Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient ExpressDuring the golden age of detective fiction, when classic murder mystery novels were at the peak of popularity, Sir Godfrey Collins, started the Collins Crime Club (1930–94), as an imprint of British book publishers William Collins & Sons.  Until then, the Scottish printing and publishing company found success as a printer of Bibles and other religious and educational books. Collins also published all but the first six of Agatha Christie’s novels; the British editions of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe; Ngaio Marsh’s books starting with Overture to Death; John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts, and, Hulbert Footner, among others. When the Club was brought to an end in April of 1994, it had issued a total of 2,025 first editions of crime novels with the highest standard of quality.

Three new crime books were published, by the publisher, on the first Monday of every month, with the exception of the years after World War II, at which time the number of new books being issued dropped dramatically to an all-time low. In 1946, Collins released a mere 16 new books. Orders came through the subscriber newsletter that was sent out every three months, listing the latest books which had been or were in the process of being issued.  After the first few years, the subscriber count reached 20,000 according to Collins, enabling the publication count to remain close to 5,000 per title on average.

Collins early first editions from the 1930’s and 1940’s are quite scarce. Despite the large production volumes and large demand for high quality crime novels during the golden age of detective fiction (predominately the 1920’s and 1930’s), collectors picked up most of what survived in good condition. As a result, the market availability of the Collins Crime Club pre-war first editions in dust-wrappers is now extremely limited. A number of dealers are also eagerly seeking first state copies with the following characteristics:

  • Red/orange cloth boards with black lettering
  • Always dated, with the exception of “A Policeman at the Door” by Carol Carnac which is not dated.
  • Dust-wrappers carry a price of 7/6 or more (second state published with 3/6)
  • Exception are the dust-wrappers without a price which are “Colonial First Editions” made available for sale to a number of British colonies during that time.


The following list broken up by author includes the majority of the titles issued prior to 1940 that are in hot pursuit:

Miles Burton : The Hardway Diamonds Mystery (1930), The Secret of High Eldersham (1930), The Three Crimes (1931), The Menace on the Downs (1931), Death of Mr. Gantley (1932), Murder at the Moorings (1932), Fate at the Fair (1933), Tragedy at the Thirteenth Hole (1933), Death at the Crossroads (1933), The Charabanc Mystery (1934), To Catch a Thief (1934), The Devereux Court Mystery (1935), The Milk Churn Murder (1935), Death in the Tunnel (1936), Murder of a Chemist (1936), Where is Barbara Prentice? (1936), Death at the Club (1937),  Murder in Crown Passage (1937),  Death at Low Tide (1938), The Platinum Cat (1938), Death Leaves no Card (1939), Mr. Babbacombe Dies (1939).

Alice Campbell : The Click of the Gate (1932), The Murder of Caroline Bundy (1933), Desire to Kill (1934), Keep Away from the Water! (1935), Death Framed in Silver (1937), Flying Blind (1938), A Door Closed Softly (1939).

Agatha Christie : Murder at the Vicarage (1930), The Sittaford Mystery (1931), Peril at End House (1932), The Thirteen Problems (1932), Lord Edgeware Dies (1933),  Murder on the Orient Express (1934), The Listerdale Mystery (1934), Why didn’t they Ask Evans? (1934), Parker Pyne Investigates (1934), Three Act Tragedy (1935), Death in the Clouds (1935), The ABC Murders (1936), The Hound of Death (1936),  Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), Cards on the Table (1937), Murder in the Mews (1937), Dumb Witness (1937), Death on the Nile (1937), Appointment with Death (1938), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1939), Murder is Easy (1939), Then Little Niggers (1939).

Roger East : Murder Rehersal (1933), Candidate for Lillies (1934), The Bell is Answered (1934), Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935), Detectives in Gum Boots (1936).

Jefferson Farjeon : The Mystery on the Moor (1930), The House Opposite (1931), Murderer’sTrail (1931), The “Z” Murders (1932), Trunk Call (1932), Ben Sees it Through (1932), The Mystery of the Creek (1933), Dead Man’s Heath (1933), Old Man Mystery (1933), The Windmill Mystery (1934), Sinister Inn (1934), Detective Ben (1936), Holiday at Half Mast (1937), Mystery in White (1937), Darl Lady (1938), End of an Author (1938), Seven Dead (1939), Exit John Horton (1939).

