17 November 2007

The Mysterious Affair at Styles. 1920 / 1921

Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible, I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police...

Agatha Christie. THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. John Lane, Bodley Head. London, 1921.

Current Selling Prices
$8000+ /£4000+

Agatha Christie began writing during World War I while employed as a nurse. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel, was written at this time although not published until 1920. Christie's sly, solipsistic Belgian supersleuth, Hercule Poirot, makes his debut in this book. Captain Arthur Hastings, a guest at Styles Court, the family manor of his old friend John Cavendish, finds himself in a locked room mystery when Cavendish’s mother, Emily Inglethorpe, is discovered poisoned by strychnine inside her bedroom. Hastings, who fancies himself an amateur sleuth, suggests the Cavendish family engage his friend, Hercule Poirot, a recently retired Belgian detective to solve the murder. Thus begins one of the more memorable partnerships in mystery fiction--with the nice but dim Hastings as the Watson like foil to the masterly deductive powers of Hercules Poirot. Christie was not an outstaning prose stylist, Dick Francis can write better, but few come close to her skill in plotting. Her writing is clear and easily assimilated, we sell many of her books to foreign visitors to London wanting to learn or improve their English.

The book is not scarce but seldom turns up in fresh condition, it is usually worn at the spine and I have never seen it in jacket. Russell values it at £25000 in a jacket. About 7 years ago a copy was reported stolen from the cottage of a family member that was said to be in the jacket but I never heard of it surfacing anywhere. It is not impossible it was stolen to order by some gloating tycoon with a fetish for early jackets (a case for Poirot and 'his little grey cells.' ) To find a copy in a jacket would certainly be occasion for celebration, boasting and some serious overcharging.

We sold a jacket of an early edition (a 1920s Grosset) on ebay about 2000 and it attracted much interest. Similar jacket shown below. I recall it made over a $1000. Several punters emailed to ask where I had got it. This was a question that was never asked before the net and one was tempted to reply with a 'see you next Tuesday' but didn't. It was always a professional secret and in many cases one couldn't recall anyway. Since then I have replied civilly to such questions but still with vague disquiet and distaste lingering like the pain in an amputated limb.

VALUE? The US edition precedes by a year but is not as saleable (follow the flag) and the very first was the Canadian Ryerson edition but that is also worth a good deal less than the Bodley Head. The highest price achieved in auction was £4100 ( including commission) for a copy with a review blind stamp in 2000 ('original light brown cloth lettered and decorated in black, some light spotting, top edge occasionally roughly trimmed, binding slightly worn.') A US first ,cocked and soiled, made $2400 in 2005. A mediocre first sits at ABE at a toppish £6K right now. Later Christies from the 1920s and early 1930s in jacket are worth more.

Blackwells, who seem to like Agatha, have £13K on a 1936 jacketed 'Murder in Mesopotamia' - something of a noli tangere price. The highest price ever achieved in auction was £8500 in 2000 for a jacketed 1936 ABC Murders. She may no longer be going ahead spectacularly but super copies and early jackets on firsts are rare and valuable and easy to sell. I have a feeling they sell fairly quickly without need of cataloguing and thus leave little record. Signed copies show up often with persons with an archaeological connection (friends of her husband archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan) - at one point we bought a bunch inscribed to Sir Steven Runciman. Many good collections have shown up in the last 20 years and have usually sold fast - there must be many collectors holding rare Agathas in their locked cabinets. [ W/Q ** ]


Anonymous said...

I have a copywrite 1920 agatha christi: the mysterious affair at styles. any onw know how much i should really sell it for.

Anonymous said...

Copyright means very little--probably a reprint --you want John Lane, Bodley Head--check abebooks

Anonymous said...

I have a 5th edition copy of 'The mystery of the blue train'. Without it's jacket but still in fair condition. It is signed by Agatha Christie. Is it worth selling or shall I keep it for my sons?

Anonymous said...

Probably worth a few hundred pounds--not really a legacy, sorry.

Anonymous said...

I have what a copy of the Mysterious Affair at Styles with its pictorial front panel the same as on the original edition's and on the back it says Madison Square Books with a list starting from Faith Baldwin, District Nurse and ending with Margaret Wilson The Able McLaughlin. It says on inner flap of DJ that is was published by Grosset and Dunlap, New York. Copyright is listed as Copyright 1920 Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc. Printed in the USA. The DJ and book has the notice about "this book, while produced under war time conditions, in fill compliance..." Does anyone have any ideas of when it was printed/published or its value? Citation of sources would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Grosset is a reprint house and most books from them are of modest value as is this in all probability. The war is WW2 so it is a 1940s reprint...sorry