William Collins, a millworker from Glasgow, first set up a company for printing and publishing hymn books, prayer books, pamphlets and sermons in 1819. He continued to build up his publishing company until his retirement in 1846. His son William II took over the company. When he died in 1853, his son William III took over as chairperson. In 1868 the company was renamed William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd. After William III’s death in 1895 his nephews William IV and Godfrey took over the firm. They developed ‘books for the millions’, offering classical literature at cheap prices. They introduced Collins Pocket Classics. By 1919 the main publishing office was 48 Pall Mall, London. In June 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was first published.
Collins Crime Club was an imprint/extension of William Collins and Co Ltd. and was set up in May 1930, running until April 1994. Customers were sent a quarterly newsletter with information of the latest books to be issued. All except the first 5/6 Agatha Christie books were published with the Collins Crime Club imprint, and many of these were true first editions (some books were first published in the US). First Crime Club editions were all dated, had red or orange cloth with black writing and were priced on the dust jacket as 7/6 or more. Reprints were often printed without dates and with different coloured cloth and lettering. Cheaper editions, priced below 7/6 were also produced. Books printed for New Zealand, Australia etc were ‘colonial’ editions and were printed without a price on the dust jacket.
In April 1936, Collins introduced the Collins White Circle Crime Club.
From April 1936 – August 1941 the books were priced at 6d.
January 1942 – 1946 were priced at 9d.
February 1947 – March 1951 priced at 1/-.
April 1951 – June 1957 were 1/6d.
January 1958 – September 1959 were 2/-.
In the 1950s, another imprint of Collins, Fontana, began to publish paperbacks. Early Fontana paperbacks were published with a blue banner at the bottoms and priced at 2/-.
During the end of the 1950s and the 1960s, Fontana paperbacks were printed with yellow banners and priced at 2/6. Fontana also produced colourful but plain covers in the 1960s, with a bright banner at the top, and a small colourful line with ‘Fontana books’ and the price 2/6 towards the bottom of the book.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Fontana had moved to the better known white banners at the top and bottom, and were priced 3/6. In the 1970s the books had just a white banner at the top with the title and author and the price was not printed on the cover. The picture sometimes had a white border on, and sometimes filled the rest of the book. Some titles had a white background with a small portion of picture, and had written on them ‘first time in paperback. The 70s also saw the introduction of the decimal system, with early titles showing both old (5/-) and new (25p) pricing on the back cover.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Fontana had moved towards using photographs for their covers. These books had no banners or borders. Books that had been made into films (such as Endless Night and Evil Under the Sun) had the actors on the cover.
The 1990s saw the introduction of The Christie Collection. A black ‘The Christie Collection’ banner ran along the top of the cover, and most of the rest of the page was filled with the title and author. The picture was small and in the middle of the page.
In 1989, William Collins and Sons merged with an American company Harper and Row to form HarperCollins Publishing.
HarperCollins have published facsimile editions of some of Agatha Christie’s books. These books are new hardbacks with copies of the original Crime Club dust jackets.