A group of related bloggers who work in the general area of Golden Age Mysteries has decided to collaborate and publish a blog post every Tuesday as the Tuesday Night Bloggers. We began in the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary. We’ve now going to continue with a different Golden Age mystery writer every month; Tuesdays in November will be devoted to Ellery Queen.
A note: henceforth when I refer to “Ellery Queen” I mean the literary character. Any reference to “EQ” will refer to the two real-life cousins who wrote together and signed their work as Ellery Queen.
Some interesting Ellery Queen editions
As I noted in my last Ellery Queen post, the EQ cousins did a wonderful job of extending the reach of the Ellery Queen brand into all kinds of different media channels, including the early days of paperbacks.
This leads to my first interesting piece, Dell mapback #4, The American Gun Mystery. (I will note here that I am indebted, as I frequently am, to bookscans.com, who have a complete front-and-back record of every Dell mapback on their site.) TAGM is the 4th paperback ever published by Dell, and it was published at the precise moment when Dell made the decision to put maps of the action of the story on the back of their paperbacks. This particular volume is unique; the first edition had an advertisement for the Dell line, and the second contained the very first map by Chicago artist Ruth Belew to grace the back of a paperback. Edition #5 and most thereafter until well past #550 had a map. Although it may not seem ground-breaking to modern tastes, this volume is also somewhat unusual typographically. It wasn’t common in book design at this time to mix Romans and italic type in the same word, as is done here in the words “Mystery” and “Ellery Queen”; this is not like either pulp magazine conventions or hardcover dust jacket conventions at the time. Graphic, isn’t it? A near-fine copy will today cost you US$35.
Dell’s association with Ellery Queen continued with an entry in another unusual Dell series, Dell Ten-Cent Editions. This was a short-lived line of 64-page “booklets” that were the size of current paperbacks but sold for a dime, where other paperbacks were a quarter. The design carried the keyhole theme to link them to Dell’s existing paperbacks. They were always a hard sell to retailers, it seems, and the series was short-lived. Before its demise at #36, though, it printed The Lamp of God as its #23 — and thereby created an asterisk in the large and complex document that is the Ellery Queen bibliography. The Lamp of God here is presented for the first time as an independent “book”; it’s really more like a novella and not an especially long one that that. Its first edition was in another volume of collected Ellery Queen stories, so this is a first edition “as such”; today available from an antiquarian on-line for US$45 in near-fine condition. It’s not by any means the most expensive volume in this remarkable series, either. There are two books in this line that command a hefty price among booksellers, William Irish’s Marihuana (today, US$300 in fine condition) and Fredric Brown’s The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches (today, US$450 in fine condition). Quite an increase in value if you spent a few dimes back then!
EQ were pioneers in the nascent field of brand diversification and so their participation in unusual publishing formats was wider than most of their competitors. My next offering is the Better Little Book called Adventure of the Murdered Millionaire — most people would know this as a “Big Little Book”. It’s Whitman #1472 from 1942
and the nicest copy I can find today will set you back US$250. The Big Little format has text on the left and an amateurish line drawing on the right with an appropriate caption; the type was large and the text was simple. Apparently designed for children. This one also has the flip-book format where, if you riffle the pages correctly, a little piece of stop-motion animation will execute in a corner of each page. Another interesting thing about this volume is that it’s a novelization of a radio script from The Adventures of Ellery Queen. This doesn’t seem unusual except that, as a Big Little Book, it put Ellery Queen in the category of other radio characters like The Shadow or cartoon characters like Dick Tracy. Ellery Queen was similar to Philo Vance at the beginning of his literary career, and at this point EQ were leading the way in diversification when S.S. Van Dine was falling behind.
Next is an interesting item from the early years of Pocket Books. Pocket did most of the early Ellery Queen titles and also the Barnaby Ross titles; many of the lower-numbered volumes were during a period of Pocket’s cover designs that I think of as “moody dark surrealism”. Pocket #259, from 1944, is quite a good example — this is Halfway House, the subject of my blog post from two weeks ago. The one you see here will set you back perhaps US$20 in very good to fine condition.
But its companion volume, #259-V (V for variant) will set you back 172 Euros today (roughly US$185), although I’m not sure I would rely on the bookseller. Why so expensive? Well, Pocket was experimenting with a different format and wanted the assistance of the public. This particular edition was bound at the top — the spine of the book is just beyond the words “Complete and Unabridged” on the cover — and the text was in two columns in what we would think of as landscape format today. Hard to explain, unless you’ve ever seen and held an Armed Services Edition paperback. Soldiers in Europe were finding the two-column format to be easy to read and Pocket wanted to know if the American public at large would be interested. So they bound in a reply card asking for opinions — and never repeated the experiment, so I guess we know how it came out.
Finally, my friend and fellow mystery blogger Bev Hankins provided the image that links the Tuesday Night Bloggers’ efforts, for which thanks again, Bev! I immediately remembered the original, a charming later printing of Pocket #27, The Chinese Orange Mystery.