Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle – 3

Part three of the reading marathon of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in an edition published by The Folio Society. The set consists of five volumes of short stories issued in 1993 and four volumes of novels which came out the following year. The series has a very attractive binding of an offset wrap around design on each book which makes the spines also display the image and appropriately the books are printed using the Baskerville font.

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So far I have read the first two novels and the first two sets of short stories, this takes us up to the disappearance of Holmes in “The Final Problem” where Sherlock apparently fell to his death from the Reichenbach Falls whilst combating Professor Moriarty.  This had been printed in December 1893 and there the stories appeared to end. In August 1901 however a new Sherlock Holmes story appeared, although set before the events in “The Final Problem”; “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was serialised over the following eight months in the Strand magazine and by the end the clamour for more Holmes stories was irresistible regardless of how much Doyle claimed he didn’t want to write any more he had opened the floodgates and was swept along. Again there are minor spoilers below as it is difficult to review the stories without having them but no plot resolutions are included.

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The Return of Sherlock Holmes

This consists of thirteen short stories originally printed in The Strand magazine between 1903 and 1904, the collection was first published in book form 1905 and the stories are as follows:

  • The Adventure of the Empty House
  • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
  • The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  • The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
  • The Adventure of the Priory School
  • The Adventure of Black Peter
  • The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
  • The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
  • The Adventure of the Three Students
  • The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
  • The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
  • The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
  • The Adventure of the Second Stain

Although Holmes had been away from print for eight years Dr. Watson makes it quite clear in “The Adventure of the Empty House” that he had actually vanished for just three years as this story is set in 1894. In this tale he explains his absence as he needed to be in hiding from members of Moriarty’s gang who wanted to avenge their leaders death, for indeed he had died in the incident at the falls at the end of the last book. To this end Holmes had been travelling the world, including a significant amount of time in Tibet in the guise of a Norwegian called Sigurdson. By the time he introduces himself to Watson again only one danger remains at large and he seeks assistance in dealing Colonel Moran who will probably try to assassinate him that very evening. The capture of Moran, in a more dramatic manner than Holmes intended, does indeed occur that night and the two men return to Baker Street to renew their friendship.

Also in the first tale we learn that Mary has died and Watson is again alone. At the start of “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” Watson has been persuaded by Holmes to sell his medical practice and move back in to 221b Baker Street. So Doyle has got rid of the awkward plot narratives of the second set of short stories where one of them needed to go to fetch, or visit, the other before things could happen. All the stories where a date is identifiable are set after Holmes return and Watson comments that they represent a tiny fraction of the cases handled in the ten years since 1894. But again Doyle is clearly planning to stop writing about our favourite detectives as he has Watson explain at the start of “The Adventure of the Second Stain”.

I had intended “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” to be the last of those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which I should ever communicate to the public. This resolution of mine was not due to any lack of material, since I have notes of many hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded, nor was it caused by any waning interest on the part of my readers in the singular personality and unique methods of this remarkable man. The real reason lay in the reluctance which Mr. Holmes has shown to the continued publication of his experiences. So long as he was in actual professional practice the records of his successes were of some practical value to him; but since he has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful to him, and he has peremptorily requested that his wishes in this matter should be strictly observed.

It was only because the last tale had apparently been promised earlier that Holmes allows it to be told. The stories in this collection are nearly all good reads, only one as far as I am concerned, “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter”, fails in this regard and as it is one of the shortest examples it doesn’t really let down the book as a whole. Speaking of length I should really have checked how many pages I have to read this week to maintain the schedule, this book is 311 pages, next comes 195 pages and then 241 making a total of 747 and I also have to write around 3000 words, this is tight.

Two of the stories, “The Norwood Builder” and “The Golden Pince-Nez” rely on very similar solutions to the big reveal although they are handled differently and both are excellent tales.  “The Norwood Builder” also has a reference to the uniqueness of fingerprints which Holmes states that he has heard of. This story is set in 1894 so this was very new at the time as it was only in 1892 that the first book on the possible use of fingerprints for criminal detection was published. “The Dancing Men” is another example of Holmes defeating an American gangland member in this case by breaking what is actually quite a simple cypher. We also have several tales that revolve around the English nobility, two of which “Charles Augustus Milverton” and “The Second Stain” are blackmail cases where a lady’s indiscreet letters from before her marriage are to be sent to her husband or else. These very much rely on the strict Victorian morals to make much sense nowadays as a basis for murder. “Black Peter” has an interesting misdirection in the clues presented to us whilst “The Three Students” has, as the title suggests, just three possible malefactors, in this case which of the three students took an opportunity to cheat by copying the paper for an exam they were about to sit.

All in all this was an excellent collection of stories but there will now be another, although shorter, break in Doyle writing any more Holmes and Watson tales as yet again he tries to bring the series to an end.

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His Last Bow

Six of the stories included in this volume were originally printed in The Strand magazine between 1908 and 1913, one other from 1892 (the Cardboard Box) had appeared in the first edition of “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes” but was dropped from some further editions and the title story was first published by Collier’s in 1917; the complete collection was published in 1917 and with just eight tales it is the shortest of the anthologies:

  • The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
  • The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
  • The Adventure of the Red Circle
  • The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
  • The Adventure of the Dying Detective
  • The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
  • The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
  • His Last Bow: The War Service of Sherlock Holmes

The book starts with a preface by Dr. Watson which reinforces his comments at the start of the previous volume.

The friends of Mr. Sherlock Holmes will be glad to learn that he is still alive and well, though somewhat crippled by occasional attacks of rheumatism. He has, for many years, lived in a small farm upon the Downs five miles from Eastbourne, where his time is divided between philosophy and agriculture. During this period of rest he has refused the most princely offers to take up various cases, having determined that his retirement was a permanent one. The approach of the German war caused him, however, to lay his remarkable combination of intellectual and practical activity at the disposal of the Government, with historical results which are recounted in His Last Bow. Several previous experiences which have lain long in my portfolio have been added to His Last Bow so as to complete the volume.

John H. Watson, M.D

These asides to the reader are great fun and add to the realism of the two characters. The self awareness of the two men, with Holmes regularly complaining in the stories about the ‘sensationalism’ in Watson’s writing up of his cases, is one of the things that make the Sherlock Holmes stories so different from anything else and make them far more engaging personalities. I’ve been looking forward to getting to this collection as ‘the Bruce-Partington Plans’ is one of my favourites of the tales.

The oddest part of this sequential reading is something I hadn’t noticed before and that is just how much the first few pages of ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box’ are almost identical to that of ‘The Resident Patient’ in the edition that I have. It appears that Doyle was rather fond of ‘the mind reading experiment’ that Holmes performs on Watson in that section and when the Cardboard Box was not included in subsequent editions of ‘The Memoirs’ collection he simply rewrote the start and tacked it onto the other story.  Whilst reading this volume just a few days later however it was immediately clear that I had read those four pages before, if with slight changes. Editions exist with both stories in the same book and when that is the case ‘the mind reading’ only happens in The Cardboard Box, this was confirmed by my Catalan friend Mixa as her copy does indeed have both tales. However on with the review of the stories as told in this volume.

