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The Queen of Detective Novels – Agatha Christie

Detective writers love a puzzle. And collecting Agatha Christie books can be as confusing as her detective novels! Occasional Christie novels fetch vast sums of money yet remaining catalogued novels sell for a varied and sometime perplexingly low sums.4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie

Of course, the length of Christie’s successful career means that her many books were published several decades, making the numerous choice of first editions an issue – the elusive and rare publication is hard to find. Over her lifetime Agatha Christie wrote sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections, with arguably two of the best-known crime characters in literary history, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Her editions have been translated into at least one hundred and three languages. The sales of her books have achieved around two billion copies worldwide and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books (after Shakespeare’s works and the Bible). Her books sold worldwide so publishers quickly sought to produce her books, so there are numerous first editions to be collected by a Christie enthusiast.  Of course, Christie was also the author of the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap.

One of the most valuable Christie’s novels were her early publications of the early 1920’s, including the The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Secret Adversity and The Man in the Brown Suit. The Bodley Head imprint for Collins was the publisher of the books. Christie had to work hard to convince publishers to take on her first book with five publishers rejecting the manuscript. Interestingly, the Canadian edition, published by Ryerson Press in 1920, actually precedes the first British edition of The Mysterious Affair. However, no doubt Christies’ scarcest work would be ‘The Mystery on the Links’ published by London, The Bodley Head in 1923. From 1926 Christie was under contract to Collins and the The Collins Crime Club which ran from May 1930 to April 1994. All except six of her books were published under this Crime Club imprint and these editions remain popular and collectable with famous titles of Murder of the Orient Express and The Murder at the Vicarage attracting considerable interest. The wide geographical range of publishers may affect prices and value of a first edition. An early edition of the American publisher York, Dodd, Mead and Company in New York may fetch lower prices than a UK publication.Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

Yet Agatha Christie’s popularity makes for an enduring interest in her life and publication history. Collecting Agatha Christie first edition books with an author’s provenance or personal history can add significant value to the books and make for a rare volume. In addition, any first edition jacket will add considerable interest to her works. It seems that a Christie collector will have to indulge in a little more investigation – something that detective novelist would welcome!

Browse early editions of Agatha Christie novels.

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Charles Dodgson and Lewis Carroll intertwined

Charles Dodgson, or rather Lewis Carroll, is primarily known as the author of the children’s classics, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Yet any collection of his works would be incomplete without recognising his expertise in the field of mathematics. In fact many of his fictional works combine his skills of creating fanciful stories and challenging logical and mathematical problems.

Charles L. Dodgson (1832-98) was the mathematical lecturer at Christ Church College at Oxford University, UK for twenty-five years. Teaching and simplifying geometry and mathematical concepts was an issue that greatly interested Dodgson and he was keen to develop an accessible approach to the subject.An Elementary Treatise on Determinants by Charles Dodgson Lewis Carroll

One of his earliest papers was published in 1866 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London concerning a method for evaluating determinants called the condensation method. His paper documented a new method to calculate determinants that was based on Jacobi’s Theorem. The first edition of the book was published in 1867 under the title of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants and is one of Dodgson’s most academic and also rare works. See our copy https://rareandantiquebooks.com/first-edition-books/elementary-treatise-determinants-charles-dodgson/

His later mathematical publications had a lighter feel. From his tutoring and coaching came the first of many published mathematical pamphlets. His style was to prepare stories, puzzles and other literary styles to explain mathematical concepts in a popular way. For example, although the play Euclid and his Modern Rivals (1879) was written as fiction, it is a defense of Euclid’s Elements as the best textbook for geometry scholars, an issue of contention at the time. In his introduction to the book, his skill at intertwining a playful approach to mathematics appeals to the non-scientific audience. It was around this time Dodgson invented his pen name as he thought he should distinguish his two types of writing, mathematical and fiction, yet he continued to intertwine these two themes in his future books.

