Sunday, February 17, 2013

JACKET REQUIRED: A Few Scarlet Threads

Something a little different for this month's Jacket Required feature is the "Scarlet Thread" mystery imprint published by Robert M. McBride & Company from 1930 to 1931. The books did not have dust jackets per se, but rather what is called paste-on plates. In effect what would've been the DJ was attached directly to the book. Due to the nature of paste-on plates if they are not protected by a clear vinyl plastic the constant pulling on and off shelves and rubbing up against other books will eventually do its damage.  Most of the plates are heavily rubbed, chipped or damaged in other ways. I keep upgrading the Scarlet Thread books I manage to find hoping one day for the best collection of these unique mystery novels.




A few booksellers out there when they come across a title from this imprint think that the DJ was dismembered and glued to the book. Not true. If you ever come across a description like that in a bookseller catalog the price will likely be very cheap. The bookseller thinks the book was damaged and altered thus making it depreciate in value. Jump on that book and buy it immediately! The Scarlet Thread books are scarce in any condition and cheap prices are just as rare as the books themselves.

I have been trying for years to complete my collection and so far have acquired only five of the titles. There may be more, but I have only confirmed seven books in this imprint. Besides those pictured here I know of The Diary of Death by Wilson Collison and The Woman in Purple Pajamas by "Willis Kent", a pseudonym of Collison's.

In addition to the paste-on plates (one each on the front board, rear board and backstrip) there is the unique fore-edge decoration that give the imprint its name. Running down the outer edges of the pages is the illusion of an unspooling red thread. Over time the red color fades and begins to look more purple than red. In some instances the decoration has completely faded and can no longer be seen. Below is the best example of the decoration on the pages of my copy of Murder from the Grave.





Click on photos to enlarge. Enjoy!















9 comments:

  1. Lovely, lovely covers. Especially the ones with skulls. I had never heard of the Scarlet Thread imprint. Thanks for this educational post.

    I went back and looked at all the Jacket Required posts. All were very interesting.

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  2. I'd not heard of these either. Were they printed in small, medium or large numbers? If you say they are rare or at lease hard to find, what is their likely distribution, mostly in the east, or big cities only, or?

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    1. They must've had very small print runs, Rick. I have never seen one with a notation that says "second printing." You will find many of the titles were reprinted by Tudor, a well known reprint publisher prior to the days of paperback publishers. I have found "Scarlet Thread Mysteries" only in US used bookstores, but in both big urban areas and rural towns. One of the earliest copies I bought was in Larry McMurty's store (when it existed) in Archer City TX. Like much of what is involved in book hunting and book collecting it's mostly luck and being in a store at the right time.

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  3. Very cool, John! I don't think I've ever seen any of these--but I'll definitely be looking now. Just curious...have you read any of these? Are they good mysteries as well as having the unusual covers and threading?

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    1. Just last night I finished Murder form the Grave because I'm planning on doing a post on the detective Professor Brierly. That's what led me to writing this post. Much to my surprise the book was pretty darn good. The plot was more of a howdunit that a whodunit with rather grisly and ingenious murder methods reminding me of some of the best of John Rhode. So stay tuned for news about Prof. B!

      The authors published in the "Scarlet Thread" imprint are typical of the B list or in some cases the D list of mysterydom. Wyndham Martin is a thriller writer with a fairly prolific output. Levinrew went on to become part of the Mystery League line. Not really a step up from Scarlet Thread, sad to say. Helen Burnham has been memorialized in Gun in Cheek, I think. Fitzsimmons has a reputation for being pretty uninspired. Ever since I read Red Rhapsody (horrible!) I have avoided his books. His claim to fame is being one of the earliest writers of sports mysteries: football, baseball and one notorious book about an impossible crime during an ice hockey game called Crimson Ice.

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  4. Covers really beautiful!
    Also because they testify to a past time. I also like getting me books with beautiful and ancient covers (year '30 and year '40): at that time the covers were meticulous in detail and great artists collaborated to publishers.
    You gave me an idea, John! One of the next articles will consist in covers of the years when my father was young (of course I will indicate the original title of the English or French novel).

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    1. I would very much like to see those, Pietro. I still keep a file of unusual dust jackets including foreign editions. I found some very attractive Spanish ones for the works of Noël Vindry whose books still have no English translations. With tempting titles like The Howling Beast, Blood Necklace, and The Flight of the Dead I am hoping someday an enterprising translator will allow the English speaking world to read Vindry's unusual mystery novels.

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  5. Marvellous stuff there John - that stuff that envy is made of ...

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  6. OK, John! Actually I was thinking of putting the covers of Italian thrillers, but .. something original French have it. I also have an original Vindry in French.
    OK! I'll try to settle.
    It will be an article addressed to the passion for the book as an object to love, witness to a time that was, rather than the novel contains.

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