In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,my friend and fellow GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans, whose highly recommended blog, The Passing Tramp, is found here, proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”. Simply put, we’re going to do a Christie piece every week on Tuesday, “for a while anyway”. I believe you’ll find a list of participants on Curtis’s blog.
Here’s my third contribution; last time it was the most valuable paperback editions of Christie and now on to some early American printings. Agatha Christie was remarkably widespread in that a number of different publishers did a couple of titles each, in the earliest days of US paperbacks … by looking at her editions you can get a good cross-section of what different companies thought was good marketing for a mystery. And since I’ve been using The Tuesday Club Murders (Dell #8, above) as the symbol of this Tuesday Club blogging effort — let’s start with Dell. As I mentioned previously, Dell mapbacks are sought after by collectors because of the linking motif of the map on the back cover which depicts a scene from the novel; sometimes useful, sometimes not, but always funky and strange.
Dell experimented with a number of different styles of cover art but settled with a stable of reliable artists, principally including Gerald Gregg. A Chicago artist named Ruth Belew proved best at creating the maps for the back covers and produced almost all of them.
Mapbacks are also known for their innovative marketing gimmicks inside the books themselves. The opening pages were devoted to a series of fairly standard features such as “Wouldn’t you like to know …” (What happens when a dinner party made up of four suspected murderers and four detectives winds up with a victim?) and “What this Mystery is about …” (Nineteen pair of extremely expensive HOSE which help to solve some puzzles). And of course the “List of Exciting Chapters” and “Persons this Mystery is about …” “Hercule Poirot, that good-natured little Belgian with the remarkable gray cells which haven’t come up with a miss in years, admires the perfect murderer as he does a splendid tiger, but he will not voluntarily step into his cage — unless it is his duty to do so.” (Examples taken from #293, Cards on the Table.)
Prices vary: Christie is always very collectible, and condition is crucial to value. You’ll be able to find most or all of these titles on ABEBooks or even eBay if you’re interested in one of the most collectible Agatha Christie paperbacks you’ll ever see. As Dell progresses through time, the prices decrease and the cover styles change. This is all the Christie titles with numbers lower than #200 — there are more to come in a future post.
I do love those Dell Mapbacks, Noah! Glad you’ve featured them for our little Tuesday get-together. (And I have N or M–but not the others, unfortunately. Yet.)
I’m very fond of them also, Bev. I think I have copies of all these … I’ve had most of the mapbacks go through my hands at one time or another except the extremely rare #205, Dell Book of Crossword Puzzles. Finding a pristine crisp copy without any of the crosswords done .. wow, I don’t know, maybe as much as $500. For the rest, as is usual, the earliest numbers and books in perfect condition generally command the highest prices.
To me, mapbacks represent a gentler, simpler time in book publishing. In the early 1940s, paperbacks were a brand-new idea and nobody knew where they fit or how they “felt” … nobody had a good idea of how to market them and so there was a wonderfully creative period where people experimented with styles and designs and attempted to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Meanwhile Dell, in an attempt to make themselves stand out from the market, pioneered the use of airbrush commercially for their covers and threw in everything but the kitchen sink to try to tantalize the prospective purchaser. I love the spirit of these efforts, where they didn’t have any idea what would work and so just .. tried stuff out. So fresh and untainted by “marketing” and “branding” and surveys about where people like to see the author’s name on the cover.
Noah, How could you? I love the Dell mapbacks and I don’t have a one of these. I will have to go looking for them.
As Mike Hammer once remarked, “It was easy.” 😉 And I suspect you will enjoy the process of finding them. If all else fails they’re usually available on eBay or via ABEBooks.
Wonderful Noah, thank you. I do have a few of the Dell mapbook editions and prize them all. Such fun.
I love the mapbacks, have always envied you North Americans – we rarely see them over here in the UK, I think I have one or two. But perhaps it is just as well, I bet I’d have ended up trying to collect them. Thanks for a really educational post…
I really think that almost all the North American mystery fans who end up as paperback collectors begin with an interest in mapbacks. They’re so lurid and seductive and … different. And 20 or 30 years ago, they were frequently the only affordable OP edition of authors like Clayton Rawson and Hake Talbot … they have the advantage of often being great mysteries.
I want to live in Chimneys!
[…] of my favourites include, of course, early Dell mapback editions (I’ve talked about those separately); they will always be dear to my heart. But other houses had interesting approaches as well. […]