Magazine article The Spectator

'Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich', by Michele K. Troy - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich', by Michele K. Troy - Review

Article excerpt

For one who has, since boyhood, regarded the secondhand bookshop as a paradise of total immersion, it is quite shocking to discover Albatross, an unknown imprint from the English literary past. Before Albatross there was Tauchnitz, the Leipzig firm which for 100 years cornered the market in English language books outside the territories of the British Empire and the USA. One often comes across Tauchnitz and I have two of its editions: a Thomas de Quincey, with a stamp from a circulating library in Lausanne; and a Ruskin, with one from a British club in Portugal. I only keep them as curiosities, because normally I avoid Tauchnitz editions: cheap boards with awful print on awful paper. But its market was huge, not only among expats but also foreigners who wished to pursue the new world language, which, following the defeat of Napoleon, was English.

By the time Albatross came along in 1932, Tauchnitz had sold 40 million books since its inauguration in 1837. But Albatross, licensed in the same territories, was soon outselling its predecessor and indeed took over its management, though the two firms remained technically separated. Yet I've never seen an Albatross book, which is astonishing, because Albatross stole the Tauchnitz thunder not only by under-cutting on price but by being very attractive visually, and the imprint sold in vast numbers.

The Albatross Modern Continental Library pioneered the paperback market -- Penguin, learning much from it, started out in 1935. Albatross invented colour-coding, in the form of fully saturated covers: red for crime, blue for romance, yellow for literary novels and essays, purple for biography and history, green for travel, orange for short stories. These made irresistible window displays. The list went from fairly highbrow (Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Hemingway, Katherine Mansfield) to middlebrow (Sinclair Lewis, Humbert Wolfe, Richard Aldington, John Steinbeck, E.M. Forster), to their lowbrow staple, which was detective fiction with British settings. Albatross preferred living to dead authors and was nimble, even unscrupulous, from the beginning (it pinched James Joyce from Tauchnitz).

The brains behind it was one of the most delightfully raffish characters to come before us in a long time, John Holroyd-Reece, whose extreme Englishness was linked to a gift for languages, which opened cosmopolitan doors. He turned out to be a Jew from Dresden who was schooled at Repton and changed his name. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.