Just 21 of the first 50 books published by Winnipeg's Harlequin Books had signed cover art. One artist used only initials and remains a mystery, at least to me. Here are the two books signed by "JP". If anyone has more information happy to hear from you.
Sixty-one years ago in May 1949 Harlequin published its first book, The Manatee by Nancy Bruff. Today Harlequin has become an adjective as in "Harlequin Romance". There is no "xx Crime" or "xx Horror" or "xx Fantasy" genre category. Whatever one thinks of the product this is an achievement. Harlequin publishes over 50 series under 10 imprints. The books are short, inexpensive and come and go out of the bookstores, drug stores and supermarkets with the regularity of magazines. In my community there at least three used bookstores with thousands of Harlequins for sale.
According to the Harlequin website through 2008 Harlequin has shipped 5.8 billion books since The Manatee. Here are three Harlequins from October 1951 when cumulative sales were in the 4 million range.
Originally published in 1950 (New York: Phoenix Press) Boot Hill was one of 17 westerns published that year. Weston Clay was a pseudonym for Thomas W. Ford. Emma Hart (London: Museum Press, 1949 as Our Dearest Emma) was one of three historicals from 1951 and Berlin at Midnight (New York: Greenberg, 1948) one of 34 crime/thrillers. Berlin and Emma were reprinted the next month.
All three of the largest Canadian paperback publishers reprinted some of their titles. None of then were consistent in how they indicated a reprint but Harlequin Books was the least inconsistent. Harlequin had two basic ways they produced reprints. One was to print more copies of the title with the same series number or, in 20 instances, publish a new number, usually with a new cover. Here we'll look at some examples.
The first and second Harlequin reprints are numbers 5 and 6. Both first printings were in June 1949 and both reprints were July 1949. The reprints have only the new date and don't indicate that the book is a reprint. The third example is the second Harlequin to be reprinted with a new number and cover. The first printing of City for Conquest is November 1949, the second December 1951. By this time Harlequin was giving both dates in the reprint so even though a new number it was marked as a reprint.
Of the 258 authors who wrote the 481 titles published by Harlequin Books from 1949 to 1959, five had between seven and nine. The only one with nine was Paul Evan Lehman. Lehman wrote westerns, the second most popular genre during Harlequin's first six years. From 1949 to 1954 63 titles (20%) were westerns.
All I can find about Lehman is that he was living in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1934. None of the dozens of books he wrote are in print. Here are the first three of his Harlequin editions, all 1951. All were originally published the year before as paperback originals.
Five hundred and nineteen authors wrote for the big three early Canadian paperback publishers - 262 for Harlequin Books, 143 for Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Canada Ltd's White Circle imprint and 114 for Export Publishing Enterprises Ltd's News Stand Library imprint. There a few authors who had books published by two out of the three but only one who had a book published by all three. His name was Thomas Stone.
Who was Stone? Stone was a she - Florence Stonebraker. Quoting from this site:
"For thirty years – between Pay for Your Pleasure (Phoenix, 1937) and Predatory Woman (Beacon, 1967) – [Stonebraker] cranked out more than 80 novels of unsanctioned sex. Married or single, her characters were tempted by and often surrendered to their lustful desires. Stonebraker had a conventional side, too, and wrote a couple dozen stories of chaste young women finding love. But her forte was the risqué."
She also used the pseudonym Florenz Branch. In order of published date here are her five books from the three Canadian publishers.
News Stand Library 21 - January 1949 (first published Phoenix Press, 1946 as A Talent for Love)
News Stand Library 27 - February 1949 (Phoenix Press, 1947)
New Stand Library - September 1950 (Publishers Productions, 1950 - Ecstasy Novel #6)
White Circle CD 484 - 1951 (Phoenix Press, 1943)
Harlequin 142 - November 1951 (Phoenix Press, 1944 as Doctor Tony)
D. Rickard is a mystery. Here I discussed this Canadian artist's obscurity. He (or she) illustrated dozens of covers for a number of Canadian paperback publishers from 1949 to 1953 then disappeared. Since that post I've learned nothing new. But here are more Rickard covers - all from Harlequin Books first year.
Harlequin published 25 books in 1949. Nine of the covers had signed art, six by Rickard. There are two more covers not signed by Rickard but done in his distinctive style. The first four of his eight 1949 covers follow.
Continuing with our Harlequin Books May marathon here are three books that are in the historical fiction genre. Today Harlequin publishes a historical fiction romance series which is the descendant of these early historicals.
Forty-four of the 481 Harlequin titles published between 1949 and 1959 are historical fiction. Three of the earliest follow. The Golden Feather (New York: Julian Messner, 1943) was published by Harlequin in 1950. Beyond the Blue Mountains (New York: Appleton-Century, 1947) and Emma Hart (London: Museum Press, 1949 as Our Dearest Emma) date from 1951. The three authors account for 10 (Plaidy 6, Prole 3, Kenyon 1) of the 43 Harlequin historicals.