A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll

 

One of Dodgson’s characteristic ways to encourage the public to become involved in his games was the inclusion of puzzles in popular magazines. For example, between 1880 and 1885 he published A Tangled Tale as a serial in the Monthly Packet. Dodgson used “knots” to signify the difficulty of the one, two or three problems it featured. His comments on the solution to the puzzle would follow in the subsequent issue often with amusing thoughts from the public on the problem. The book of The Tangled Tale was released in 1885 by Alexander Macmillan of Macmillan, who published all but two of his books over the thirty-five years of their friendship. Dodgson also presented several first editions of his books to public libraries, as with this copy of Symbolic Logic, donated to the Wigan Free Library in 1896. https://rareandantiquebooks.com/first-edition-books/charles-dodgson-symbolic-logic/

Dodgson’s love of making puzzles accessible to others is indicated with his publication of Doublets. A new puzzle was introduced into the magazine Vanity Fair in 1879 and Dodgson published a guide to the game with a glossary of suitable words to be used for future puzzles. This word game is now recognised as a popular brain teaser today.

The Game of Logic Lewis Carroll First EditionIn The Game of Logic Dodgson offers creative mental play to teach the fundamentals of logic and spatial representation of logical statements. He uses colourful ways of demonstrating the serious mathematical statements by using counters on a board in certain ways to denote cakes with certain characteristics (tasty, non-tasty, fresh, not-fresh). Dodgson employed his typical light-hearted approach to explanations using humour and absurdities to make a point as in, the “game” is for at least one player.

Of course Lewis Carroll, Charles Dodgson, is best known for his fictional books of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872). Yet he managed to carve out a rare place in literary history by combining his interests in mathematics and fiction. His ability to seamlessly include challenging logic and entertainment have, over time, ensured a consistent appeal to readers and collectors alike .

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What’s in the signature?

What’s in the signature?

A question often asked about rare and first edition books. Of course the answer is not as straight forward as it might seem. To put it simply, the interest of a signature in a book depends on who it is and what else is included in the writing.

Of course the “who” goes without saying. It has to be the author or illustrator who is well known to add value to a book.  And factor in whether the person is still alive or was a serial signer or not. For example, a signed Bram Stoker or Rudyard Kipling book is both of value due to the fact both are long deceased and both signed very few of their books.

Signatures of people associated with a book’s film adaptation have interest too, so a first edition Ian Fleming book signed by the Bond actor, whilst not worth as much as one signed by Fleming himself, would still add considerable value to the book. Even other actors who featured in the film add a degree of interest, with the likes of Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore from Goldfinger) leading the list.

In the book world there are so many sorts of signatures. And there seems to be a hierarchy of sorts among it all.

One level of the hierarchy is the signature written with nothing else and this can add interest to a book. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis Signed Kingsley Amis signed books are a good example. This simple signature of an author or illustrator maybe more valuable if it is dated and written directly on the pages of the book. Book plates or tipped in signatures are considered less desirable. Owners sometimes like to write their own name on a book and occasionally this can be of interest to a book collector if the person is on interest. Even a bookplate of a related and interesting character can add value to a book.

Nest step up in the ladder is the inscription signature. This is the signature which has been written especially for a particular person and naturally is especially interesting if that person is well known themselves. Of course a dedication inscription that is written to an unknown person may actually detract from a books value.

Any story behind a signature can add interest and value to a book and is called an association copy. This is where the author or illustrator’s signature is inscribed to someone associated with the writer. Links of association could be family members, other famous authors, politicians or anyone of note. Our ephemera within  Now We Are Six depicting connections between H. G. Wells and A. A. Milne is a fascinating find. Occasionally the person who collects the books may become an association of interest. These can tell a story, delving into a piece of literary history so this will always add value and interest to any bibliophile. Finding a date alongside the writing may pin point the interest to a significant event. Now We Are Six with signed ephemera by A.A. Milne & H.G Wells

A dedication signature is the ultimate level of signatures and can add significant value and attention to a bibliophile. Finding a signature dedicated to the person to whom the book was written for is quite special and rare to locate. Example

The worth of a signature will naturally be dependent slightly on market forces – the more generous an author is in signing their publication the less value the signature might have. Books of famous authors who rarely scribbled their names on their books are sought after items example. An author whose books are highly collectable will obviously attract more attention (usually if signed or not!).

For identification purposes the more that is written the better to confirm the authenticity of the writing and establishing the accuracy of the writer is best done through a specialist service to avoid costly mistakes.

Such a wealth of choices of signed books makes the bibliophile’s search for what’s in the signature of the next book such an interesting and enduring task.

