UK Services Editions


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Mind the gaps - Part 2

Posted by Baronbern on March 2, 2014 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (1675)

The series of Collins Services Editions is not the only one with missing titles (see previous post). Guild Books too allocated numbers to their books and after a bit more detective work recently, I have now identified titles and authors for 215 of the numbers from S1 to S231 (see checklist page), leaving 16 missing titles. Again the missing books probably do exist, and I’d love to hear from anybody who has knowledge of them.

The only other publisher to allocate numbers to their Services Editions was Penguin, whose numbers go from SE1 to SE18. Unusually for Penguin though, the numbering is not consistent, with several books missing from this sequence, one number used twice and other books appearing under their standard Penguin number, rather than their SE number. It’s possible that other books exist, but the big difference with Penguin is that there is a small army of collectors researching and unearthing the books. It seems unlikely that many books have evaded their combined efforts.

Guild Books numbered S16 and S17.  But what is the title of S13?

For other publishers we have no numbering systems to indicate possible missing titles, so it’s even more difficult to work out what might exist. There is a seemingly comprehensive and accurate list of the standard Hutchinson Services Editions in several of the books, but this doesn’t preclude other non-standard editions, such as the one Crime Book Society title I have. For Nicholson and Watson the problem is the other way round – there is a list of titles on the back cover of the books, but some doubt over whether several of these books were ever issued. Four of the twelve books are relatively easy to find, while the other eight have never been seen to my knowledge. And for Hammond & Hammond, Methuen, and Hodder & Stoughton we are operating completely in the dark. It seems quite likely that there are other books not listed on my checklist, particularly for Hodder & Stoughton, but the only way to find out is to find copies of the books.


Mind the gaps

Posted by Baronbern on February 27, 2014 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (126)

One of the many problems of collecting Services Editions is to know what you’re looking for. Most book collectors at least know the authors and titles of the books they want to find! For some of the books I’d most like to find, all I know is the publisher, and that they have ‘Services Edition’ written on the front cover.

For some publishers, there are at least series numbers, and a gap in the numbering of the known titles indicates a likely missing book. Collins for instance adopted a numbering system from c201 to c364, although the numbers didn’t actually start appearing on the books until about number c217. Earlier titles carry no numbers in the first printings, although the reprints do. Confusingly Collins separately used numbers with a ‘c’ at the end to indicate crime titles, so that c253 is a Services Edition, but 253c is not.


First editions (unnumbered) and reprints (numbered)

Numbering from c201 to c364 is still a big clue that there are 164 books in the series, and I believe there probably are, although I can connect numbers with titles for only 144 of them. Some books though contain lists of other titles so it’s possible to suggest what else may exist. The lists are not specific that these books are available in Services Editions, but they do seem to match up with the known titles and the number of titles is also consistent. From the first 80 books, I can tie up titles and numbers for 63 of them (see checklist page) and the other 17 books appear to be the following.

Lynn Brock - The stoat

Conyth Little - The black lady

Alice Tilton - The hollow chest

Peter Cheyney - Never a dull moment

Peter Cheyney - The stars are dark

David Hume - Never say live

David Hume - Mick Cardby works overtime

Tex Curran - Riding fool

Peter Dawson - Time to ride

Will Ermine - Watchdog of Thunder River

Ranger Lee - Red shirt

Ranger Lee - The silver train

F. C. Robertson - Rustlers on the loose

F. C. Robertson - Kingdom for a horse

Luke Short - Ride the man down

Wade Smith - Wild country

Bartimeus - Steady as you go

I am not aware of copies of the Services Editions of these books existing in any library or any private collection, although I feel sure that there are copies out there somewhere. Do please let me know if you come across one.

The same goes for the three later gaps, which are for c327, c328 and c330. I have no evidence at all of what these books might be, except that they seem likely to be western novels.


Re-educating Prisoners of War

Posted by Baronbern on June 10, 2013 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (27)

In an earlier blog post I speculated on the origins of the Bücherreihe Neue Welt series produced for German Prisoners of War in the US, and contrasted it with the Penguin Prisoner of War editions in the UK. Now in a fascinating article written by Mary Burgoyne, a noted Joseph Conrad scholar, for ‘The Conradian’, there is new evidence of the real origins and intentions of the series.