The first story along with ‘The Red Circle’ feature Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard whom we have only previously heard of at that rank in ‘The Greek Interpreter’ from ‘The Memoirs’, although he also is a main character in the first Holmes novel ‘A Study in Scarlet’. In that work he was really just a foil to Holmes’ brilliance as he is regularly being shown to be wrong in his deductions. In ‘The Greek Interpreter’ he was very much a bit part but now he has come on in leaps and bounds. In ‘Wisteria Lodge’ he follows his own enquiries, which in previous Holmes novels would result in whichever official detective is involved being shown the error of their ways before long, but in this case he works out the solution just as Holmes does. In ‘The Red Circle’ he is actually working on the same case but from a completely different angle and the two men only become aware of the others involvement at the denouement. Having a Scotland Yard detective proving to be just as good as Holmes at following the clues is a pleasant change so both stories have a lot to recommend them even before they prove to be excellent mysteries. The Cardboard Box is the weakest story in the collection which is probably why Doyle felt safe in extracting its start as he probably assumed it wouldn’t end up being reprinted. he had no expectation of writing more stories about Holmes when the book was published and it would be a shame to waste the best bit of the tale.

Next comes ‘the Bruce-Partington Plans’, I like this because there are two mysteries in one which have to be solved, who stole the plans and what did they do with them? along with how did the body of the main suspect, Arthur Cadogan West, come to be where it was found? The answer to the first proves to be rather simpler than the second but is also the last to be revealed. The structure of the short story draws the reader along in a very satisfying way. In ‘the Dying Detective’ Holmes already knows the solution to the case from the start and we instead follow his trap for the murderer and his explanation at the end is the first we get to know about what he has been working on. A very nice twist to the narrative structure which shows Doyle’s mastery of his craft at this stage of his career.

Another variant is seen in ‘The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax’ this time instead of Holmes being the detective he sends Watson off on a chase around Europe looking for the missing lady only to eventually become exasperated by his failure to catch up with her and have to get involved after all. They jointly rescue her, but with only minutes to go. ‘The Devil’s Foot’ is one of those tales which I thought we had seen the last of as it is based around a narcotic with unusual properties that Doyle has invented. This means that the reader can have no real feel for the story as the solution is hidden in a fantasy product.

Finally we come to the title story, written much later than the other works, it has Holmes pulled out of retirement a couple of years before the First World War by the urging of the Prime Minister to crack a German spy network before they can obtain military secrets which would assist them greatly in the expected conflict. This he duly does although only just in time as it takes him a lot of that time to infiltrate the organisation. It has a very different feel to any previous Holmes and Watson story and definitely gave the impression that Holmes will at last be allowed to disappear into retirement this time for good, although of course the existence of another volume on my shelf means that this wasn’t to happen.

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The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

This consists of twelve short stories originally printed in various magazines between 1921 and 1927, the collection was first published in book form 1927 and the stories are as follows:

  • The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
  • The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
  • The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone
  • The Adventure of the Three Gables
  • The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
  • The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
  • The Problem of Thor Bridge
  • The Adventure of the Creeping Man
  • The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane
  • The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
  • The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
  • The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

Doyle by this time has stopped having Watson saying this will be the last collection and instead wrote an introduction under his own name where he acknowledges the significance of the story arc and finally recognises that it hasn’t really detracted from what he sees as his more ‘serious’ work but there will be no more and this time he means it. Let us however start with what must be the worst of the Holmes stories in any collection ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’ just to get it out of the way. I have no compunction in revealing that this case is based on the nonsensical concept that the taking of extracts of monkey glands to ‘enhance an older man’s prowess with a much younger lady’ would either work or even more ridiculously lead to him acting like an ape and able to scale sheer walls with the aid of guttering and window ledges just like one and then running round on all fours dragging his knuckles on the ground. Doyle was clearly following one of his madder moments when he wrote this, much like his belief in spiritualism or fairies at the bottom of the garden.

That said the remaining eleven tales are very good. ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs’ takes back to familiar territory first trodden with the ‘Red Headed League’ where it is necessary to lure somebody out of their home in order to achieve a nefarious act but with again a twist to make the story interesting although as 33 years separate the writing of the stories it is only when reading them one after another that this becomes so obvious. Two of the tales are written by Holmes rather than Watson, the first ‘The Blanched Soldier’ is apparently because after criticising the good doctor’s style for many years and being told to “Try it yourself, Holmes!” he feels he really ought to have a go. The second, ‘The Lion’s Mane’ is because it occurs well after Holmes’ retirement to the South Coast and Watson is simply not around. Both cases are interesting, although ‘The Lion’s Mane’ has quite an obvious solution right at the beginning and the switching of the narrative style works surprisingly well although Holmes does complain that it makes the writing more difficult.

And here it is that I miss my Watson. By cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder he would elevate my simple art, which is but systematised common sense, into a prodigy. When I tell my own story I have no such aid.

The other eight cases presented in this final volume are all equally strong and mark a fitting end to the Holmes saga. I particularly enjoyed ‘Thor’s Bridge’ for its ingenious solution and ‘The Sussex Vampire’ also has much to recommend it. The final story was actually ‘Shoscombe Old Place’, printed in April 1927, forty years after the publication of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and three years before the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He would write another novel and several stories and articles for The Strand magazine in the intervening years including an obituary of the cricketer W.G. Grace, but nothing more about his great detective.

Next week I will read the final two novels written well before this final set of stories but it seemed logical that once I had started on the short stories I would carry through to the end and Holmes is nothing but logical.

 

Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle – 2

Continuing reading the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in an edition published by The Folio Society. The set consists of five volumes of short stories issued in 1993 and four volumes of novels which came out the following year. The series has a very attractive binding of an offset wrap around design on each book which makes the spines also display the image and appropriately the books are printed using the Baskerville font.

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Last week I read the first two novels as these preceded the appearance of Holmes in short story format however it is now time to tackle the first twenty three short stories in volumes one and two of the set I have.  The first group of short stories is collectively titled…

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

This consists of twelve short stories and in this edition it also has a short introduction by Peter Cushing who played the part of Holmes many times both in film and on television. Originally printed in The Strand magazine between 1891 and 1892, the collection was first published in book form in 1892 and the twelve stories are as follows:

  • The Adventure of a Scandal in Bohemia
  • The Adventure of the Red Headed League
  • The Adventure of a Case of Identity
  • The Adventure of the Boscombe Valley Mystery
  • The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips
  • The Adventure of the Man with the Twisted Lip
  • The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
  • The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  • The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
  • The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
  • The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
  • The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

I do not propose to review each story as that would make this blog excessively long and I am also concerned about revealing too much about the plots, but let’s look briefly at each, there may be small spoilers ahead but nothing that gives away solutions. However I do need to answer a question posed at the end of last weeks review, where is Watson? Straight away on the first page of Scandal in Bohemia we find

I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other.

Watson had indeed moved out and Holmes was now living alone in Baker Street and for the most part the stories in this volume deal with cases after that separation. But the Speckled Band specifically mentions that it occurred before Watson’s marriage to Mary, but only now can Watson reveal it to the world as the lady concerned in the case had passed away. This story also includes the information that some seventy cases had been documented by Watson over the first eight years of his friendship with Holmes so Doyle was clearly already allowing for a significant number of stories to be eventually written even if he didn’t increase the time line any further. The last three tales also relate to the time before Watson’s marriage, The Noble Bachelor specifically states that it occurs a few weeks before he moves out whilst the other two are clearly set whilst the two men are sharing the apartment.