John Ferguson :  Death Comes to Perigord (1931), Night in Glengyle (1933),  The Grouse Moor Mystery (1934), Death of Mr. Dodsley (1937).

Fielding : The Craig Poisoning Mystery (1930), The Wedding Chest Mystery (1930), The Unfold Farm Mystery (1931), Death of John Tate (1932), The Westwood Mystery (1932), The Tall House Mystery (1933), The Cautley Conundrum (1934), The Paper-Chase (1934), Tragedy at Beechcroft (1935), The Case of the Missing Diary (1935), The Case of the Two Pearl Necklaces (1936), Mystery at the Rectory (1936), Scarecrow (1937), BlackCats are Lucky (1937), Murder in Suffolk (1938).

Hulbert Footner : The Viper (1930), The Folded Paper Mystery (1930), Easy to Kill (1931), The Casual Murderer (1932), Dead Man’s Hat (1933), The Ring of Eyes (1933), The Almost Perfect Murder (1933), Murder Runs in the Family (1934), Dangerous Cargo (1934), The New Made Grave (1935), Murder of a Bad Man (1935), The Kidnapping of Madame Storey (1936), The Dark Ships (1937), Tortuous Trails (1937), Murder in the Sun (1938), Death of a Celebrity (1938), The Nation’s Missing Guest (1939), The Murder that had Everything (1939)

Anthony Gilbert : The Case Against Andrew Fane (1931), The Body on the Beam (1932), The Long Shadow (1932), Death in Fancy Dress (1933), The Musical Comedy Crime (1933), An Old Lady Dies (1934), The Man in Button Boots (1934), The Man who was too Clever (1935), Courtier to Death (1936), Murder by Experts (1936), The Man who wasn’t There (1937), Murder has no Tongue (1937), Treason in my Breast (1938), The Clock in the Hatbox (1939), The Bell of Death (1939).

Henry Holt : The Scarlet Messenger (1933), Calling All Cars (1934), Murder at the Bookstall (1934), Tiger of Mayfair (1935), Unknown Terror (1935), There has been Murder (1936), Wanted for Murder (1938), The Whispering Man (1938), The Mystery of the Smiling Doll (1939).

Dale King : Obelists En Route (1934), The Curious Mr. Tarrant (1935), Obelists Fly High (1935), Careless Corpse (1937), Arrogant Alibi (1938).

Vernon Loder : The Essex Murders (1930), Death of an Editor (1931), Red Stain (1931), Death in the Thicket (1932), Death at the Wheel (1933), Suspicion (1933), Murder from Three Angles (1934), Two Dead (1934), Death at the Horse Show (1935), The Case of the Dead Doctor (1935), Ship of Secrets (1936), The Deaf-Mute Murders (1936), The Little Man Murders (1936), Chose your Weapon (1937), The Men with the Double Faces (1937), The Button in the Plate (1938), A Wolf in the Fold (1938), Kill in the Ring (1938).

Philip Macdonald :  The Link (1930), The Noose (1930),  Murder Gone Mad (1931), The Choice (1931),  Mystery at Friar’s Pardon (1931), The Maze an Exercise in Detection (1932).

Virgil Markham : Shock! (1930), The Devil Drives Us (1932), Song of Doom (1932), Inspector Rusby’s Finale (1933), The Dead are Prowling (1934), The Deadly Jest (1935),  Snatch (1936).

John Rhode :  Tragedy on the Line (1931), The Hanging Woman (1931), Mystery at Greycombe Farm (1932), Dead Men at the Folly (1932), The Motor Rally Mystery (1933), The Claverton Mystery (1933), The Venner Crime (1933), The Robthorne Mystery (1934), Poison for One (1934),  Shot at Dawn (1934), The Corpse in the Car (1935), Hendon’s First Case (1935), Mystery at Olympia (1935), Death at Breakfast (1936), In the Face of the Verdict (1936), Death in the Hopfields (1937), Death on the Board (1937), Proceed with Caution (1937), Invisible Weapons (1938), The Bloody Tower (1938), Drop to his Death (1939), Death Pays a Dividend (1939), Death on Sunday (1939).

John Stephen : The Strange Fig (1931), Murder Game (1931), The Chinese Jar Mystery (1934), For the Hangman (1935), The Bell in the Fog (1937), The Corpse and the Lady (1938), Rope Enough (1939).


Einstein bookplate

Bookplates or Book Labels1 are nearly as old as printed books themselves. Going as far back as 500 years ago, bookplates, tell us interesting stories that provenance marks in historical books about books and their owners.  The earliest known examples of printed bookplates are German, and date from the 15th century.  Hand-colored woodcuts, pasted into books presented to the Carthusian monastery of Buxheim, by Brother Hildebrand Brandenburg of Biberach, give us examples of the earliest known bookplates. One such specimen can be found in the Farber Archives of Brandeis University.2

The term “Ex Libris” (Exlibris, in German), often found on bookplates, translates as “From the library of”, originated in France. The most ancient French ex-libris known presently is the Jean Bertaud de la Tour-Blanche, dated 1529. Even though from the middle of the century, the ex-libris proper became quite popular, the earliest known American example of a bookplate, is the plain printed label of Stephen Daye, the Massachusetts printer of the Bay Psalm Book, 1642.3

Bookplates often record the name, coat-of-arms, heraldic symbolism, family mottos or other emblematic devices of the owner. Although the majority of the older plates were armorial, sometimes pictorial images, without actual text, were used to signify particular ownership.  Some of these bookplates present enigmas to curators and bibliographers who are pursuing to document a book’s provenance. The Provenance Online Project, (POP), from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania, owns an interesting bookplate.

The mystery squirrel and bodybuilder bookplate

This mysterious, squirrel and bodybuilder bookplate, affixed to an 1802 German book, Torquato Tasso’s “Nächtliche Klagen der Liebe : Ein neu entdecktes nachgelassenes Werk / aus dem Italienischen übersetzt mit einigen nöthigen erläuternden Anmerkungen und dem Leben des Verfassers,” remains puzzling.  The organization is asking for your help: “Do you have any ideas about who the mystery squirrel and bodybuilder bookplate belonged to?”

In general, collectors will prefer a un-bookplated book, rather than one with a bookplate affixed to its pastedown. However, if the bookplate belonged to someone of importance, it is possible that the value of the book may be raised significantly. An example is a copy of the third edition of Isaac Newton’s, “PHILOSOPHIÆ NATURALIS PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA.”  LONDON: APUD GUIL. & JOH. INNYS, REGIÆ SOCIETATIS TYPOGRAPHOS, 1726. Despite being a third edition, the book is of course one of the greatest works in the history of science; a cornerstone on dynamics and gravitation, which in good condition can be traded for around $10,000. This particular copy, offered for sale at the Sotheby’s event – History of Science and Technology, held on December 12, 2017 in New York, had affixed to its pages, the bookplates of Albert Einstein & Roman Vishniac. The book, including the buyer’s premium, sold for $87,500. A very valuable set of labels indeed!

Unfortunately, similar to all tangible things with lucrative valuations, bookplates attract forgers. Buyers without the knowledge or the use of professional help are vulnerable to tricks of forgery. Similar to signatures, bookplates found in a valuable book may have been forged.  Even if the bookplate is real, it does not reveal when the bookplate was affixed to the book under consideration. For instance, a bookplate of Charles Dickens,in a copy of Wilkie Collins’The Queen of  Hearts,(1859), would be a splendid association copy.  But, though the bookplate might be genuine and the book itself a first edition, the bookplate could have come from another source and been added to the book years after Dicken’s death.4

Not every collectible book will have such conspicuous associations as the example cited above. In fact, high spots with recognizable bookplates are more likely to make their way to research libraries where electronic cataloging methods are used to effectively trace provenance. The existence of such curatorial files facilitates bibliographic comparison that may offer a historic linkage. Even if no match is made, the comparison may lead to the conclusion that the two copies are not identical, and begin a new, copy-specific curatorial file and possibly the beginning point to startling revelations. Such thorough provenance research should not be limited to merely the world’s most famous books. After all, a presumption that a book with some bookplate in a contemporary library will have no significant cultural importance at some point in the future is quite speculative.



1 Bookplates are usually larger or more ornate than book labels, which tend to have just the owner’s name.



4 Rare Book Librarianship: An Introduction and Guide  Steven K. Galbraith, ‎Geoffrey D. Smith, ‎Joel B. Silver



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