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Collection of Winnie the Pooh Books

Winnie the Pooh, that well known little bear is again making publicity. The film, Goodbye Christopher Robin, is being released this October. What a great opportunity to revisit the fascinating story of the author behind the beloved classic children’s character.Winnie the Pooh, First Edition by A. A. Milne

And a chance to remind a bibliophile of the appeal and value in acquiring a set of the Winnie The Pooh volumes. There is certainly plenty of scope for building up a varied collection of books along this theme.

A. A Milne spent his early literary career writing suspense novels and plays yet he presented the character of the lovable bear to his publishers, Methuen in the mid 1920’s. They agreed to publish his book of poetry, When We Were Very Young, in 1924 and the rest, as we know, is history.

Winnie the Pooh quickly followed and was published in late 1926 with great success. The third book, Now We Are Six, was released in 1927 with a run of 50,000 trade copies. It success was immediate achieving more sales of the previous two books in just two months. The House at Pooh Corner, 1928 was Milne’s final book in the series and one in which he introduced the character of Tigger. With the public’s knowledge that this was the last in the series the publication of 75,000 copies sold out quickly and Tigger became a popular new character. The books with their iconic illustrations by the talented Ernest H. Shepard have remained highly sought after collectors items.A. A. Milne When We Were Very Young

Collectors of these books need to look out for particular markers of their first edition status. The first book of poems, When We Were Very Young, has blue boards with gilt character illustrations. It has no “page ix” marked and is distinctive from the second printing copies which do have that printed on the contents page. A first edition and first printing copy is the clearly the rarest of the four titles and in a fine condition with a dust jacket it can fetch a four figure sum.

Milne’s next book, Winnie the Pooh, features Christopher Robin and Pooh as the central characters in a series of stories in their own right. Copies with immaculate green cloth bindings and E. H. Shepard’s stamped gilt illustrations of Pooh and Christopher Robin are sought after items. First edition copies are distinguished by the yellow pictorial dust jacket and 117th thousand printed on the back flap with 7/6 net pricing on the spine. The book has distinctive illustrations of the map of the “100 Aker Wood” on the front free pages.

Milne wrote Now We Are Six as a collection of 35 verse poems. He dedicates the book to Christopher Robin’s childhood friend, Anne Darlington stating, “now she is seven and because she is so speshal.” The UK edition is bound in maroon cloth with the typical gilt illustrations. Likewise, the pink endpapers feature E. H. Shepard’s illustrations. The first edition dust jacket is very pale and a fine copy is hard to find. Any copy with a provenance is clearly a bonus. Our copy with playful comments between the authors, H. G. Wells and A. A. Milne, is a lovely find.  They comment of the words “now she is seven and because she is so speshal” with H. G. Wells adding “when Alan was six, I was nix”.

The House at Pooh Corner is last of the Milne’s books in the series. Fine 1928 first editions will be notable for bright salmon pinks covers with gilt illustrations of Pooh and Christopher Robin stamped on the front board. Again the end papers are illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Any accompanying dust jackets will have the charming illustrations of the characters on the front covers and spine. This edition is prone to fading so a bright copy can be hard to track down.

For a collector a wish list would include deluxe versions of all the books. These deluxe editions came out in the same year as the trade editions except for When We Were Very Young which was released at the time of the seventh edition. Of course signed copies of the quartet with dust jackets in fine condition would complete the wish list. A bibliophile can seek a library of UK editions published by Methuen, London or U.S versions published by Dutton & Co, New York.

All the first editions were followed by a limited first edition run printed on handmade paper, and often known as “Large Paper” copies. Small numbers were released making them scarce and valuable items. Only 100 copies of When We Were Very Young were ever published. 350 copies of Winnie the Pooh signed by Milne and Shepard were released by Methuen in 1926. These copies are distinctive because of their two-tone blue boards. The U.S. limited edition of this book was also published in 1926 with blue and pink boards. Only 200 numbered copies and 26 lettered copies are available. The third book had only 200 “Large Paper” copies released with salmon paper boards, a beige buckram spine and a printed paper label on the front board. Finally the last in the series, 350 signed copies of The House at Pooh Corner was released with cream paper-covered boards, a blue buckram spine and a printed paper label on the front cover. All of these editions are highly sought after books and make a very desirable set.