The series was planned by the American authorities with the public aim of meeting their requirement under the Geneva Convention to ‘encourage intellectual diversions organized by prisoners’. Behind this public justification however, papers that were kept confidential at the time, show that there was a more or less deliberate strategy of indoctrination or re-education.



The availability of a source of appropriate titles from the Bermann-Fischer Verlag was more than a coincidence. Gottfried Bermann-Fischer had been the head of the S. Fischer Verlag before being forced to flee Germany in 1936, and when he left he was permitted to take with him the publishing rights held by the firm to authors considered undesirable by the Nazis. The list of titles to which he had rights was therefore a perfect fit with the aims of the American authorities. In terms of respectability and literary merit, works by Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad and Heinrich Heine could hardly be faulted, or labelled as merely propagandist. But they served well the purpose of re-education and de-nazification and provided cover for other works such as Stephen Vincent Benet’s ‘America’ that might have been seen as more directly propagandist.


Mary Burgoyne’s article also points to an interesting link with Penguin Books and so with the very different Penguin Prisoner of War editions, produced in the UK. The ‘Neue Welt’ books were produced, not by the Council on Books in Wartime, which had responsibility for the Armed Services Editions, but by the joint venture between Penguin and the ‘Infantry Journal’, which produced the US Fighting Forces Penguin Specials.


The half-life of books

Posted by Baronbern on February 15, 2012 at 4:05 AM Comments comments (153)

Do books have a half-life? In other words, does exponential decay apply to the number of remaining copies of the first printing of a book?  If the initial print run of a book were 10,000 copies and the half-life were 10 years, then after 20 years there would be 2,500 copies left and after 60 years, around 150 or so.  Of course different books would have different half-lives. Luxurious hardback books would have quite a long half-life, whereas poor quality paperbacks would have a much shorter one. Experience also suggests that the half-life of literary novels and non-fiction books (seen as ‘worthy’), is higher than the half-life of crime fiction or westerns (seen as ‘trashy’ and disposable).



I pose the question in the context of Services Editions, in an attempt to explain why so few of them are left. How is it that books published in such enormous quantities can be so hard to find? A typical print run for a Services Edition was around 50,000 copies – far higher than a typical print run these days. We know that 50,000 copies were printed for each of the first 70 Guild Services Editions, a total of 3.5 million books – yet a quick search on ABE doesn’t appear to show a single copy for sale, other than later reprints. It’s a similar story for the early Collins Services Editions, and for the one million Free Victory Gift books given away by Hutchinson.


Some of the reasons are easy to see:

• Poor quality wartime paper and production means the books just tend to crumble away

• Books belonged to army units rather than individuals so were repeatedly lent out or passed around from one battledress pocket to another

• Many would have been sent overseas, or taken abroad as troops advanced. Few would have been brought back, and most left behind would be unlikely to survive.

• Climate conditions in some territories they were sent to, probably didn’t aid survival of cheap paperbacks either.

• Many of them, and most of the really hard-to-find titles, were those ‘disposable’ crime fiction books and westerns


Overall there were probably over 30 million Services Editions printed, but you’d never know it from the numbers around today. The only ones that are at all easy to find are those where surplus copies were released to WH Smith for general sale after the end of the war. That may be the first clue to the half-life of Services Editions. If they survived the war and made it as far as an individual’s house in Britain, then they had a much higher chance of survival. Most though never made it that far.


If we started with 50,000 copies of an early Guild edition, is it reasonable to think that maybe 40,000 had already gone by say 1948? If 10,000 remained and from that point on a half-life of 10 years applied, we’d by now be down to that 150 or so. That doesn’t seem an unreasonable estimate of how many might remain, but most of these would be stashed away in attics and gradually disappearing as attics and houses are cleared. In another 20 years there might be more like 40 left and the question becomes whether or not any at all are being preserved in libraries or collections.  On the other hand it might be equally plausible to suggest that only 5,000 were left by 1948 and the half-life from then on was 5 years rather than 10.  On that basis we might already be down to the last one or two and the effort to preserve any copies at all is urgent.  Any help would be much appreciated!

Not a Services Edition

Posted by Baronbern on March 19, 2011 at 6:08 AM Comments comments (24)

H&S published many hundreds of ‘Yellow Jacket’ novels, both paperback and hardback, in a wide variety of cover and dustwrapper styles. The handful of Services Yellow Jackets were just a tiny fraction of their output.