Going back to Scandal in Bohemia, this is the only time that Holmes would be defeated by a woman,  although later on in this book he also admits to three failures against male opponents.  Irene Adler not only bamboozles Holmes but has the nerve to speak to him whilst in disguise outside his own home. so he greatly admires her, keeping a picture of her in 221b Baker Street. The next three tales are a bit of a let down as it is obvious what is going on and who the respective culprits are well before the end however the Five Orange Pips, which is the first ‘old’ tale i.e. before Watson’s marriage and has interest as it is effectively Holmes versus The Ku Klux Klan or at least the remnants of its first incarnation. When Doyle wrote this story the KKK was a thing of the past having effectively died out in the mid 1870’s and it wouldn’t be revived until 1915.

The next three stories, along with the Copper Beeches are my favourites from this set with enough detail given to make it possible to reason along with Holmes as he solves the cases but with enough of a twist to make them interesting. The Engineers Thumb is another where Holmes fails to capture the perpetrators but you do still get a satisfactory resolution to the case however the solution to The Noble Bachelor revolves around the price of a hotel room being high, but it is just given as eight shillings, which a reader from over a century later simply has no idea if that is high, low or a median for London prices at the time. This leaves The Beryl Coronet which frankly has a ridiculous plot device that a banker is worried about a famous treasure being stolen from the safe in his bank so takes it home and locks it in a bureau which has such a poor lock that pretty well any key will spring the drawer, and having first shown it to everyone in the house.

On to the second volume of short stories.

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The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Again all the stories were originally printed in The Strand magazine, this time between 1892 and 1893; the collection was first published as a book in 1894 and there are eleven stories included as follows:

  • Silver Blaze
  • The Yellow Face
  • The Stockbroker’s Clerk
  • The Gloria Scott
  • The Musgrave Ritual
  • The Reigate Squires
  • The Crooked Man
  • The Resident Patient
  • The Greek Interpreter
  • The Naval Treaty
  • The Final Problem

I enjoyed this selection rather more than the first, it gets off to a great start with Silver Blaze which is a really good story about a murder and a missing racehorse although the denouement would certainly not be allowed in modern times and I doubt it would have been possible back in the 1890’s either. One of the joys of this collection is that unlike the first there is no obviously weak story, Doyle appears to have gained mastery of the difficult genre of mystery short stories. Considering that the entire tale from setting out the original position, through investigation and then to the conclusion has to be done in such a condensed manner, the eleven cases here average just over 8,100 words each, this is quite a challenge and that all of them work well says a lot about his improved abilities as a writer in this style over the first collection.

There are really just ten cases in this collection as The Final Problem is supposedly written by way of an obituary and description of how Holmes met his death at the Reichenbach Falls whilst fighting Professor Moriarty, but published two years after it happened.  Doyle must have realised that separating his two compatriots was not really a good idea so only three stories are set after Watson married Mary, these are The Stockbrokers Clerk, The Crooked Man and The Naval Treaty. There are also a couple of tales set before Holmes and Watson met (The Gloria Scott and The Musgrave Ritual) where Holmes is telling Watson about the cases which alters the narrative structure. The Gloria Scott is apparently the first ever case that Holmes was consulted on and he clearly enjoys telling the tale. The Musgrave Ritual is his third and is more of a treasure hunt rather than one of his more usual endeavours. I like this structure of the two men just discussing a case in their apartment and I hope there will be more like this in the further books. The other five tales are set during the time whilst the two men are sharing 221b Baker Street.

The Greek Interpreter marks the first appearance of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older and even more astute brother, and is technically another of his few failures as although he saves his client the protagonists get away. The Resident Patient also has the wanted men escape but at least we get to understand what and why they do what they do. Probably the weakest story included is The Stockbrokers Clerk and that would have been fine apart from the fact that the plot is quite similar to The Red Headed League, although the ultimate reason is different.

It is difficult to pick out a favourite, The Yellow Face has an interesting twist at the end and for a change Holmes is not dealing with a crime, just a mysterious circumstance. I also liked the Naval Treaty particularly as it is one of the few examples of Holmes showing a sense of humour along with an urge to be dramatic in his final reveal. I think these have to be joint favourites and as I said at the start of the review of The Memoirs the writing is definitely better than the first collection.

And there this reading marathon of the tales of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson should have ended. Doyle made it quite clear in 1893 that he had no intention of writing any further stories about the duo which is why he killed off his hero in his Final Problem as he wanted his other works to be appreciated more.

However after a break of eight years Holmes would be back…

It remains for me to provide a link to my Catalan friend Mixa’s, reviews of my second weeks books which we read simultaneously. The Google created English translations are readable if not very good English but at least you get the feel for what she wrote.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Original Catalan

Translation to English via Google

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Original Catalan

Translation to English via Google

 

Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle – 1

Last August I completed a reading challenge of all ten books in the first Penguin Books crime set from 1938. So this month I have decided to also attempt more than the expected four books by tackling the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as published by The Folio Society. The set consists of five volumes of short stories issued in 1993 and four volumes of novels which came out the following year. The series has a very attractive binding of an offset wrap around design on each book which makes the spines also display the image and appropriately the books are printed using the Baskerville font. My copies are well read and the titles on the short stories are badly worn, although looking at other examples in various bookshops this does seem to be a common feature of this particular edition.

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Now although this looks like a logical reading order in fact Doyle wrote the first two novels “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four” before he produced any short stories so in fact a better reading sequence is those books this week, followed by the short stories then finally the last two novels. Although novel number three “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is set during the time of the first two collections of short stories it didn’t actually come out until much later and it doesn’t affect time lines too much to leave the last two novels until the end as they both are looking back on past cases.

As last year I will be writing about each volume as I go along rather than waiting for completion so without further ado lets jump in with the first two novels

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A Study in Scarlet

This is the first appearance of Holmes and Watson and originally appeared in print in the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual before being published in book form in July 1888.

“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford, introducing us.

“How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

“How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment.

“Never mind,” said he, chuckling to himself.

and so a partnership was born…

The book fairly rattles along, just ten pages in Holmes and Watson are ensconced in 221b Baker Street and Holmes has started his work much to the puzzlement of Watson. The two men are after all just sharing the property there is no indication that Watson would get involved in anything in fact he is specifically looking for a quiet life whilst recovering from his injuries from the war in Afghanistan. Watson however is intrigued as to what Holmes is up to and creates a list of attributes to try to work it out, these include him knowing nothing of literature, astronomy or philosophy, whilst other things such as botany (natural poisons anyway) or geology (soils and clays) were specialised in the extreme. Chemistry and sensational literature however he was a complete master of; none of these items seem to make any sense though.

Another few pages and Holmes again demonstrates his deductive reasoning and explains he is a consulting detective just as he gets a message from Sergeant Gregson of Scotland Yard asking him to come to Lauriston Gardens; Watson joins him and so starts his journals that the Holmes stories are supposedly taken from. The case, to Holmes anyway, is absurdly simple. In fact so simple that by the eightieth page he has apprehended the murderer with the help of his street urchin employees also known as The Baker Street Irregulars, and there is where the book starts to fall apart. For the next fifty two pages are back story. Doyle writes well with the dynamic of Holmes and Watson along with the bungling Gregson and Lestrade from Scotland Yard but over fifty pages without any of these characters whilst he ranges over the settlement of the Mormons in Salt Lake City and the inter-family rivalries just plods along especially after the pace of the first half of the book. It is not even written as though being told to our protagonists it is just an over long history.