Of course, once you have sought out a fine set of the Pooh books you might want to move onto completing the collection of all of Milne’s other fine works  – but that is another story…

Here are more A .A. Milne first editions

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How The Book Got It’s Jacket

“How the book got it’s jacket” sounds like a good title from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories yet it is an interesting question, when did books acquire their dust wrappers?

Hans Andersen Fairy Tales and Legends illus by Rex Whistler

Before the 1820’s the text of a book was often bound in a commissioned binding of the owners choice. If a cover was needed to protect a book it was a plain paper wrapper, known as a “bastard title” that was quickly discarded once the book was purchased. An early forerunner version of a book protector was a slip case or sheath which were used for the covering of ornate gift publications or special books. From 1820 these covers progressed to a more paper like version and occasionally included the name of the book title on the cover. The golden age of illustration ensured that ornate and beautiful books were designed which required no decorative covers so any dust jackets for these books were frequently removed to enable the book to be displayed. As any dust jacket collector of 19th and 20th century dust jackets knows a dust jacket from this period is a rare item indeed.

Over time techniques of printing and marketing advanced allowing publishers to make book covers more colourful and appealing – although at the time continued scrapping of  lovely jackets as “wrapping paper” continued. Many books were issued with a plain glassine dust jacket which was instantly dismissed on opening but are now sought after items.

A Christmas Carol dust jacket Arthur Rackham

By the 1920’s dust jackets were becoming familiar. The use of the flap on a jacket became refined providing protection of the book and allowing the owner to read the book too. An added bonus for the publisher was that there was space for promotional information about the author and the book. As the ornately designed book waned the dust jacket became the focus of attraction. The artistic and commercial developments in the art world encouraged more designers to move into corporate employment. The golden Age illustrators even moved into the area of dust jacket design as in the 1925 edition of A Christmas Carol with Arthur Rackham designed dust wrapper. Book designs became objects of art themselves.

World War II interrupted the development of the jackets for a while as shortages of paper restricted publication. Yet since then the dust jacket has gained importance in the field of book collecting. As every book collector will know, a good quality first editionjacket can add considerable value to any book. The value and interest can very often now be in the illustration and design of the dust jacket. Unusual information about an author or the book on the dust jacket can now make it a rare and sought after object.

The Ring by Richard Chopping

Moonraker by Ian Fleming 1st Edition

Author designed jackets such as Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, 1930, or Moonraker by Ian Fleming,  are unusual items. Illustrators who then write a book and illustrate their dust jackets are interesting too as in The Ring by Richard Chopping (illustrator to many of Ian Fleming, James Bond novels).

It can probably be assumed that if How the book got it’s jacket was indeed a Kipling publication it would no doubt have had no jacket on – or maybe it might be covered in the popular glassine covers of the time – and would indeed now be a collectors item!

 

 

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A Clockwork Orange dust jacket

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Endurance Writing for Children

Endurance Writing for Children:

Climbing trees, building dens and creating fantasy are common childhood pleasures and adventures. Children’s authors love to write about them. Yet only a select number of authors have managed to capture generations of children with their stories.

Classic children’s authors like Edith Nesbit, J. R.R Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis are writers who have mastered the skill. They cleverly created a world of magic and inverted logic that was entirely their own. Their literature is about children not for children. A way of keeping their inner child alive for the authors. As C.S. Lewis comments, When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. Yet adults secretly also like to read these children’s tales with bedtime reading rituals being the excuse!

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.TolkienThe trick of engaging the reader into a journey of childhood adventure is an art that J.R. R Tolkien perfected. Sometimes he writes as a guide to the reader and sometimes he seems to be only a step ahead of the reader. The suspense of the adventure is compelling and artfully employed in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Successful children’s literature must also never shy awThe Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbitay from the darker side of life. One of Edith Nesbit’s most popular stories portray the practical and fantastical side of childhood adventures. The Enchanted Castle describes the ghastly tales of creatures in the dark in a magical nightmare. She is not afraid of describing things as they are, including frightening experiences.

