Tauchnitz Editions



This site is all about the Tauchnitz Editions - books published in English by the German publisher Bernhard Tauchnitz.  The Tauchnitz 'Collection of British Authors' started in 1842 and continued for almost exactly 100 years, running to over 5300 volumes and covering almost all the best of English literature over that period.  The series was documented by William Todd and Ann Bowden in a monumental bibliography published in 1988, covering all of the English language editions published by Tauchnitz.  For more detail see below. 

 1. The story of Tauchnitz

2. The importance of the Tauchnitz series

3. Todd & Bowden's work

4. Bindings on Tauchnitz Editions

5. Tauchnitz Collections






The story of Tauchnitz

Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz was just 20 years old in 1837 when he founded in Leipzig the publishing firm that bore his name.  He had earlier been apprenticed to his uncle Karl Tauchnitz, an eminent printer-publisher who had introduced stereotyping to Germany.  He appears to have decided early to specialise in publishing editions in foreign languages, and particularly English.  The first volume in the ‘Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors’ appeared in 1842 and over the next 100 years the series went on to comprise some 5370 volumes.   Although it included the works of many American, as well as British authors, from as early as volume 15 in the series, it was not until 1914 that the name of the series was extended to include British and American Authors.

When the series was first launched there was no recognised international copyright convention and it was common for English language novels to be published in Europe without any recognition of copyright or any payment to the author.   The earliest volumes in the Tauchnitz series were reprints of books already widely available in Germany and had no authorisation from the authors.  However Tauchnitz quickly realised that obtaining explicit authorisation from authors in return for payment, might not only be more honest, but also more profitable, giving him early access to the latest novels available in English. 

In the summer of 1843 Tauchnitz put a proposal to a small number of authors to pay them a fee in return for authorisation to publish their works and his proposal was accepted initially by three authors in July 1843 – G.P.R. James, Bulwer Lytton and Lady Blessington.  Five others – Dickens, Disraeli, Ainsworth, Samuel Warren and Captain Marryat accepted shortly after and works by all these authors and a small number of others appeared in the Tauchnitz series as editions ‘sanctioned by the author’ over the next three years.

This pioneering move helped to drive forward moves towards international copyright protection and in 1846 an Anglo-German treaty established an international copyright.  From that point on Tauchnitz editions were published under international copyright, giving them some protection against piracy by other publishers.   Under the terms of the copyright they could be sold throughout Continental Europe and elsewhere, but could not be imported into the British Empire, or in the case of American authors, into the USA.

The goodwill gained by these early moves enabled Tauchnitz to establish and maintain close relationships with many of the leading British and American authors and become the principal publisher of English language books in continental Europe.  In many cases authors sent him early proofs of their work, so that he was able to publish them at the same time as the British publisher, or in some cases even earlier.   By 1860 the ‘Collection of British Authors’ had grown to 500 volumes and in this same year he was awarded an hereditary baronage, indirectly arranged by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.

Further honours followed in 1872 when he was appointed British Consul at Leipzig and in 1877 when he was nominated to a life peerage in the upper chamber of the Saxon parliament.   His publishing business continued to thrive, with the 1000th volume of its main series published in 1869 and the 2000th volume in 1881.   By the time the firm celebrated its golden jubilee in 1887, with the publication of a history of the business, the Collection of British Authors had grown to over 2400 volumes and it published its 3000th volume before the death of the first Baron Tauchnitz in 1895.

First Baron Tauchnitz         Second BaronTauchnitz

His son, Christian Carl Bernhard Tauchnitz, inherited both the title and the firm and continued the work of his father over the next 17 years, introducing Dr. Curt Otto as a partner in the business and taking the collection to over 4000 volumes.   When Dr. Otto eventually became General Manager of the firm in 1912, it was at a time of increasing international tension, leading up to the declaration of war between Britain and Germany in 1914.

The war inevitably made life extremely difficult for a German firm specialising in publishing English language books and the post-war period was also difficult with only poor quality paper available and inflation in Germany accelerating out of control.  The firm did continue to publish throughout these difficulties and generally retained its pre-eminent position in English language publishing in continental Europe, but it was no longer the force that it had been in the 19th century.   The second Baron Tauchnitz died in 1921, leaving Curt Otto as the sole owner of the business, and when he too died in 1929, the firm was reorganised as a limited stock company under the management of Max Christian Wegner.  

Over the years there had been many attempts by other publishers to challenge the near monopoly that Tauchnitz held on continental publication of the major English language authors, but none had achieved much success.  That was to change with the launch of The ‘Albatross Modern Continental Library’ in 1932, led by John Holroyd-Reece and Max Wegner, which with a more modern approach quickly supplanted Tauchnitz as the publisher for a new generation of authors.

A weakened Tauchnitz firm was unable to withstand this attack on its core market and within two years, Albatross had effectively taken over control of its much older rival.   Ownership of the Tauchnitz firm passed to its printer, Oscar Brandstetter of Leipzig, but editorial control was relinquished to the Albatross team.  For the remaining years until the start of the Second World War, the Albatross and Tauchnitz series were run in parallel.

War between Britain and Germany again left Tauchnitz in a near impossible position, but the business survived by switching to publication of a new series of German language books and, after the occupation of France, a shorter series of the works of German authors translated into French.   From 1940 to 1943 just one book a year was added to the Collection of British Authors, with the final volume being a novel by P.G. Wodehouse, written in a German internment camp.   On 3/4 December 1943, Brandstetter’s premises were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid and this brought an end to the series after 101 years.

There were a number of attempts to revive the Tauchnitz name and tradition after the war with the establishment of new series, but none of them had much success.   The final book published under the Tauchnitz imprint appeared in 1955, although new wrappers seem to have continued to be applied to old stock through into the early 1960s.

The importance of the Tauchnitz series

The roughly 100 years during which the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors (later British and American authors) was published, was a defining period for English literature.  In the early years, writers such as Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope and many others were enjoying popular success as well as taking literature in new directions.   Towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century they were joined by authors such as Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  All of these authors are well covered in the Tauchnitz series as are, later on, Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton, John Galsworthy, George Bernard Shaw and a host of other less well-known writers.

In Britain these authors were published by many different publishing houses and the first editions of their novels appear in a huge variety of different formats.  However the continental publishing rights for almost all the leading British authors from 1840 through to 1940 were acquired by Tauchnitz.   The Tauchnitz Edition therefore contains in a consistent format, almost all the significant novels in English over this period, published more or less contemporaneously with their first appearances. Indeed in a number of recorded cases, and no doubt many unrecorded ones, the Tauchnitz Editions were published slightly in advance of the UK editions and therefore represent the true worldwide First Edition.

As a record of English literature over this key period, the Tauchnitz Edition is completely unrivalled.

Todd & Bowden's work

William Todd and Ann Bowden were noted US bibliographers who spent several years of their lives both researching the English language Tauchnitz Editions and building their own Tauchnitz collection.   The bibliography ‘Tauchnitz International Editions in English 1841 – 1955’ published by The Bibliographical Society of America in 1988 stands as a permanent memorial to their work.   It is widely regarded as one of the major bibliographical achievements of the 20th century – a 1000+ page volume that identifies the various editions of each volume published by Tauchnitz and records the known copies in the major Tauchnitz collections.

Before the Todd & Bowden work was published, it was extremely difficult to distinguish first printings of Tauchnitz editions.  Tauchnitz followed the unusual practice of retaining the first printing date on the title page of later printings, with no indication of the date of actual printing.  Thus a reprint in 1920 of a volume first published in 1850, would still be dated 1850 on the title page.   By use of a number of other indicators, Todd & Bowden were able to distinguish different printings, and thus show that many of the copies held in the major collections were printed many years after the first publication date.

While researching their bibliography, Todd & Bowden themselves built up a major Tauchnitz collection of over 6000 items, covering both first printings and reprints.   This collection was purchased by the British Library in 1992, where it is now kept.


The basic Tauchnitz editions were issued in paperback, but it was the practice for most of the 19th century for buyers to take them to their own bookbinder to have them bound.  They would sometimes do this with books from a number of different publishers and so develop a uniformly bound library.  For the modern collector of Tauchnitz editions, the result is that they come in a huge variety of bindings from the utilitarian to the sumptuous.  A Tauchnitz collection is as much a collection of the bookbinder’s art as a collection of English literature.  Not all paperbacks were bound in this way of course, but those that were not, have lasted less well, so that the vast majority of remaining 19th century issues are bound copies.


Early editions in original wrappers                     A variety of 19th century bindings 

Tauchnitz did also from the beginning make available copies that were already bound, although sales of these appear to have been low in comparison with paperback sales.  There were a wide variety of different publisher’s bindings over the years, but it is not always easy to distinguish publisher’s bindings from private bindings.  In general publisher’s bindings are likely to have some reference to Tauchnitz on the outside of the binding, whereas private bindings generally refer only to the author and the title, but this is clearly not an infallible rule.

Roughly around the end of the 19th century, the practice of having books privately bound started to decline, and so it is much more common to find 20th century issues in either paperback or in publisher’s bindings.  There were a number of styles of Tauchnitz bindings that started to appear around the 1890s and with various modifications these continued through to the end of the series.

20th century publisher's bindings                     20th century editions in wrappers

Tauchnitz Editions in the original wrappers are much easier to date than bound copies, whether publisher’s bindings or private bindings.  Most paperback copies show the month of issue at the top of the back wrapper and also carry publicity for other recent volumes, which helps in precise dating.  For most of its history, Tauchnitz also used a slightly different format of wrapper for first printings than for subsequent reprints, even where those reprints happened in the same month as the first printing.  On bound copies however this information is usually lost and dating is far less precise.  Where the series half-title has also been discarded by the binder, dating is all but impossible.

Reprint and first printing formats

Collectors therefore often have to choose between paperback copies that can be definitely identified as first printings, but may be in less than ideal condition, or bound copies that are likely to be much better preserved, but can rarely be confirmed with any certainty as first printings.

Tauchnitz Collections

Todd & Bowden record brief details of 46 Tauchnitz collections in 13 countries, of which 19 were then in the US, including their own collection, which has since been sold to the British Library.  The vast majority of the collections are in University libraries or in National Libraries, with only a very small number in private hands.  There are collections in the National Libraries of several European countries, but there are no known collections outside of Europe and North America.

None of the collections recorded has a complete series of the main Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’, although there are 9 collections that hold over 3000 volumes, not necessarily all different volumes and not necessarily all first printings.   Other than the Todd & Bowden collection, the most complete collections are probably those in the Landesbibliothek Coburg, Cornell University in Ithaca, and one private collection recently acquired by the National Library of Scotland.

My own collection has been put together since the publication of the Todd & Bowden bibliography and has benefited from its advice on identification of first printings.   It currently contains over 3500 volumes from the main series, of which over 1500 are in the original wrappers and can be precisely dated as the earliest known printing.   A further 2000 copies are bound editions that are in the earliest known format, as far as can be identified.   Although other collections contain more volumes in total, there are few that have more of the earliest known editions.  Particular attention has been paid to the early part of the series and the collection currently holds first printings of over 400 of the first 500 volumes, including some exceptionally rare Dickens items.  The collection is also particularly strong in many of the miscellaneous series, such as the Students Editions, including a significant number of books that Todd & Bowden were unable to locate in any existing collection and it contains a wide selection of Tauchnitz ephemera.  Contact me for more details.