Thursday, July 15, 2010
Many classic and popular works of detective and mystery fiction had their first U.S. editions published via the Crime Club, including all 50 books of The Saint by Leslie Charteris (1928-1983). The imprint also published first editions in Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu series.
The Crime Club began life in 1928 with the publication of The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan, and ceased publication in 1991.
One of the best-known publishing imprints in the crime and mystery genre, the Doubleday Crime Club was the brainchild of Daniel Longwell, Doubleday's advertising manager in the late 1920s. After a 1927 buying trip to England, Longwell decided to profit by the immense popularity of Edgar Wallace's “thrillers” and the work of the authors who made up the newly formed Detection Club by issuing a dedicated line of mystery novels with an identifiable logo. 1 April 1928, was the publication date of the first Crime Club book, The Desert Moon Mystery (1928) by Kay Cleaver Strahan. It wore what was to become the distinctive black cloth cover highlighted with crimson-inked titles and the Crime Club Gunman logo. The logo is made up of the letters that spell “crime,” and it appeared on every book during the sixty-three-year history of the Crime Club. In the imprint's first three years, Doubleday published more than 150 books in the new series, prompting several other publishers to start their own mystery lines in the hope of duplicating the Crime Club's popularity and profits. The Great Depression forced Doubleday for eleven months to reduce the price of the first editions to one dollar and for a period of several years to limit the number of titles.
Members of the Crime Club received their copies of the monthly main selection in advance of those readers who would either purchase one at a bookstore or borrow a copy through the then popular lending libraries. For many years the dust jackets for these member editions had a distinct motif, and the covers of these books were red cloth instead of the customary black. Dust jackets commissioned during the 1930s were cleverly designed, usually with vivid colors, and reflected the book's contents. Many covers were drawn by artists who later became well known in the commercial and fine art fields, often as illustrators of children's books. Notable artists who designed Crime Club dust jackets included Boris Artzybasheff, Paul Galdone, Vera Bock, and Andy Warhol.
In 1943 longtime editor Isabelle Taylor originated the Crime Club Bullseyes, a series of symbols classifying each book. The symbols were printed on the spine and on the bound-in blurb. They identified favorite categories popular with authors, readers, booksellers, and librarians. Among these symbols were a grinning skull that designated humor and homicide, an owl that promised suspense, and a shooting gun that suggested fast action. During this period, forty-eight books a year were usually published, even though World War II brought a major paper shortage that reduced print runs, trim size, and paper quality. Print runs increased after the war, but production values never matched their prewar levels.
During the sixty-three years that the Doubleday Crime Club was in existence, it published 2,492 titles and furthered the careers of such authors as Leslie Charteris, Aaron Marc Stein, Margaret Millar, Mignon G. Eberhart, Charlotte MacLeod, Barbara Paul, Sax Rohmer, and Jonathan Latimer.