C.S. Lewis was a master at engaging adults as well as children into his literature. As he comments,  In my own first story I had described at length what I thought a rather fine high tea given by a hospitable faun to the little girl who was my heroine. A man, who has children of his own, said, “Ah, I see how you got to that. If you want to please grown-up readers you give them sex, so you thought to yourself, ‘That won’t do for children, what shall I give them instead? I know! The little blighters like plenty of good eating.” In reality, however, I myself like eating and drinking. I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties. Lewis’s  tales of a group of children getting drawn into a world of fantasy adventure in The Chronicles of Narnia remain as appealing to adults as to children.Alice-Adventures-In-Wonderland-Lewis-Carroll-First-Edition-1881 (2)

Writing children’s literature is often best developed when it grows out of a story that has been told by the author to a particular child. Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland adventures were directly meant for Alice Liddell, his child friend. Beatrix Potter’s books were initially written as letters to the children she was governed. The infamous and enduring  Babar books of Jean De Brunhof were started with his recording his bedtime stories to his young sons.

Certainly creating a writing style that encourages generations of readers to keep turning to the books for childhood reading and nostalgia is a talent. C.S. Lewis comments,  I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. There are certainly a few authors who have achieved that long lasting attraction.

The-Tale-Of-Peter-Rabbit-Beatrix-Potter-1st-edition-5th-printing (15)The Story of Babar First Edition by Jean De Brunhoff Preface by A. A. Milne

To see more first edition books for children go here

 

 

 

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The Gift of Music or Books

The Gift of Music or Books

Recently someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday gift– maybe a CD I replied and then realised I hadn’t listen to music for quite a while. Music had always been really important to me. I’d often got lost in it. It could make me happy, moved – sad even, energetic or help me get to sleep. Quite a powerful mix of spells. But without particularly noticing, I’d almost stopped listening altogether. What had happened? Had my life changed? Or shock horror, had I changed?

Then I came across an article about the latest high definition portable music players and how they play music files that aren’t compressed.

I’ve always appreciated quality in all things whether I can afford them or not. Quality sound, with those high tones and deep bases we used to hear on vinyl, had disappeared from my life. It wasn’t me – it was the awful low quality music on my phone. Those compressed digital files that conveniently fit hundreds of songs onto my tiny little device at the expense of sound quality, were to blame. I’d fallen out of love with music because it no longer gave me the pleasure it once did. I just hadn’t realised it.

I bought myself a new, albeit rather expensive portable devise and now can’t download music (high definition music) onto it quickly enough. It’s wonderful to have my ears opened again, as though they’d been blocked with wax for a decade!

There is an obvious and relevant comparison with books and e-books. Yes, e-books are convenient for say holidays but beyond that, are they really a substitute for the real thing? I’m not talking about rare and antique first editions here but any modern or classic book. For instance, sometimes I have need to flip back to check a specific detail from earlier in a book. I can generally find it because I know roughly where to look, and can even remember whether it was on a right or left hand page. I would not even try this on an e-book.

Set of A.A. Milne Pooh Books first editionsAdd to the mix the tactile experience, the cover design, the feel, the experience of reading a physical book and you’re starting to scratch at the surface of the comparison. You could even say an open book is an open expression of one’s character just as music can reflect the literature of the heart. Heinrich Heine says, “Where words leave off, music begins.” A shelf of books or music says something about a person. Not everyone would agree I’m sure but I wouldn’t mind betting there are a lot of nodding heads out there.

Getting transported by being lost in a book or music is a real gift. This Christmas, don’t forget to think about either an expensive portable music devise (costly!) or a vastly cheaper option of a book as a present. A lovely first edition book might be that special something that’s totally unique and unusual.

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Uncommon Christmas Titles – and presents

Uncommon Christmas Titles – and presents

As Christmas draws near it is interesting to see how publishers market their festive books. Consider the four “Uncommon Christmas Titles” collection illustrated by Arthur Rackham. These are four soft backed smaller books, The Night Before Christmas (1931), The King Of The Golden River (1932), Goblin Market (1933) and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1934). Clearly not all these titles are Christmas related. It is interesting to wonder why they make such a good match.First Edition Christmas Titles Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

In the 1930’2 new techniques of printing were emerging effecting the market for Rackham’s typical limited edition books with tipped in illustrations. The financial downturn of the American and British economy was influencing consumer spending and the luxury of Rackham elaborate plate illustrations was becoming a thing of the past. A new kind of Rackham book was needed and Rackham changed publisher to Harrap & Co, London in 1928.