We finally get back to Holmes, Watson, Gregson, Lestrade and their prisoner in 221b with just 22 pages left for Watson’s journal to wrap up and the murderer to explain how and why he did it. Very much a book of two halves but with enough promising material regarding the great detective to make a sequel inevitable.

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The Sign of Four

The second time out for Holmes was in the February 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine issued jointly in the UK and US, and by October of that year it had been published as a standalone book.

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

The opening paragraph of The Sign of Four shows Holmes the drug addict, in this case injecting a seven percent solution of cocaine much to the disgust of Dr. Watson. This was turned into a particularly powerful scene in “The Secret of Sherlock Holmes”, a play starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke that I saw in 1988 at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. These two actors, for me at least, are the definitive Holmes and Watson and to see Brett as Holmes in silhouette at the back of the stage injecting into his arm before the lights were cut at the end of the scene is a dramatic act that has stayed with me for over 30 years.

As for the book itself it is much better written than the first although there is again a large section of back story at the end. This time it is much shorter than in “A Study in Scarlet” and rather than being a standalone tale it is given as Jonathan Small telling his involvement in the crimes at 221b Baker Street with Holmes, Watson and in this case Athelney Jones of the Yard. This is a considerable improvement as the three can react to Jonathan Small’s story and there is no massive disjointed section. This is also the first appearance of probably the most famous Holmes quote

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Still back to the beginning, Dr. Watson is trying to draw Holmes away from the cocaine over breakfast the next day when a young lady by the name of Miss Mary Morstan arrives and lays out a singular problem for the great man. Her father had returned to England eleven years ago and disappeared without trace however each year for the last six she has received a fine pearl from an anonymous benefactor and now she has had a letter from him desiring her to be at the Lyceum theatre and she can bring two companions. Naturally Holmes and Watson are willing to go but for very different reasons, Holmes to solve a puzzle but Watson has fallen for Miss Morstan almost immediately and in this state would do anything for her.

Without giving away the plot, the pearls are quickly revealed to be part of a large treasure and in searching for the remainder Holmes engages the use of a scent hound to follow a creosote trail left by one of the culprits from a house in Norwood after he stepped in some of this highly pungent liquid, and this provides one of the few bits of genuine humour in the books as the dog getting confused by crossing trails eventually comes to its mark…

On the dog raced through sawdust and shavings, down an alley, round a passage, between two wood-piles, and finally, with a triumphant yelp, sprang upon a large barrel which still stood upon the hand-trolley on which it had been brought. With lolling tongue and blinking eyes, Toby stood upon the cask, looking from one to the other of us for some sign of appreciation. The staves of the barrel and the wheels of the trolley were smeared with a dark liquid, and the whole air was heavy with the smell of creosote.

Sherlock Holmes and I looked blankly at each other, and then burst simultaneously into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Another funny passage occurs with Watson attempting to take Miss Morstan’s mind off the danger they may be in with some of his tales from Afghanistan.

To this day she declares that I told her one moving anecdote as to how a musket looked into my tent at the dead of night, and how I fired a double-barrelled tiger cub at it.

His tongue-tied behaviour is somewhat explained at the end of the book when less than a week after first meeting her he explains to Holmes that he will no longer be available to accompany him on adventures as

Miss Morstan has done me the honour to accept me as a husband in prospective.

Next week I start on the short stories first printed in The Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1893. Will Watson still be living with Holmes or are he and Mary setting up home together with him merely reporting from the sidelines?

Porpoise Books

One of Penguin’s few publishing disasters was Porpoise Books which were all released in September 1948. Planned to be the first four in a series they totally failed to sell, probably due to the high price that these children’s hardbacks retailed at which was more than double Puffin story and picture books were at the time. It may well also be that hardback children’s books of this format were difficult to display in shops so were not stocked by many retailers in the first place. Most were pulped, although a large (but quantity unknown) number were apparently sent to New Zealand where they almost all vanished, but that is where they do occasionally turn up on the secondary market, two of mine came from there. For books printed as editions of 100,000 copies per title Porpoise are extremely rare but there are only four to collect if you fancy a challenge.

The books themselves are each forty eight pages long, eight and three quarters inches tall and seven inches wide (222mm x 180mm) and significantly very fragile, almost all examples that you find are missing their spines and although they were all issued with dust wrappers these have also tended to go missing in the seventy plus years since they were published. Of the ones in my collection only The Flying Postman is in poor condition with no dust wrapper and just over 50% of its spine surviving.

J1: Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp – Traditional

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Printed by Chromoworks Ltd of Willesden, London and dated 1947 inside, although like the others it was not actually released until September 1948. No translator is given and it is described on the title page as ‘from the Arabian Nights Entertainment’. Penguin would not publish an edition of A Thousand and One Nights until August 1954, appropriately as book number 1001, although this was reissued just six months later as L64 in the classics series. However this is not the source of the text used here as Aladdin is not included in the original tales translated by N J Dawood, it being an 18th century addition to the book by French translator Antoine Galland when he produced the first European language edition in twelve volumes between 1704 and 1717.

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The illustrations are by John Harwood who was also approached to produce Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (another addition to 1001 Nights by Galland) for the second tranche of Porpoise Books.  His work with Penguin included what are now some of the rarest of their productions such as a couple of ‘Baby Puffins’ in 1944 and two Christmas themed cut out books from 1955 all of which are now pretty well impossible to find. He did also illustrate several Puffin Story books for Penguin so he continued to have a link with the company for many years.

J2: Paul, The Hero of the Fire – Edward Ardizzone

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Printed by Van Leer apparently in England rather than their main presses in Amsterdam, Paul, The Hero of the Fire was written and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone and the Porpoise edition was its first appearance in print. This was the only Porpoise book to be reprinted by Penguin although that didn’t happen until March 1969 in a considerably cheaper format in the second set of books in the Picture Puffin paperbacks launched in October 1968. The book tells the story of a young boy who hears his parents talking about having to sell their house as the stock market has collapsed and they have no money to live as they do now. He loves living there so decides to run away and earn some money to help. Ending up in a circus he does get a job but one night a fire breaks out and Paul sees some panicking children which he gathers together to lead to safety, on the way they also save many of the animals. The newspapers declare him a hero and he is presented with a reward which enables his parents to keep the house.

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I love the work of Edward Ardizzone, he was a prolific artist of books for children which is where I first came across his instantly recognisable style and I also own some of his prints from his time as a war artist in the 1940’s. He illustrated many books over the years for Penguin and was scheduled to be featured in his own volume under the Modern Painters series but sadly MP18 was never published.

J3: The Ugly Duckling – Hans Christian Anderson

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Printed by Balding and Mansell Ltd. of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and with the list of current and proposed titles on the back inner page rather than on the rear of the dust wrapper. The story is the classic by The Brothers Grimm about a swans egg that accidentally ends up in a duck nest and when the egg hatches of course the cygnet is treated as ‘an ugly duckling’ and teased by his apparent siblings. Eventually he runs away and is resigned to being lonely all his life on a lake but sees some swans who tell him what he really is. That moment is captured in the painting below.

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For me this is the most beautiful of the Porpoise books, the watercolour illustrations by Will Nickless fit in perfectly with the tale. Although he illustrated several other children’s books I can’t find anything where he worked with Penguin again. It’s a pity as he is clearly a very talented artist and I would have liked to see more of his work in my Penguin collection.

J4: The Flying Postman – V H Drummond

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Printed by The Haycock Press from Camberwell, London. Like Paul, The Hero of the Fire this appears to have been specially written and illustrated by Violet Drummond for Porpoise, the only other editions I can find are significantly later. It’s a distinctly off the wall story regarding a postman who delivers his mail by autogyro until one day he crashes into the local church tower causing lots of damage to his aircraft and needing the fire brigade to get him down. He is subsequently fired and takes up making ice-cream for a living but eventually manages to get his job back after the postmaster falls off his horse and is looked after the postman and his wife. Actually his job is dependant on the postmaster having six ice creams a day delivered to him which somewhat smacks of corruption and is very odd in a children’s tale.

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The illustrations are just as offbeat as the story and like Nickless she does not appear to have any further dealings with Penguin beyond this one title.

As you can see above another odd feature of Porpoise books was that despite only four titles being published they were all printed by different printers. Also unusually for Penguin the books were not numbered or printed with a series code and it is only from later official catalogues from Penguin that we know that they were J1 to J4.

Grace Hogarth, the series editor, had high hopes for the series before publication and was well under way with negotiations for more titles including having commissioned some books so on the back of three of the dust wrappers (as mentioned above The Ugly Duckling wrapper doesn’t have a list but repeats the rear cover of the book) there was the tantalising hint of things to come.

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King Penguins

Although the longest essay I have written here so far, this is just a brief introduction to a very attractive series of books produced by Penguin from 1939 to 1959. Covering a vast array of subjects with (for the most part) excellent illustrations in both black and white and colour they make up a mini reference library all on their own.

20180626 King Penguins 01Starting a new series of illustrated hard back books just as war had broken out was clearly just bad timing for Penguin Books, they had been planned for months and the first two were ready to go for November 1939. That the series not only survived the subsequent paper rationing but flourished for a further 74 volumes until 1959 was nothing short of a miracle. Almost all the books have the same format, a monograph on the specialist subject which may also include black and white line illustrations or photographs, followed by a series of colour plates. The monograph averages about 30 pages; although Ur by Sir Leonard Woolley has only 18 and at the extreme opposite A Book Of English Clocks by R.W. Symonds has 74 pages of text. Likewise the colour plates were intended to be on 16 pages, this also varies but by no means as much as the texts as this was easily the most expensive part of each production so costs were closely monitored.

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Kings were inspired by the German Insel Bucherei printed by Insel Verlag, these beautiful art books had started in 1912 and by the time Penguin launched their Kings there were roughly 500 Insels already available and their catalogue would eventually reach 1,400 different titles. Fortunately for my bookshelves Kings stop at number 76 although there are a few variations to collect as well but my complete set of the first editions is shown in the picture at the top of this essay. One of the most striking aspects of that picture is the wide variety of covers and the design of these was seen as one of the most important aspects of the series. After all they have to draw the potential purchaser in, especially as these were initially priced at one shilling or twice the price being charged for the normal Penguin paperbacks. Unfortunately this didn’t last very long as the price very quickly doubled as it became clear that they were more expensive to do right that initially anticipated and Alan Lane wanted them to be done as well as Penguin could manage. This meant that they really had to look striking so the original house style on the first five was quickly dropped.

Only seventeen Kings were ever reprinted or revised, so with almost all of them the first edition is the only example available and on average 20,000 were printed of each title, although A Book of Toys sold over 55,000 copies. This means that Kings are not normally particularly rare; but are scarce enough to make the hunt trying to collect them all interesting. Some such as Magic Books From Mexico were recognised as niche interests from the start so the print runs were commensurately smaller. In the case of this book however even these apparently didn’t sell and there is a rumour that a large number of them had their plates removed and put under glass in the type of coffee table very popular in the 1960’s and 70’s.

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K1 – British Birds on Lake, River and Stream by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – Nov 1939
K2 – A Book of Roses by John Ramsbottom – Nov 1939
K3 – A Book of Ships by Charles Mitchell – Sept 1941
K4 – Portraits of Christ by Ernst Kitzinger & Elizabeth Senior – Feb 1941
K5 – Caricature by E.H. Gombrich & E. Kris – Feb 1941

The first five Kings produced under the editorship of Elizabeth Senior are highly distinctive, although the actual printing quality is not as good as it might be given the intention to emulate the Insel books. However as you can see from the dates of first publication this was not a time for finesse, wartime restrictions soon caused problems with the series meaning that a large proportion of K3, K4 and K5 were bound in soft card covers cut flush to the internal pages as well as the overlapping boards normally used for Kings. The Book of Ships in the picture above is one of these soft back editions and as can be seen is consequently slightly smaller than the other four. K1 is the first of these volumes to use plates from John Gould‘s famous work The Birds of Great Britain, the other being K19 Garden Birds. A Book of Roses (K2) also makes use of a famous earlier work for the plates, in this case Redouté‘s Les Roses. The other three volumes use 16 colour plates from a mixture of sources and along with these there are several black and white images within the text. K1 and K2 only have the 16 colour plates along with a single black and white portrait of Gould and Redouté respectively.

Sadly Elizabeth Senior was killed in an air raid in 1941 and editorial control of the series passed to Nikolaus Pevsner

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K6 – British Shells by F. Martin Duncan – June 1943
K7 – Fashions and Fashion Plates 1800-1900 by James Laver – June 1943
K8 – Elizabethan Miniatures by Carl Winter – June 1943
K9 – The Microcosm of London by John Summerson – June 1943
K10 – The Bayeux Tapestry by Eric Maclagan – Dec 1943
K11 – Fishes of Britain’s Rivers and Lakes by J.R. Norman – Dec 1943
K12 – The Poets’ Corner by John Rothenstein – Dec 1943
K13 – Edible Fungi by John Ramsbottom – July 1944
K14 – A Book of Lilies by Fred Stoker – Dec 1943
K15 – Seashore Life and Pattern by T.A. Stephenson – July 1944
K16 – Children as Artists by R.R. Tomlinson – Dec 1944
K17 – The Leaves of Southwell by Nikolaus Pevsner – Dec 1945

After the fairly dull cover design of the first five with its fussy white banding round the spine it is a relief to see the variety produced in the next dozen. Half of them have that Insel Bucherei look with the title and author appearing on a reproduction of the paste down labels quite common on quality books from the previous 100 or so years. Unlike Insel books this is actually part of the printed design rather than an extra slip, but it does give a touch of class to the book. The first few are experimenting with alternate cover styles and Fishes of Britain’s Rivers and Lakes is a very attractive design by Charles Paine, I’m less impressed with the cover of Microcosm of London with it’s overly florid text done by Walter Grimmond. Having said that Microcosm is the first of the Ackermann editions in Kings. Rudolph Ackermann was a bookseller and printer in London in the early 1800’s and his books and prints sold well making him known for the quality of his images which captured not only cityscapes like this along with K59 Cambridge and K69 Oxford but also the images documenting the start of the railway age some of which are included in K56 Early British Railways and for further variation K46 Highland Dress, all plates of which were originally printed by Ackermann.

Other notable books in this block of twelve are K10 The Bayeux Tapestry with 8 pages of colour plates and 40 pages of black and white photographs which at the time were some of the best images available in print. K13 Edible Fungi is beautifully illustrated by Rose Ellenby who also did its pair K23 Poisonous Fungi. Like Elizabeth Senior, Nikolaus Pevsner got one of his own titles in this block with K17 The Leaves of Southwell which has 32 pages of lovely black and white photographs of the capitals and columns in the chapter house at the Minster of Southwell in Nottinghamshire.

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K18 – Some British Moths by Norman Riley – May 1945
K19 – Garden Birds by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – May 1945
K20 – English Ballet by Janet Leeper – Dec 1944
K21 – Popular English Art by Noel Carrington – Dec 1945
K22 – Heraldry in England by Anthony Wagner – Nov 1946
K23 – Poisonous Fungi by John Ramsbottom – Dec 1945
K24 – Birds of the Sea by R.M. Lockley – Dec 1945
K25 – Ur: The First Phases by Sir Leonard Woolley – May 1947
K26 – A Book of Toys by Gwen White – Dec 1946
K27 – Flowers of Marsh and Stream by Iola A. Williams – Nov 1946
K28 – A Book of English Clocks by R.W. Symonds – May 1947
K29 – Flowers of the Woods by Sir E.J. Salisbury – Apr 1947

Apart from the obviously wonderfully choice of getting somebody called Leeper to write a book about ballet this is a delightful mix of titles. K18 British Moths goes back to the first two Kings by using prints from an old classic book on the subject, in this case by Moses Harris from the mid 1700’s. K21 Popular English Art is an eclectic mix from  drawings of Windsor chairs to colour images of a jug, ship’s figurehead and even a pub interior all done by Clarke Hutton who like Noel Carrington who wrote the text is probably best known to Penguin collectors for their work on Puffin Picture books. Birds of the Sea is also illustrated by an artist in Puffin Picture Books, R.B. Talbot Kelly who created the PP52 Paper Birds which was a cut out book now rarely seen in one piece along with the beautiful PP65 Mountain and Moorland Birds.

One of my favourite King Penguins comes next, K26 A Book of Toys by Gwen White, it’s one of the oddities in the range as it deviates from the plan of a monograph and plates being illustrated all the way through much more like a small hardback Puffin Picture Book with the handwritten text drawn directly onto the plates and not typeset; and what is not to like about a cover with dozens of toy penguins. K27 is let down badly by the quality of the printing of the colour plates, K28 is frankly a mess with far too much jammed into the book which would have been better expanded as a Pelican Book and dropped from this series but K29 rescues this block with some lovely if rather flat coloured plates.

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K30 – Wood Engravings by Thomas Bewick by John Rayner – Apr 1947
K31 – English Book Illustration 1800-1900 by Philip James – Sept 1947
K32 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Dec 1946
K33 – Russian Icons by David Talbot Rice – Oct 1947
K34 – The English Tradition in Design by John Gloag – Oct 1947
K35 – A Book of Spiders by W.S. Bristowe – Sept 1947
K36 – Ballooning by C.H. Gibbs-Smith – Nov 1948
K37 – Wild Flowers of the Chalk by John Gilmour – Dec 1947
K38 – Compliments of the Season by L.D. Ettlinger & R.G. Holloway – Dec 1947
K39 – Woodcuts of Albrecht Durer by T.D. Barlow – Sept 1948
K40 – Edward Gordon Craig by Janet Leeper – Oct 1948
K41 – British Butterflies by E.B. Ford – Oct 1951

The first two of this block make a great pair, they have a similar design with high quality illustrations right through the text as well as the plates at the back and K39 Woodcuts of Durer goes well with the both of them. That brings us to another King Penguin oddity. K32 A Christmas Carol is almost a facsimile of the original first edition of this Dickens classic, it doesn’t count as a true facsimile as the font used is Monotype Modern, it being the closest available to match the original. The very interesting Russian Icons by David Talbot Rice is another book let down by the poor quality of the printing of the plates, it also has a correction slip pasted over credit for the cover illustration. William Grimmond is credited on the page with Enid Marx pasted over the top. The English Tradition in Design has 72 pages of black and white photographs, the cover of this book does tend to fade badly, probably more than any other King Penguin whilst Wild Flowers of the Chalk, Compliments of the Season and British Butterflies all go back to the original internal plan with a monograph followed by 16 plates which was now becoming a rarity in the series, even if only the last one had a suitable cover design.

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K42 – British Military Uniforms by James Laver – Oct 1948
K43 – A Prospect of Wales by Gwyn Jones – Sept 1948
K44 – Tulipomania by Wilfrid Blunt – Oct 1950
K45 – Unknown Westminster Abbey by Lawrence E. Tanner – Nov 1948
K46 – Highland Dress by George F. Collie – Aug 1948
K47 – British Reptiles and Amphibia by Malcolm Smith – June 1949
K48 – A Book of Scripts by Alfred Fairbank – Nov 1949
K49 – Some British Beetles by Geoffrey Taylor – June 1949
K50 – Popular Art in the United States by Edwin O. Christensen – June 1949
K51 – Life in an English Village by Noel Carrington – June 1949
K52 – The Isle of Wight by Barbara Jones – July 1950
K53 – Flowers of the Meadow by Geoffrey Grigson – June 1950

By now Swiss designer Jan Tschichold was firmly in control of the Penguin house style, he had started with tidying up the look of the major series and setting firm rules not just on typography but also strict design specifications, his influence can now be seen in the Kings. His re-imposition of the original plan of monograph with 16 plates continued with these dozen, just two don’t fit this general structure although the number of plates did get up to 22 for some. The two that don’t fit are K45 Unknown Westminster Abbey along with K48 A Book of Scripts, K45 is very similar in structure to K17 The Leaves of Southwell which makes sense as these are covering much the same field just a different building. A Book of Scripts is another King oddity, concentrating as it does on fine handwriting and to do this it needs lots of illustrations, it also is the only King Penguin to be revised/reprinted four times. Beyond that record it was later greatly enlarged and printed in February 1969 as a large format Pelican (A973) which also went to several reprints.

Largely this gives an idea as to what Kings could have been if there had been more money, better quality printing and greater control on the design from the beginning. The problem was the price that they now had to be sold at. From 1940 to 1949 they had been either 2 or 2½ shillings, by 1952 the price had rocketed and they were just under 4½ shillings and two years later they had reached 5 shillings. They are truly lovely books though, watercolours by Kenneth Rowntree show Wales at its best with K43, Edward Bawden took on the English village (K51) in his distinctive style whilst Barbara Jones not only beautifully illustrated K52 The Isle of Wight but unusually also wrote the monograph. Tulipomania uses plates by Alexander Marshall from a collection from the 1650’s and now in the Royal collection in Windsor. These are some of the most vibrant flower paintings in the King series and makes this a highly desirable book in its own right. The other great joy of this dozen is K49 Some British Beetles illustrated by Vere Taylor.