But I had always thought that the cover design for the Services editions was unique to this series. It shows a sort of stylised view out over the sea, with what is presumably meant to be the White Cliffs of Dover in the foreground, perhaps inspired by the popular song at the time from Vera Lynn. The sea at the bottom is blue, the sunlit sky at the top is yellow, for consistency with the Yellow Jacket name, and the two merge together with a sort of wave motif. In between the cliff edges is a stylish sort of shield as a logo for the series.


I’ve recently come across though a Hodder & Stoughton edition with a dustwrapper clearly based on the same cover design, that is not a Services edition, although it is a book that did appear in the Services series. The design is now all in yellow and the cliffs have been removed, so that it is no longer clear what it’s meant to represent. The wave motif has been retained but is now meaningless, and the same logo has been retained, but with the word ‘Services’ removed.



The book is a hardback printed in South Africa on poor quality paper, with no date, but presumably shortly after the war. It may have been intended for the local market or for importing back to the UK. Was it just laziness on the part of the publisher, re-using a cover design that happened to be at hand, or something more deliberate and widespread? Am I wrong in thinking that the design was meant to be unique to the Services series?

New ideas

Posted by Baronbern on December 10, 2010 at 5:38 PM Comments comments (126)

'The largest book give-away ever attempted' is the catchy title of an initiative to give away a million free books to celebrate World Book Night in 2011.  Great idea, but maybe just a little over-hyped.  In 1945, Hutchinson as just one publisher, gave away a million free books - see my blog posted on August 17.  Now it takes the whole book industry working together to offer the same number!


Prolific authors

Posted by Baronbern on December 10, 2010 at 4:47 PM Comments comments (22)

As I’ve suggested in an earlier blog (see 'The choice of titles' posted on 6 June 2010), it is Collins that seems to have made the most effort to provide what the military authorities were asking for, in terms of genre fiction, including crime novels and westerns. Guild Books retained a more eclectic mix of titles and authors, treading more on Penguin territory, if not quite as highbrow as some of Penguin’s own selections.


One consequence is that there is a much wider mix of authors in the Guild Series, with relatively few authors having more than one or two titles published. This probably also reflects the large number of different publishers contributing books to the series. With even the more important publishers providing only around 10 or 20 books, there was little chance to contribute several from a single author. Heinemann however provided 4 books for the series by Somerset Maugham, while C.S Forester also managed to accumulate 4, coming from two different publishers.




In the Collins series though, there was plenty of opportunity to build up substantial numbers of books by the same author, and many of their authors, whether in the crime and mystery or western genres, seem to have been very prolific.




The two authors with the largest number of books published in the series, under a single name, are Peter Cheyney and David Hume, both prolific writers of mystery fiction. They have 8 titles each (Cheyney having one in the Guild Books series as well), while Agatha Christie has 7 titles published.  This ignores though the widespread use of pseudonyms by writers of crime and mystery novels as well as westerns. Cecil Street has a total of 9 titles, 4 published as Miles Burton and 5 as John Rhode, while the overall winner seems to be Charles Horace Snow, an American writer of westerns. Amongst his many pseudonyms were Ranger Lee (4 books), Gary Marshall (4 books) and Wade Smith (3 books), for a grand total of 11 titles in the series. Another example then of America’s contribution to the British war effort.




I suspect that Snow’s western novels are little read these days. It’s probably fair to say that the only one of the Collins authors to have retained much of a literary reputation 65 years on, is Agatha Christie, perhaps along with Ngaio Marsh, who had just one book in the series. Some of the others though, perhaps particularly Cecil Street, still have a substantial following and are widely read as well as collected. Others seem to have descended into obscurity. Does anybody still read Tex Curran or Clifford Hornby?


A foot in both camps

Posted by Baronbern on November 13, 2010 at 3:54 AM Comments comments (124)

What really was the relationship between Collins and Guild Books? As publishers of the two main series of Services Editions they might appear to be competitors, but oddly several of the Guild editions were actually published by Collins themselves. Wartime conditions of course meant that some of the normal rules of competition were effectively suspended, but this does look rather odd.


It’s hard to see that Collins would ever have had much interest in getting involved in a co-operative venture putting out paperback books in competition not only with Penguin, but with the other big paperback publishers. By the time Guild Books launched in 1941, Collins was one of the major paperback publishers, along with Penguin and Hutchinson, and as you might expect, the early Guild issues did not include titles from any of these three.



