Thursday, 21 January 2010

Collection Petit Format vs. Harlequin Part I

Collection Petit Format (CPF) was a mass market imprint published by Les Ed. Moderne Ltee of Montreal from 1944 to 1958. During the fifteen years 443 books were published. Only 27 were published 1944-1948 with 416 published from 1949 to 1958. Curiously the years and number of books have an English Canada counterpart - Harlequin Books of Toronto. From 1949 until 1959 Harlequin published 501 books, 20 of which were reprints leaving 481 titles. After 1959 Harlequin published only romance (with a handful of exceptions). With this post I'm going to start a comparison of the two imprints and see where it leads.

An obvious start is looking at the genres. Leaving the largest, romance and crime/thriller, for another time I'll start with the fiction genres with the least amount of books. Harlequin published one sports novel and five war novels. CPF none. Harlequin published seven science fiction books, CPF one. And finally CPF published 11 classic novels (authors such as Balzac, Stendhal and Tolstoy) and two juvenile books, Harlequin none from either group. Nothing much to be learned here except that many types of stories were equally unpopular in French and English Canada for a general paperback publisher's audience.

The one genre with a difference is westerns, Harlequin published 75 (16% of their total). Fifty-one were published in just four years (1950-1953). During these four years CPF published 56% of their books, including a lone western. Why the dramatic difference? I don't know. Were westerns simply not popular in Quebec at a time when their popularity peaked in English Canada. Or were there other Quebec publishers that met any demand for westerns.

The CPF western is Les Bandits de l'Arizona by Gustave Aimard (French, 1818-1883). Below is another paperback edition from 1953. Information about CPF is courtesy of Literature en poche: Collection "Petit Format", 1944-1958: repertoire bibliographique, Richard Saint-Germain (Sherbrooke: Les Editions ex Libris, 1992).

Here are some Harlequin novels from genres discussed in this post.

Harlequin 6 - 1949

Harlequin 78 - 1950

Harlequin 238 - 1953


  1. Though I can't claim to have anything but a passing knowledge of vintage westerns, to these eyes Les Bandits de l'Arizona looks fairly unique. Don't covers from this time typically feature rugged, clean-cut, clean-shaven men like the gunslinger on the cover of Wolf of the Mesas? In contrast, the Aimard cover features a long-haired, mustachiod, weak-chinned individual who, it seems, is in danger of shooting his horse.

    Again, looking at this from one who does not follow the genre, memory tells me that these images usually take advantage of the frontier landscape. There's no Arizona on the cover of Les Bandits de l'Arizona.

  2. As you say it isn't like a typical English paperback cover of the era but to my eyes the cowboy looks more authentic. Of course the book isn't typical of the mid-century western creating an (imaginary) American west decades after it disappeared. It is more properly described as a novel of the west since it was published in 1881, just five years after Custer.

    The bibliography I mention has a poor B&W photo of the CPF cover showing indians on horseback leading captured cowboys.