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K54 – Greek Terracottas by T.B.L. Webster – Apr 1951
K55 – Romney Marsh by John Piper – May 1950
K56 – Early British Railways by Christian Barman – May 1950
K57 – A Book of Mosses by Paul W Richards – July 1950
K58 – A Book of Ducks by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – Apr 1951
K59 – Ackermann’s Cambridge by Reginald Ross Williamson – June 1951
K60 – The Crown Jewels by Oliver Warner – June 1951
K61 – John Speed’s Atlas of Tudor England and Wales by E.G.R. Taylor – June 1951
K62 – Medieval Carvings in Exeter Cathedral by C.J.P. Cave – May 1953
K63 – A Book of Greek Coins by Charles Seltman – Nov 1952
K64 – Magic Books from Mexico by C.A. Burland – Feb 1953
K65 – Semi-Precious Stones by N. Wooster – May 1953

Jan Tschichold only lasted a couple of years in his role at Penguin but in that time he completely revolutionised the house style. His replacement was the German Hans Schmoller, he took Tschichold’s templates and refined them further. In this batch we can see the continuation of the original Insel inspired cover designs with fake paste-down label on the majority. The cover of K61 John Speed’s Atlas is based on an old copy which is highly appropriate for this collection of county maps from 1627, the title reflects the usual name for this group of maps although they were not actually by the great Tudor English cartographer but rather his Dutch contemporary Pieter van den Keere. The cover of K63 A Book of Greek Coins is another Walter Grimmond design, he did fifteen in all and only two (K59 Ackermann’s Cambridge and K64 Magic Books from Mexico) come close to looking like the original plan. A further oddity of K63 is one of the coins on the cover, which are intending to show the development of the Britannia figure all the way from an original Greek version to the present day. Grimmond includes a penny with the date 1952 in the bottom left as that was the printing date of the book, however no pennies were actually minted that year as there were plenty already in circulation.

K55 Romney March written and illustrated by the artist John Piper is a very attractive volume, although his sketches illustrating the section on churches in the area are for me more compelling than the 16 colour plates at the back. Also sticking strictly to the 16 plates rule are K57, K58, K60, K64 and K65 with K58 A Book of Ducks and K65 Semi-Precious Stones being particularly fine. K62 Medieval Carvings in Exeter Cathedral continues the style set by the other three books in this sub series of medieval carvings (K17, K45 and K72) all of which have a large collection of black and white photographs, by in this case having 64 pages of them. One extra oddity that should be covered at this point is the soft back Mexican reprint of K64 by Ediciones LARA produced in 1966 to coincide with the Mexico Olympics, although not printed by Penguin it was fully authorised by them as stated  inside.

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K66 – Birds of La Plata by W.H. Hudson & R. Curle – Apr 1952
K67 – Mountain Birds by R.A.H. Coombes – Nov 1952
K68 – Animals in Staffordshire Pottery by Bernard Rackham – Sept 1953
K69 – Ackermann’s Oxford by H.M. Colvin – Mar 1954
K70 – The Diverting History of John Gilpin by William Cowper – Nov 1953
K71 – Egyptian Paintings by Nina M Davies – May 1954
K72 – Misericords by M.D. Anderson – Oct 1954
K73 – The Picture of Cricket by John Arlott – May 1955
K74 – Woodland Birds by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – Nov 1955
K75 – Monumental Brasses by James Mann – Nov 1957
K76 – The Sculpture of the Parthenon by P.E. Corbett – July 1959

The final batch of Kings took a long time to come out certainly compared to the rapid fire production of earlier years. K66 Birds of La Plata is the only bird book in the series not to feature British birds but rather those of South America following an interest Sir Allen Lane (the founder of Penguin) had developed during his time in that continent at the end of WWII whilst trying to launch Penguin Books there. K70 John Gilpin has also strong links to Lane as it is a heavily reduced in size version of a book he had privately printed as a limited edition Christmas gift the previous year. To emphasise the unusual nature of K66, K67 Mountain Birds is actually called British Mountain Birds inside.

Again 16 colour plates is the norm with only John Gilpin (as a reprint of an existing book), K72 Misericords with lots of photographs (as noted above to match others in the sub series) and the final two books K75 Monumental Brasses and K76 The Sculpture of the Parthenon not matching that pattern. K71 Egyptian Paintings is a little disappointing, the colours are very muted in the reproductions and don’t have the vibrancy of the original tomb paintings. All three bird books are lovely things and would with their compatriots through the Kings make a very attractive collection on their own with the advantage that with the exception of K66 La Plata they are all quite easy to find. K75 Monumental Brasses was a surprise when I first got a copy, I was expecting more black and white photographs but instead this book is illustrated with drawings that have been coloured a pale yellow and very nice they are too as they are certainly clearer that photographs might have been. This is particularly true of the final book in the set; K76 is a sad end to a great series, the photographs are poorly printed compared to previous works and the text is hardly a gripping read

The animation below showing some of the wonderful plates from various King Penguins was done for a talk on the Gentle Art of Penguin Collecting given by myself and Megan Prince at The 2018 Hay Independence celebrations. I hope this inspires a collector or two out there to take a look at the 76 King’s almost 60 years after the last one was printed, they are well worth dipping into.

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Moomins: The Comic Strip

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Tove Jansson wrote her first Moomin book ‘The Moomins and the Great Flood’ (original Swedish title Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen) during WWII and it was published in 1945, Småtrollen translates as small troll. By the second book ‘Comet in Moominland’ (1946) the original Swedish title has Mumintrollet rather than Småtrollen and the Moomins had truly arrived. Interestingly those of us reading the Moomin stories in English didn’t get the first book until 2005 as a 60th anniversary limited edition which is a distinctly odd way to have it’s first English translation.

My younger brother read the Moomins in the early 1970’s as a child but they somehow passed me by, I remember the covers of his books but I don’t think I ever opened them. The first time I really became aware of the Moomins was when I lived in Stockholm whilst subcontracting on IT systems for Swedish company Dagab in the mid 1990’s. By then in Scandinavia you could hardly turn a corner in a shopping area without encountering the familiar white characters and a recent visit showed that the interest is even greater now.

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My interest was taken by the comic strip versions rather than the books, these were originally written and illustrated by Tove from 1954 for the Evening News in the UK and this gave them a huge following. By 1957 however workload from what Tove regarded as her ‘real’ career as an artist meant that she got her younger brother Lars involved and from 1960 he took over as sole writer and artist until the strip finally ended in 1975. Despite not really being a fan of comic strips or graphic novels I love the simple drawings and the tightness of script imposed by the comic strip format to the Moomin tales and if anything I prefer the work by Lars to Tove as there is more humour although the drawings are not as precise. Suggesting this however is probably heresy to true ‘Moominites’. The first strip was published on 20th September 1954, but before that the Evening News ran teaser panels for a week such as the one at the top of this blog.

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Since 2006 Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly had been issuing collections of the cartoon strips at the rate of roughly one a year, although volume 10 came out in August 2015 and nothing since. Emails and attempts to contact the company via their facebook page regarding further volumes have been ignored. After all they have still only reached 1964 of what was described as ‘The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip’ and there would still need to be 8 to 10 (difficult to tell how they would choose to split the cartoons into the books) more volumes to complete the set. It is important at this point to emphasise that the comic strip stories are not retelling the nine books by Tove, what we have here is 73 more Moomin tales, 14 of which are by Tove, 7 by the brother and sister in combination and 52 by Lars, so there are 32 Moomin stories written after 1964 that are not currently in print and therefore not available to purchase and read.

