1937, Collins did not brand these books as ‘White Circle’ but solely ‘Crime Club’. Through #24, they were just Crime Club pocket editions. Then the rear panel started to promote ‘White Circle’ titles across the various genres. By 1947, the branding made it to the front panel of the paperbacks where it stated ‘A White Circle Pocket Novel’. Around 1951 the brand shifted again to state ‘A White Circle Crime Club’ and the dominant colour became light green. Confused yet?!?


First Edition Paperbacks:

Most of the Collins Crime Club White Circle paperbacks were not first paperback editions – but a few are. We have identified them as follows:


Bold and Underlined = First global paperback. There are only three Collins White Circle books that are true first paperbacks.

Bold only = First UK paperback. There are a further twelve Collins White Circle books that were the first UK printings. Thus, when combined with the three first 'global' paperbacks, there are 15 in total that are first UK printings.

Underlined Only = First UK paperbacks for public sale. Collins printed six titles as part of their Services Editions which were not for public sale but were technically the first UK paperback printings. After the war surplus stock was sold by W.H. Smith so they did become available for purchase and many were saved by members of the armed forces.


The Jacketed Books:

All the following books (#1 - 47) were priced 6d on the dust wrapper. The first states generally listed other books in the series on the rear of the book and jacket. The higher the book number the longer the list of titles.

1: Murder on the Orient Express. 8th edition. Dated March 1936, but likely published in April given the other books cited. The correct first state has a price of 6d on the front of the jacket. The rear panel will only list 6 other books. See images at the top of the article. Later editions show longer lists of books, such as 18 titles, though Collins didn't renumber the issuance.

9: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? 4th edition. Dated June 1936. The correct first state is priced 6d on the jacket only and lists 12 books on the rear panel. Later printings show longer lists of books. The images below show how the price was on the jacket front and rear panels, but not on the book.

13: Three Act Tragedy. 4th edition. Dated July 1936, but likely published in October. The correct first state book lists eighteen books on the rear panel.

19: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. 9th edition. Dated March 1937, but likely published in April. The correct first state printing lists twenty-four books on the rear panel and states ‘ninth impression’. Note: the rear panel is now green on the book.

32: Murder at the Vicarage. 8th edition. Dated January 1938. The correct first state promotes ‘White Circle’ books on the rear of the book with a list of Crime Club titles 1-34 on the rear jacket panel.

Clearly a top-seller as it was reissued four more times.

41: Lord Edgware Dies. 9th edition. Dated April 1938, but likely published in May. The correct first state references the White Circle on the rear of the book, and the rear of the jacket lists Crime Club titles 1-42.

47: Seven Dials Mystery. 12th edition. Dated August 1938, but likely published in September. The rear of the jacket references Crime Club titles 1-49.


The following books (#51-87) were still priced 6d on the dust wrapper. However, now the first state generally has an advertisement on the rear panel – either from OXO, H. Samuel or Bravingtons. If there is no advertisement, then the book promotes other White Circle titles.


51: Death in the Clouds. 5th edition. Dated January 1939. The rear jacket panel has an advertisement from OXO.

63: The ABC Murders. 6th edition. Dated April 1939. The correct first state lists other Crime Club titles alphabetically on the flaps, up to this title #63. The cover states “A Crime Club Sixpenny” in the gunman’s arm. The rear panel now has an advertisement for Bravingtons watches, which becomes quite common.

75: The Sittaford Mystery. 10th edition. Dated June 1939, but published in August.

87: (1st reissue) Murder at the Vicarage. 11th edition. Dated October 1939, but printed in December. The rear panel advertises H. Samuel watches.


Unjacketed Books:

The following titles no longer had dust wrappers. While they were sold for 6d they are unpriced:

88: (1st reissue) Lord Edgware Dies. 11th edition. Dated January 1940.

94: Murder in Mesopotamia. 7th edition. Dated May 1940.

119c: Appointment with Death. 4th edition. Dated January 1941.

129c: (2nd reissue) Murder at the Vicarage. 12th edition. Dated March 1941, but likely printed in April.


The following titles were sold for 9d, but remained unpriced. Most books now do not have a date of publicated:


145c: Murder is Easy. Not dated. Printed circa January 1944. Dark cover known unpriced.

147c: Sad Cypress. Not dated. Printed circa April 1944.

149c: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Not dated. Printed circa January 1945.


The following titles are known to be priced 1/- or unpriced on the front cover. Books are generally not dated:


160c: Towards Zero. Not dated. Printed circa February 1947. Unpriced.

162c: N or M?. Not dated. Printed circa March 1947.

163c: The Body in the Library. Not dated. Printed circa April 1947. Note: an earlier version of this book was printed in Bombay, India circa 1943, in lieu of a hardback book. It was unnumbered, but had the same graphic design.

164c: The Moving Finger. Not dated. Printed circa April 1947.

168c: Five Little Pigs. Not dated. Printed circa June 1947. Dark cover, known upriced.

179c: Sparkling Cyanide. Not dated. Printed circa August 1949. Unpriced and 1/6 priced copies known. Of note, an unpriced edition was printed in the Netherlands by Drukkerij Holland N.V., Amsterdam. Images below show the priced and unpriced covers though the rear advertisement was the same.

182c: Death Comes as the End. Not dated. Printed circa January 1950. Unpriced and 1/6 priced copies known.

186c: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. Not dated. Printed circa May 1950. Unpriced and 1/- priced copies known.

189c: Evil Under the Sun. Not dated. Printed circa May 1950. Transitional pricing known on dark cover, where it was printed as 1/- but a 6 was stamped above the /- mark (lowe left image). Copies are also known to have a 1/6 sticker affixed.

197c: (1st reissue): Five Little Pigs. Not dated. Printed circa January 1951.

198c: (1st reissue): The Body in the Library. Not dated. Printed circa February 1951. Priced 1/6 copy known.


The following books were sold for 1/6. Unless noted the price was cited on the front cover. Books remain undated. The backgrounds on the cover now start changing. There is a potential that the dark covers with the green spines that overlap onto the front and rear panels were printed overseas.


200c: (1st reissue): Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Not dated. Printed circa December 1951. Green spine version is unpriced on the cover.

201c: (1st reissue): Three Act Tragedy. Not Dated. Printed circa December 1951. Dark cover is known priced 1/6. Dark cover with lighter green spine is known unpriced on the cover. Light green cover is priced 1/6.

206c: Taken at the Flood. Not dated. Printed circa May 1952. Black cover is known both unpriced and priced 1/6.

209c: (1st reissue): Appointment with Death. Not dated. Printed circa June 1953. Black cover. Known unpriced copy.

212c: (3rd reissue): Murder at the Vicarage. Not dated. Printed February 1953. Note: references #129c (the 2nd reissue) on the front end paper. Light green cover is priced 1/6.

213c: (1st reissue): N or M? Not dated. Printed April 1953. Dark cover known unpriced and priced 1/6.

216c: (1st reissue): Evil Under the Sun. Not dated. Printed April 1953. This title is also known to exist in a glossy light-green cover (below right). Potentially a test for the design used on 220c and onwards. Known priced at 1/6.

All subsequent books now have a green background.

217c: (1st reissue): The ABC Murders. Not dated. Printed May 1953. Dark cover. Known priced 1/6.

219c: (1st reissue): Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Not dated. Printed January 1953. Green cover is known priced 1/6.

The following books were all printed with a glossy cover. They were still priced 1/6 unless noted.

220c: Peril at End House. Not dated. Printed January 1954. Light green cover is known priced 1/6.

226c: (1st reissue): Murder on the Orient Express. Not dated. Printed February 1954. Light green cover is known priced 1/6.

231c: Partners in Crime. Not dated. Printed March 1954. Light green cover is known priced 1/6.

232c: (1st reissue): Death in the Clouds. Not dated. Printed May 1954.

233c: (1st reissue): Towards Zero. Not dated. Printed January 1955.

237c: Ten Little Niggers. Not dated. Printed February 1955.

A few of the following books now have pricing of 2/- appearing. The cover design has now changed to a stippled image of Agatha Christie on a light green background:

248c: (1st reissue): The Sittaford Mystery. Not dated. Printed February 1956. Known priced at 2/-.

254c: (1st reissue): Taken at the Flood. Not dated. Printed January 1957. Known priced at 1/6.

257c: (4th reissue): Murder at the Vicarage. Not dated. Printed June 1957. Known priced 2/-.

258c: (2nd reissue): Five Little Pigs. Not dated. Printed February 1957.

263c: (2nd reissue): Towards Zero. Not dated. Printed March 1957.

267c: Crooked House. Not dated. Printed May 1957. Cover reverted to the Crime Club gunmen on a light green background. Known priced at 1/6.

All the following books were now priced 2/- or unpriced. The price was on the front cover unless noted. Books remain undated. All have a stippled image of Agatha Christie on a light green background.


271c: The Listerdale Mystery. Not dated. Printed April 1958. Known with a price of 2/-.

274c: (1st reissue): The Moving Finger. Not dated. Printed February 1958. Known with price of 2/- or unpriced white circle.

276c: Murder in the Mews. Not dated. Printed May 1958. Known with price of 2/-.

284c: (2nd reissue): Taken at the Flood. Not dated. Printed January 1959.

286c: The Mysterious Mr. Quin. Not dated. Printed March 1959. Known with price of 2/-.

288c: The Labours of Hercules. Not dated. Printed February 1959.

292c: Parker Pyne Investigates. Not dated. Printed May 1959.


Values:

The early jacketed books are the most valuable, especially when the correct first printing which generally is noted by ensuring the number of books on the rear panel on the book or jacket is correct. These will sell for £20 without a jacket, but up to £150 with a complete ‘very good’ jacket present. Later edition jackets, with longer lists of books on the rear are worth ~50% of a correct first state jacket. These jacketed books do show up with some regularity for sale, so collectors can be patient when seeking a particular edition or condition. From #88 onwards (unjacketed books), prices are generally very affordable. Some of the earlier titles (especially those issued during the war which are scarcer) or those representing true first paperbacks may command slightly higher prices. But expect books to generally be in the £5 - £15 range depending on condition, age and title.


Collins’ Numbering and Genres:

Other items of note for collectors of White Circle Crime Club books published in Great Britain is that from number 100 onwards, Collins added a ‘c’ after the number when the book to make it clear it was a ‘Crime Club’ title. Collins also used the numbers 101-191 for their ‘Wild West Club’, which from 192 onwards had a ‘w’ after the number. The Collins ‘Mystery’ books started with number 201, and then with 308 onwards (except 309) the added an ‘m’ after the number. Their ‘Romance’ series began with number 301 and at 360 until 371 they added an ‘r’ after the number. Collins also had a series of novels that was a catch all for titles that really didn’t fit into a sub-genre that were numbered 500 – 522. Their non-fiction titles (all three of them) were numbered 600-602.


The ‘Services Editions’ were numbered c201 – c364 and contained a variety of genres. The numbers for the Services Editions should not be confused with the regular UK editions and are unique in that the ‘c’ precedes the number.


It is interesting to note that Collins assigned novels by authors such as Dorothy Sayers and Peter Cheyney to their ‘mystery’ series, while Ngaio Marsh and Nicholas Blake were assigned to the ‘crime’ series along with Christie. How this differentiation was determined is unclear.


Happy Hunting!

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