Plus paper rationing. Books were published but not the sort people moon about romantically these days. Open the cover and you saw the title page, on the back of which was the publishing history plus the copyright line. The next page (in effect p.3) you could start reading. Top, bottom and side margins were about half-an-inch wide and the paper was already turning brown. I had a perfect example, G. W. Stonier’s Shaving Through The Blitz, a collection of New Statesman articles, but it seems it’s disappeared. Stolen, perhaps, after it turned into an antique.
Gaudy Night was published in 1935, my birth year, and my impression is the nineteenth published in 1955. Same narrow margins, same brown pages despite the fact paper was by then freely available. But Victor Gollancz, the publisher, was famously stingy; ten years after WW2 he was still selling economy editions.
A closer glance at the publishing history (You don’t think I just read the story, do you?) reveals the book was re-set in 1948. Which probably means you’d have needed a magnifying glass before then. And look at that dust jacket: a salade of typefaces, unforgivable quotes round Lord Peter, and the word cheap from a guy who thought euphemisms were cheap.
I shouldn’t complain. Sir V (he was later knighted) gave us low cost books from good authors. But so did Penguin yet their books, even though paperback, didn’t look cheap. Am I too picky? Of course I am.