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 December will be devoted to Ngaio Marsh.
Book scouting Ngaio Marsh (Part 1 of 3)
I was going to do a post about my favourite paperback editions of Ngaio Marsh, until I started pulling together cover photos and found I actually had quite a few more than would easily fit into a single post. So I’ve divided them in three, simply for your convenience.
Book scouting is the process of finding books that a bookseller wants and selling them to her so that she can supply her customers. My experience is that all booksellers will have a “want list” generated when customers say, “Hey, if you ever get in a copy of THAT, give me a call.” Some people want reading copies, but collectors frequently want a specific edition of a specific book. You won’t have a very enjoyable hobby if you try to scout first editions with jackets — you might find one book in five years that you can afford to buy at a price that a bookseller can afford to buy and then resell. But you can have a lot of fun trying to find specific paperback editions to suit particular collectors.
So these three posts comprise three editions of Ngaio Marsh that I know are collectible — and actually collected. This is post #1 — posts #2 and #3 I’ll link to here when they’re published in the next two weeks, but they’ll be on Berkley Medallion and what I call the Fontana “corpsebacks”.
Collins White Circle Canada (1940s)
Yes, I have to admit, this publishing company is certainly my current favourite as far as vintage paperbacks goes. They’re from Canada, I’m from Canada, and not many people outside Canada know about them; I’m now a champion for them. The company published between 1942 and 1952; the editions were poorly-made and quite fragile — in the case of the earliest numbers so few survived that there may actually be fewer than five copies left in existence of some titles. But the thing that attracts me is just how cheerfully and unashamedly lurid some of them are. The earliest books seem determined to hold all that design nonsense down to a bare minimum, thanks — “We’ll sell them like Penguins” seem to have been the motto. But a few years into it, they abandoned all that staid reserve and just went absolutely crazy with terrible artwork and loud, gaudy designs, including some cheerful photographic Good Girl Art when no one else was putting photographs on paperback covers. As a result your reaction will range from “Isn’t that charming!” to “What were they thinking!” (For instance, check out the cross-eyed ingenue with the wacky hairdo on A Wreath for Rivera below, who appears to be trying to read the mind of someone across the room.) All Collins White Circle Canada editions are collectible and the prices at knowledgeable secondhand stores will equal or exceed the price of a current paperback of the same book (right now, about $10 Canadian for any Very Good edition and double or triple that for Near Fine and above). Here are some Ngaio Marsh titles that will let you know what I mean about being lurid and gaudy, though.
Oh, and just because it makes it more interesting for collectors 😉 — some of the paperbacks have more than one printing with different covers (some plain, some gaudy). Some of the covers were re-used for different editions, but with slightly different colours. At least one title has four different cover states and “at least sixty-three of the books come in two or more variants”, according to an expert. So you can go crazy trying to figure out what you have, but if you amass a large number of these books and can compare, say, the red background of one to the pink background of another, you’ll have valuable information that you can use to sell your books to collectors.