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Tauchnitz Publisher’s “Forbidden” Editions at the Library of Congress

(The post is by intern Shelby Reidle, European Division)

The Bernhard Tauchnitz firm was established in Leipzig, the German center of literature and book publishing, in 1837. The Tauchnitz “Collection of British Authors” debuted in 1842 with the novel “Pelham”  by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Despite its name, the Collection included American works from the very beginning, such as James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Spy” (1842). The name of the Collection was expanded to the “Collection of British and American Authors” in 1914.

Christian Bernhard, Freiherr von Tauchnitz (1816-95). From “The Critic: An Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art and Life.” G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, Oct. 1901, p. 331.

Signature of Bernhard Tauchnitz from an October 2, 1860, letter to a business associate concerning the publication of the dramatic works of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton by the firm of Bernhard Tauchnitz Verlag, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

When designing their business strategy, Bernhard Tauchnitz and his partners were well aware of the international copyright discussions occurring in Great Britain. They approached English literary agents and offered to publish their clients’ books for circulation limited to continental Europe. This agreement stipulated that Tauchnitz would not compete with the initial publisher in the original home market. Consequently, Tauchnitz volumes either have the phrase “This Collection is published with copyright for Continental circulation, but all purchasers are earnestly requested not to introduce the volumes into England or into any British Colony,” or “Not to be introduced into the British Empire and U.S.A.”

In addition to modifications in typeface and layout, the text of the warning (not to bring the books to their original country of publication) on the title page changed in the 40-year span between the publications. See, e.g., left: Lew Wallace, “Ben Hur” (1888) and right: Upton Sinclair, “Roman Holiday” (1931).

Because of the warning not to bring these editions to the United States, and according to the agreements between the Tauchnitz firm and its British and American counterparts, the Tauchnitz volumes should never have made it to Washington, DC. However, the Library of Congress has approximately 195 Tauchnitz editions of British and American works in its collections. This is not surprising, as the Tauchnitz editions were very affordable and easy to transport, due to their paperback binding and small size. Additionally, the risk of being caught with a contraband book when returning to Great Britain or the United States was slight. Moreover, if a customs agent did identify Tauchnitz works, the books would merely be confiscated.

Several of the Tauchnitz editions at the Library of Congress were donated by private individuals who likely forgot that they were not supposed to bring the books into the United States. For instance, in 1918, Woodrow Wilson’s “The New Freedom” was donated by Alfred Louis Moreau Gottschalk, nephew of the composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Other volumes have similar notes about the donor, or even a small ex libris identifying the book as part of a personal library prior to arriving at the Library of Congress. A few others were donated by public libraries.

Although British and American tourists picked up Tauchnitz editions while traveling across Europe, many readers, in fact, were not native English speakers. They were learning English as a foreign language, or wanted to read British and American literature in the original. Tauchnitz’s bilingual pocket dictionaries further helped to make the works more accessible to such readers. Consequently, the Tauchnitz firm is credited with popularizing English-language literature in Europe and encouraging people to learn English as a foreign language. The authors benefited through increased book sales and growing international recognition. Furthermore, books with a Tauchnitz edition were more likely to be translated into European languages, thus reaching a new group of readers.

The Tauchnitz editions of American novels created a certain image of the United States in the minds of European readers. The books presented an idealized picture of the American West and steered away from works dealing with racial and socioeconomic issues. Bret Harte was a mainstay of the “Collection of British and American Authors,” with short stories about the California Gold Rush, including “The Story of A Mine” (1877). Fourteen of his Tauchnitz novels and short story collections are housed at the Library of Congress. Harte was also significant in the history of the Tauchnitz firm for introducing his friend Mark Twain to the publishing house. Another well-known author, Upton Sinclair, also covered American life on the Western frontier through books like “Mountain City” (1930). On the issue of slavery in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the author Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a targeted “new preface expressly written for this edition, authorized for the continent of Europe” that addressed criticisms of the book, as well as an explanation of why American slavery should concern Europeans.


Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Preface to the European Edition” in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” authorized ed. (1852) Rare Book & Special Collections Division.

Due to the fragile condition of the original paperback binding, as well as the books’ literary significance, some of these Tauchnitz volumes are housed in the Library’s Rare Book & Special Collections Division. The rest have been rebound, often in a scarlet hardcover, and are available in the General Collections. The Library also has copies of Tauchnitz pocket dictionaries for French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.

An Heiress of Red Dog” (1879), “On the Frontier” (1884), “Idyls of the Foothills” (1874), and “The Story of a Mine” (1877), by Bret Harte. The books were rebound with scarlet hardcover and gold font on the spine, including the seal of the Library of Congress. General Collections.

Under the terms of an Anglo-French copyright agreement, Tauchnitz was the only legal reprint publisher of English-language books in France, paving their way for the domination of the European market. The greatest number of Tauchnitz books sold was during the 1870s and 1880s. By the 1890s, the Tauchnitz firm had become a household name, not only in European countries such as Germany and France, but also in Great Britain and the United States.

However, following the passage of the Chance Act in 1891, which provided stricter international copyright protections, and facing various political challenges, Tauchnitz’s publishing activity began to decline. During both world wars, Tauchnitz’s position as a German publishing house alienated it from readers in Allied nations. In 1943, 100 years after the founding of the Tauchnitz firm, the Royal Air Force bombed the city of Leipzig, destroying the Tauchnitz building. No Tauchnitz editions proper were published after World War II, although other publishing firms acquired Tauchnitz rights and reprinted its novels until 1955.


One Comment

  1. Erika Hope Spencer
    January 7, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Fascinating look behind this publisher and how it brought British and English authors to greater notoriety-whether or not it was all strictly legal. Also interesting to see which authors were selected and how politics and war effected the distribution and popularity of the editions. Nice images. Thanks for posting.

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