Sunday, May 22, 2016

IMPRESSIVE IMPRINTS: Red Badge Detective, 1930-1970s

One of the longest running mystery novel imprints was Red Badge Detective put out by Dodd Mead. The earliest date I can nail this down to is 1930. According to an advertisement included in the first few titles, this imprint was invented to distinguish the best of Dodd Mead's mystery novels. But as far as I can tell every single mystery novel published by Dodd Mead throughout the 1930s and 1940s carried this imprint info.

It was only towards the end of the imprint in the late 1960s and through the mid 1970s that only a few books carried the Red Badge logo. For instance, Agatha Christie's books were not Red Badge throughout the 60s or 70s while someone relatively new like Leonard Holton was given the Red Badge logo. I guess as Dodd Mead decided it was no longer necessary to brand a recognizable mystery writer like Christie and saved the Red Badge logo for less well known writers they were interested in highlighting.

Inside my copy of The Tragedy of Twelvetrees by Arthur Rees (1930) is this ad facing the title page explaining the reason for the imprint:

The Red Badge imprint also sponsored a mystery novel writing contest that lasted only four or five years. The first winner in March 1937 was Clifford Knight for his detective novel The Affair of the Scarlet Crab which introduced his sleuth Huntoon Rogers. He won $2000 in addition to having his work published. Knight went on to write 23 more detective and suspense novels. Other winners such as Ruth Sawtell Wallis whose first novel Too Many Bones won the prize (only $1000 for her) in 1943 were not as prolific. And some wrote only one novel, collected the prize, saw the book published and were never heard from again. Check out the photo of the rear flap of Sailor, Take Warning! (shown below) for the lowdown on the contest.

The logo went through a few changes as can be seen in these photos. I have no idea of the significance of 449-4A or what it might refer to. Anyone who does know please feel free to leave a comment below.
Original Red Badge logo (1930s-1940s)
First endpaper design included a lightning bolt

Later endpaper design and
Final Red Badge logo design (1950s)

Once again this post shows a mixture of DJs from my own collection and some that I managed to find from online booksellers' catalogs. The authors who were published by Dodd Mead during the heyday of the Red Badge imprint were among the elite of mystery and crime fiction. They included Agatha Christie, R. Austin Freeman, Freeman Wills Crofts, John Rhode, Kelley Roos, Michael Innes, Clifford Knight, Lee Thayer, Hugh Pentecost/Judson Phillips, Bart Spicer, William McGivern, Ursula Curtiss, Rae Foley, two books by Cornell Woolrich, and two books by Edmund Crispin after he was dropped by Lippincott.

Pontifex, Son & Thorndyke (1931)

The Body on the Beam (1932)
The Crime on the Solent (1934)
The Loss of the "Jane Vosper" (1936)
The Starvel Hollow Tragedy (1938)
The Stoneware Monkey (1939)
Cancelled in Red (1939)
Easy to Kill (1939)
The Daffodil Affair (1942)
Rear flap from
Sailor Take Warning
Sailor, Take Warning! (1944)
The Secret of the Lake House (1946)

Mrs. McGinty's Dead (1952)

Nightmare (1956)
Violence (1958)
Flowers by Request (1964)
Out of the Depths (1966)
Money from Holme (1965)
Appleby's Other Story (1974)

Note that by 1974 while the Red Badge name was still being used, the logo with the detective had been abandoned on the spine of the DJ. The imprint, the brand name and the use of the logo would disappear from all mystery and suspense fiction by the end of the 1970s.


  1. As you probably know, John, Douglas Sanderson/Martin Brett's first crime novels, Exit in Green, Hot Freeze and The Darker Traffic, were all Red Badge Mysteries. One quirk I like about them is that the Red Badge appears in different colours on the boards: green, red and violet, respectively. Sad to say, they're the only Red Badges I own. Oh, what wouldn't give for Kenneth Millar's The Dark Tunnel and Trouble Follows Me.

    1. Yes, I intended to write about the different colored boards. That sets Red Badge apart from their competitors. Many publishers liked to keep the imprint uniform with a specific design and color for the boards like Inner Sanctum and the way Random House did their mystery novels with the tan tweed boards and the endpapers. The only thing consistent with Red Badge was the logo stamped on the front board. But I got carried away with photos of DJs and decided not to post pictures of the boards. I found examples of red, yellow, green, black and brown boards on the Red Badge books I own from the 50s and 60s. The boards from the 30s and 40s were more varied with all sorts of typography and cloth combinations.

  2. I want all the covers (even if I could probably pass on some of the books - never really got into Innes) - marvellous!

    1. Only twelve DJs of those pictured are mine. Well, actually some of them are "once owned". I went through my "Sold" files dating back to 2008 and pulled some of those photos. Innes is not my thing either (though I thought DAFFODIL AFFAIR was wholly unique and outrageously entertaining). All of his DJs and two of the Crofts DJs came from my "Sold" files.

  3. What a wonderful posting! I wish I could find such books among contemporary publications. So many writers and publishers have abandoned the glories of the past in favor of gore in the present. All the best from a new crime fiction blogger. David

    1. Thanks, David. Hope you'll be visiting more regularly.

  4. Great post, John. I love these chances to learn about such things, enjoy seeing how publishing once was, and of course, always like seeing DJs. Thanks.