Here is Vol. 1 No. 1 of Popular Digest, a 96 page Toronto digest from October 1946. It was published by The Popular Digest Publishing Company, one of a number of companies operated by our friends at Fireside Publications. The address of the old Arcade Building provides the link between the two publishers. I don't know if "The ONLY magazine of PERMANENT Merit!" made it to number 2.
The contents are eclectic to say the least. A few examples -
"Midget Marriages" starts with the questions: "Are midgets step-children of love? Are the experiences of average humans denied to these 'little people' even as nature denied them normal size?" Before answering the reader is told that "you've probably found yourself asking these questions often."
"A Forgotten Communism" is about the Inca Empire which was "the most successful of all known communistic governments [and] the most highly perfected, the most remarkable in its conception and its administration."
In "Einstein's Theory of Relativity For the Layman" the author assures the reader that "it is possible ... to penetrate this vast world-problem relative to the latest and new theory of the construction of the world. With the help of your very kind and sincere attention, I am going to endeavor to explain the principle and thought behind the great theory of 'Relativity'." The article is the most incoherent published writing I've ever read. The "theory of relativity" explained here is largely the general theory with a little flavouring of the special theory. Considering that the general theory is one of gravitation it is takes a special skill not to mention gravitation once in your article.
Articles about Harlequin (such as last years 60th anniversary) nearly always make a quick reference to the early pre-romance years and then move on to the modern Harlequin world of nothing-but-romance. In this blog we'll see the opposite. We'll stay in the pre-romance era and hardly ever refer to the Harlequin of the last 50 years.
From 1949 to 1959 Harlequin published 501 books (481 titles after reprints are removed). By the way I have to praise Harlequin for keeping the numbering sequence going these last 61 years. The series "Harlequin Romance" is the direct descendant and is now up to #4176 in June 2010.
The first three years saw the publisher's highest concentration of crime/thriller titles. Seventy-six (52%) of the 145 titles were in this genre. Westerns were second with 33 (23%), then romance with 19 (13%).
Here we'll look at some of the these earliest romances. Today "Romance" has a very specific definition in the publishing world. One site has this:
"Vital Elements of Romance Fiction: •Conflict – Without some central conflict that divides the lovers, there is no story. The conflict should rely on issues between the lovers that divide them, and not external forces ONLY to keep them apart for much of the book. •Growth – Characters who don’t grow throughout the novel are unsatisfying to the reader. •Resolution – Problems between the two at the heart of the novel need to be resolved for readers to believe in that Happily Ever After, but the reader won't be satisfied if he or she doesn't believe that the resolution to the lovers' central conflict is permanent and deep."
In this blog I'm going to define romance slightly differently. The early Harlequin romances are books clearly published for the woman's market. The covers, titles and stories would make the books as appealing to the average male paperback buyer in the fifties as westerns would be to the average female buyer. At least some of the elements described above will be in each book but a "permanent and deep" happy ending is not required.
Interesting to note, in light of the Harlequin history, how romance drops off to be replaced by crime and western in these early years. Here is one romance from each of these years. The first is the first Harlequin closest to the current romance definition. The second is a typical early title and the third is the only romance of 1951. Though here Harlequin hedged their bets with the cover.
In part I I discussed James Hadley Chase who had 24 books published by Harlequin Books between 1949 and 1959, the most by any of the 254 Harlequin authors in that period. Here we'll look at 3 of 182 authors who had only one Harlequin book. All were published in 1951 and fall into the crime/thriller genre.
The first is Oakley Maxwell Hall (1920 - 2008) who wrote as O. M. Hall. Wanton City was first published in 1949 as Murder City (New York: Farrar Straus).
Harlequin 103 back
The next is Robert Leslie Bellem's (1902 -1968) The Window with the Sleeping Nude. Bellem was a prolific writer for the pulps. The original edition was published in 1950 by Quinn Publishing of Kingston, New York as Handi-Book 118. Sleeping Nude has just been reprinted by Pulpville Press.
Harlequin 106 back
John Creasey's Kill the Toff, originally published in 1950 (London: Evans), was the 23rd of over fifty novels with "Toff". Creasey (1908-1973) wrote hundreds of novels under his name and over 20 pseudonyms.
In August 1952 Harlequin Books published Why Be a Sucker? by D. M. LeBourdais. In common with most of their books the copyright page announces "THIS HARLEQUIN BOOK edition is published by arrangement with The Metheun Company of Canada - Toronto". Uncommonly there is also the statement "Copyright Harlequin Books Limited and The British Book Service (Canada) Limited". So Harlequin appears to have some deeper connection to this reprint.
If we look at the undated Metheun hard cover edition we can see the connection. The title page has the Metheun imprint but the copyright page carries the same copyright notice without the Harlequin edition notice. The text block has been printed from the same plates as the Harlequin edition. The other connection can be seen on the covers; the Metheun edition uses the Harlequin edition cover. The diamond price and the ghost of the Harlequin logo behind the Metheun logo are the evidence.
The Metheun edition carries an absurdly complimentary review by well known Canadian poet E. J. Pratt. Hard to imagine any of the hundreds of investment self-help books today having a review from a poet. Below is Pratt's Still Life and Other Verse published in 1943 by The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited.