The Mysterious Bookshop

Finding Your Way With Dell Mapbacks

Between 1943 and 1952, the Dell Publishing Company issued five hundred and seventy-seven mass market paperbacks with maps on the back cover. To this day the Dell ‘mapbacks’ are very popular with collectors. Most of these titles were mysteries, but there are a handful of westerns, romances, and one collection apiece of horror and science fiction stories that this writer is aware of. Usually the maps would show all or part of the crime scene depicted in the book, while on the front the reader would see the famous eyeball looking through the keyhole logo.  The mapbacks, along with Dell mass market paperbacks in general, were numbered on the spine and sometimes on the front cover. This is a good way to differentiate between editions, as the various titles were often reprinted at a later date, sometimes with different cover art and sometimes with the same. At first the numbering was straightforwardly in sequence according to the order of publication, but after a while the system became incomprehensible, so a bit of healthy skepticism might be wise here.

A charming feature of these was a page in the front of the book entitled ‘Persons This Mystery Is About, which would list each significant character in the story along with a biographical paragraph. Then on the next page or two the reader would see What This Mystery I About (if it was a mystery title) in which a plot synopsis, without spoilers, would be offered.

And then, the ‘Wouldn’t You Like To Know’ section, which teases readers with questions about plot points that they will encounter. Example: What made a Great Dane suddenly leap to his feet during the seance, growl and quiver in fear?

Several titles in the series are first editions, and they are eminently collectible, especially the Dashiell Hammett titles. And the collector need not pay a lot--many of the titles are inexpensive even in collector’s condition. Be careful, though--most of the time the only publication date listed is the year of original release, not necessarily the year that the Dell edition came out.

Among the popular crime fiction writers featured in the series: Rex Stout contributed twelve Nero Wolfe stories, and Dashiell Hammett seven (the maps showing the Continental Op territory in San Francisco). George Harmon Coxe and Brett Halliday are well represented, as are Agatha Christie and Clayton Rawson.  There are several film tie-in titles as well, a few of which have photo covers featuring an actor or two.

And what do you know! Here at Mysterious we have a nice selection of mapbacks if you’d like to begin or continue a collection of them.  Drop a line for more info.

Questions/Comments/Mapbacks?  212.587.1011



Written by Ian Kern — April 20, 2018

Specializing in Mystery Fiction and all its subgenres, including Detective, Crime, Hardboiled, Thrillers, Espionage, and Suspense.

Located at 58 Warren St in New York City, we are open Monday-Saturday from 11am-7pm.

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