Harrap responded to the change in the consumer market by proposing that a slimmer book printed on thinner paper was produced. The plates would be printed on coated paper bound in at intervals within the text. Harrap did not lose sight of the need for an “upmarket” edition alongside the ordinary edition and continued to produce a number of limited edition books. As Rackham comments to Alwin Scheuer in 14 March 1931, “There is a fashion for publishing only limited editions that my books are in rather a curious position.  The ordinary editions do not sell so large a number as of old, and the limiteds are largely over applied for- whereas, formally, in one or tow cases happily, the limited editions were not immediately sold out.” (Butler Library Columbia University New York).

Rackham and Harrap agreed a successful arrangement whereby two Rackham books were published annually. One was the smaller book and the other a slightly longer and more elaborate book. The smaller ones were released for the Christmas trade.The first trial of this was in 1931 when The Complete Angler and Clement Moore’s, The Night before Christmas was released. Sales of the limited edition of the latter was particularly brisk. The following year Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson and John Ruskin’s King of the Golden River were released. In 1933 The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book with Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market was the chosen works. Rackham’s pace of work altered for the next year and the Pied Piper Of Hamelin was the only book published in 1934.

Rackham was nearing the end of his career in the 1930’s yet the quality of his illustrations remained intact with all these publications. “The style of work for a series of poems published by Harrap and Sons in the early thirties returned unashamedly to the early style.”  (Gettings, p. 161).

Christmas TitlesThe Pied Piper of Hamelin Illus by Arthur Rackham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over this time Harrap and Rackhams’ publications the four smaller books published were of the same style. Each had soft covers with four dazzling colour plates plus black and white illustrations throughout the text. Clearly the marketing strategy of Harrap was successful and sales of the books were good. The four smaller books make a good fit and it is these publications that form the “Uncommon Christmas Titles” that we recognise today. They would indeed make an ideal Christmas gift for a Rackham collector today.

 

 

 

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Childers- A Rare Thriller for Collectors

Childers – A Rare Thriller for Collectors

Collectors of spy thrillers might struggle to build up a collection if they start with one of the classics, The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers. It was the last and only spy novel he wrote! However, not to have his book in your collection would be to miss a trick. It is credited with being the forerunner of adventure novels that are based on facts yet remain true thrillers.

Published in 1903, the book predicted the threat of war with Germany and called for British preparedness. The thriller was set within a plot of a yachting and duck shooting trip for two young men which turns into an adventurous investigation into a German plot to invade Great Britain. It is credited as a a precursor of factual spy novels such as John Buchan, Ian Fleming and Ken Follet.

Erskine Childers (25 June 1870 – 24 November 1922)

He certainly knew the military facts of the time. His first book, In the Ranks of the C. I. V. describes his accounts in the Boer War whilst he was serving with the Honorable Artillery Company in Southern Africa. His long descriptive letters were sent home to his sisters. The public’s interest in the war was growing and the letters were published in book format to some success in 1902. Childers then went on to collaborate with his colleague, Basil Williams, on a more formal book, The HAC in South Africa, which described the history of the regiment’s part in the campaign.

However Childers must have known there was a novel in him working on a script for The Riddle of the Sands since 1901. He had been a sailing enthusiast for many years owning several vessels since 1893. He sailed extensively across the channel and even to the Baltic, Nordenhay and the Frisian Islands with his brother. These wide sailing experiences along the German coast plus his wartime forays provided essential  factual material for his adventure novel.

The Riddle of the Sands

The novel was published with wide acclaim and it has never gone out of print. The significance of the book is even more intriguing considering the context of the life and time of the author. The novel depicts patriotic characters who perform courageous struggles for king and country. Yet Childer’s mother was Irish and he had always been interested in the cause of Irish Home Rule. He took this up seriously after WW1. Although Riddle was an instant bestseller, Childers never wrote another novel. Instead he concentrated on military strategy manuals before entering politics and eventually becoming a staunch Irish nationalist smuggling guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht. He was executed by a firing squad in 1922, by order of the Irish Free State.

Childers describes the novel as  “… a story with a purpose” written from “a patriot’s natural sense of duty”. It is certainly a book of significance. In 2003 many centenary editions were produced: the Observer included it on its list of “100 Greatest Novels of All Time” and The Telegraph noted it as the third best novel of all time. It remains a hugely influential book in the spy genre – and certainly one to add to any collection of first edition spy books!

View more first edition of the books

For more first edition spy books go to Ian Fleming or Alistair Maclean