Yet when the Guild Services Editions launched in 1943, the very first title, ‘Among others’ by Lord Elton (numbered S1), was published ‘for the British Publishers Guild’ by Collins. At much the same time, Collins started publishing its own series of Services Editions, but it still went on to publish at least 5 other Guild Books titles as well. So for instance there are 8 Peter Cheyney books in the Collins Services Editions and one published by Collins as a Guild Services Edition.




Even more oddly, the collections of short stories edited by Woodrow Wyatt, and published as ‘English Story’, transferred across part way through.  The first series appeared as a Guild Book Services Edition, and I suspect the Second Series did too, although I have never found a copy of this. The Third and Fourth Series however appeared as Collins Services Editions.




The last Guild book published by Collins that I’m aware of, was ‘Village in August’ by T’ien Chun (S122) in 1944. After that Collins seem to have concentrated on their own series. When Guild Books re-started commercial publication after the war, Collins seem to have kept away from it again, so in the end the co-operation involved just a handful of books in 1943 and 1944. We have to put it down as one of those wartime oddities.

Free at last

Posted by Baronbern on August 17, 2010 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (3)

In 1945 Hutchinson gave away one million books to the Armed Forces as a Free Victory Gift. The evidence for this is the wording on the front cover of the few copies I have in my collection. A million books sounds a lot, but it’s not easy to find copies of them now. That may be because not all of them had the standard covers that identify them as part of the giveaway, but I suspect most of them did. It seems clear from the scarcity of many of the other Services Editions that it’s surprisingly easy to make a million books disappear, particularly if they’re printed on poor quality paper and distributed to forces spread around the world.




The copies I have are all in a standard format, but come in various different colours, with the same title sometimes being found with different coloured covers. There’s nothing inside to show they’re part of the giveaway and it seems likely that they were not printed specially for this event, but simply existing stock rebound in special covers. Were they books originally intended for the general public that had not sold well and were now rebound? That might seem a bit cynical to modern ears, but at a time of paper rationing and acute shortages, it seems unlikely that Hutchinson obtained a special allocation of paper for this venture. It seems much more likely that they put what they already had to good use.


If that’s what happened, then it’s unlikely that there were a standard number of copies of each book issued in the series. It would just depend on how many copies were available. Maybe there were relatively few of some titles and none have survived, in which case we may never know what books were issued. I’ve added a list of the ones I know about to the Checklists page of this website, but there may be many others that I haven’t come across. If you know of others, please get in touch.

Prisoners of War in the US

Posted by Baronbern on July 30, 2010 at 7:40 AM Comments comments (158)

It’s interesting to compare the Penguin POW editions with a similar German series - the Bücherreihe Neue Welt. Similar at least in the sense that these are special paperback editions produced for Prisoners of War. If there’s some doubt though about how many of the Penguins actually made it to their intended destination, there’s no such doubt about the Neue Welt books. Almost all of the copies I’ve seen have POW camp stamps or stickers inside them.




There’s another important difference that perhaps contributed to this. The books, although in German and mostly with copyright from the Bermann-Fischer Verlag, were actually printed in the United States. That makes sense of course. It would have been difficult to print them in Germany and export them to the US. But what it also hints at, is that the series was actually a US initiative, rather than coming at the initiative of the German authorities or any German publishing firm. The Bermann-Fischer Verlag was a German publisher in exile, established in Stockholm, with the head of the firm, Gottfried Bermann Fischer having fled to the United States.




This background is also reflected in the choice of titles. The first two, ‘America’ by Stephen Vincent Benet and ‘One World’ by Wendell Wilkie, appear to have been translated into German for the series and in this context may be little better than American propaganda. Much of the rest of the series is made up of classic German novels, but there is a heavy representation of anti-nazi, anti-war or jewish writers in exile, such as Thomas Mann, Carl Zuckmayer, Arnold Zweig, Franz Werfel and Vicki Baum. This is certainly not a selection of which the Nazis would have approved. Nevertheless most of the surviving copies look to have been well read and in many cases taken back to Germany when the prisoners were released.


The series runs to 24 volumes and is a mix of fiction (with yellow covers) and non-fiction (blue covers).  All were sold at 25c and are described as a 'Verbilligter Sonderdruck für deutsche Kriegsgefangene", which translates as a 'special cheap edition for German prisoners of war'.  In practice 25c appears to be pretty much the standard price for US paperbacks at that time, but I suppose they were a cheap edition in comparison with the hardback alternative.