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Although I have tagged this essay as “children’s books” and certainly they can be, and are, read by children it is easy to forget how dark a lot of the subject matters covered are, not just in the books but also in the comic strips. From the very first comic strip story where it becomes clear that Moomintroll believes himself to be an orphan and is being put upon by lots of other characters taking advantage of his good nature it is clear that this is not just a simple tale for children. After the end of the series of strips making up ‘Moomin and the Brigands’ he finds his parents when they rescue him whilst he is trying to drown himself to get away from the hordes of people making his life miserable that have eventually driven him from his own home.

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Charles Sutton from Associated Newspapers recognised the more adult possibilities in one of his letters to Tove before the strips were finally commissioned and it is clear that she took this advice to heart when she signed the contract for 7 years worth of cartoons.

It has come to my mind, that your “Moomin” family could make an interesting comic strip, which would not necessarily be aimed at children. It is obvious that the Moomin family appeals to children, but we think these wonderful creatures could be used in comic strip form to satirise our so-called civilised lifestyle.

The Moomin cartoon feature film ‘Moomins on the Riviera’ released in 2014 was based on the third comic strip tale written and illustrated by Tove in 1955, rather than one of her books. This meant that the story was new to most of the people who saw it, as the books are far better known, even though the comic strips were syndicated widely through Europe. In line with the less childlike cartoons Moominpappa at one point has a terrible hangover and Moomintroll himself becomes extremely jealous of Snorkmaiden’s admirers and is not impressed by her tiny bikini which actually looks very daring despite the fact that normally, like Moomintroll, she doesn’t wear any clothes at all. You can see the trailer for the film here.

As an example of Lars Jansson’s work the cartoon below shows Moominpappa being as selfless as ever and willing to put himself out for the good of the family…

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This story has him become totally obsessed with the television and it controls his life (along with all the family as they have to do what he sees as correct according to the adverts) for a while until he finally is brought back to reality.

Hopefully Drawn and Quarterly will eventually start issuing the books again, but until then at least we have access to 10 volumes covering 41 tales. As an aside to this blog, there was a fascinating documentary about the life and work of Tove Jansson which includes an interview with Lars and also his daughter Sophia, who now controls the vast Moomin empire, made by the BBC in 2013. At the time of writing this blog it is still available on youtube.

First Folio: 1

Mention the words First Folio to most book collectors and their initial thought will go to the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays printed in 1623; and indeed I will come to that in a later blog as I have a copy of the Norton facsimile. Hence this essay being entitled First Folio: 1, the facsimile will be covered in First Folio: 2 in a few weeks time.

So what is this one about then? Well in 1946 after being demobbed from WWII Charles Ede was looking for a way to make a hobby into a career. He had discovered the beauty of the pre war private presses whilst still a schoolboy, publishers such as William Morris and the Kelmscott Press. During the war he had started a collection of Kelmscott, Nonesuch and Golden Cockerel Press fine editions but these really were the preserve of the book buyer with a significant disposable income and well beyond the means of most people. What he had spotted was what he believed was a gap in the market, even if his friend, Christopher Sandford, then running The Golden Cockerel Press thought the gap was too small for anyone to make a business from it. What if somebody could print fine editions of books but at a price that more people could afford? In a quote I particularly love as it ties my two largest book collections together Sandford said

But life is full of wonders, and people like you do get away with things – like Lane and his Penguins – so thumbs up.

So Ede went for training at the London College of Printing and by October of the next year The Folio Society was born.

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The first title was a collection of short stories by Tolstoy, my copy has some damage to the dust jacket where somebody has clearly put a cup down on it but as you don’t often come by Folio’s first book with dust jacket I added it to my collection nevertheless. The tales included are:

  • The Raid
  • Two Hussars
  • Three Deaths
  • Polikushka
  • Two Old Men
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyitch

The idea was that books would be published at the rate of one a month and sold through standard booksellers, neither of which turned out to be the case. The first few titles did get sold that way but the retailers weren’t really interested in a new small publishing venture, so building on the idea of the Society part of the name Charles Ede by the end of 1947 decided to turn it into a club and sell only to members which added to the exclusive aspect of the books.

 

The first few years were hard and the Society survived by doing other things beyond the original plan such as private editions and selling manuscript pages along with fine art prints but slowly the subscriber base grew especially when the concept of a free presentation volume for members who agreed to purchase a minimum number of books each year was introduced in 1950.

To be frank part of the problem with the early years was that because of the ongoing paper rationing and the quality of what was available the first few books are not as good as Ede wanted, this is particularly clear with Tales by Tolstoy which was printed in Belgium to get round the shortage of paper but the actual printing as Ede himself noted in 1968 in the first Folio bibliography ‘Folio 21’

The printers, who only undertook the job as a favour, were not used to this type of work and the standard leaves a good deal to be desired.

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and as the above illustration from Three Deaths illustrates it really isn’t that good, the picture appears to be over-inked and lacks the lightness of touch that a line-blocked pen and ink sketch would have in later years. The paper also feels rough and not what you would expect from a fine edition.

The Folio Society did however manage to get out a total of three books in 1947 so the equivalent of one per month, something they were not to manage regularly until 1955 with 13 volumes and have never dropped below 12 in a year since then. The second was Trilby by George du Maurier which also became the first book from the society to be illustrated by the author, something that is still a rarity today.

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This book was much better quality than the Tolstoy edition, although also printed by Brepols in Belgium, and contains a 5 page appendix which prints for the first time in book form a section of the book which clearly describes the painter James Whistler and was presumably left out of earlier editions for legal reasons. The drawings by du Maurier are reproduced very well, this one is entitled ‘the soft eyes’

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The first Folio Society book to be printed in the UK was book number 3 Aucassin & Nicolette, translated from Old French by F.W. Bourdillon and this was a real oddity. The first two books were traditional editions in paper dust jackets, this is a lot smaller at 8.9 x 5.8 inches (226 x 148 mm) and the jacket is transparent plastic printed in black with the title and illustrator information.

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The plastic wrapper has often got lost over the years or the text rubbed off, mine is in very good condition, the poor appearance in the photograph is due to glare off the plastic. The black print on the slippery plastic continues on the inside of the wrapper and again is prone to damage.

 

The title page gives a feeling of the book which is my favourite of the first three and gives the first real hint of Folio as a fine press publisher, at 10s 6d it cost the equivalent of just over £20 today which for a 60 page book is quite a lot but it is a lovely edition. The printer was the Chiswick Press who would go on to print many editions for Folio.

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What is noticeable to those people familiar with the production of the Folio Society today is that books all have dust jackets, the familiar slip cases did not become standard until 1959 although they had started to appear in 1956 and dust jackets were still used throughout the 1960’s although mainly for the subscribers presentation volume.

These three books in my collection are all first editions in Folio, in fact none of them were ever reprinted, the first book to make it to a second impression was Shakespeare’s Sonnets, originally printed in 1948 and reprinted 3 times in the next 42 years before being replaced by a completely new edition.

Last year the society reached it’s 70th birthday and a couple of years before that finally abandoned the membership concept that served it so well along with the idea of a free presentation volume other than the occasional diary or notebook to encourage buyers to spend more. Nowadays the website is open to everyone and you can just have one book if that is all you require. At the last count I have over 425 Folio books and still happily add more each year, the only years where I don’t own at least one example of that years publications are 1967 and 2006, so beware the Folio Society is definitely addictive…