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In Search of Valérie Pirie

Our Futile Efforts

Sometime ago we became interested in posting The Triple Crown by Valérie Pirie online. First published in London in 1935 and shortly thereafter in the U.S., for many years it was not under copyright in the U.S. However, as of 1996 it appears to now have copyright protection until 2030, thanks to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Under GATT, an unprotected foreign work receives copyright protection for 95 years after date of publication if:

  1. the author was a citizen of an eligible country,
  2. the book's protection in that country had not yet expired,
  3. the book was in the public domain in the U.S. because it didn't contain a copyright notice or wasn't printed in the U.S., and
  4. the book was not published in the U.S. within 30 days of when it was published in the author's country.

From what we can tell, The Triple Crown falls into this category since:

  1. Valérie Pirie was from Great Britain, an eligible country;
  2. The Triple Crown is protected in Britain until 70 years after her death, whenever that was, which takes us past 1996;
  3. The Triple Crown did not contain a copyright notice and was printed in Edinburgh; and
  4. it was published in London on November 18, 1935, while the American edition bears a date on the title page of 1936.

Now if The Triple Crown is under copyright protection until 2030, we needed to contact someone to get permission to post it online. This we attempted to do for a year, and the following describes our efforts.

Sidgwick & Jackson: Publisher of Two Books by Pirie in 1935 in London

Mrs. Pirie actually authored at least three books. The first two were published in 1935 in London by Sidgwick & Jackson. Her other 1935 title was A Frenchman Sees the English in the 'Fifties, which was actually authored by Francis Wey, and was translated and adapted from the French into English by Mrs. Pirie.

Sidgwick & Jackson were taken over by Macmillan Publishers in 1986. Here's what Macmillan had to say about The Triple Crown:

This title was probably already out of print by 1986 & the contract was not taken over by Macmillan. We therefore have no files or other contractural details for this title. ("RE: One more question about an old book." Email to Bob Pickle. July 15, 2004.)

Macmillan directed us to Sidgwick & Jackson's archives housed at Bodleian Library at Oxford. It was here that Valérie's other 1935 title produced a valuable clue for us as to her family's possible whereabouts. Turns out that the archive contained some 1934 correspondence with a Mrs. Arthur Pirie of Cornwall Gardens about the translation of Wey's work. Thus we found out her husband's name and her 1934 address.

We were able to locate the current resident of that very same address, and enquired about whether they knew anything about Valérie Pirie's family's current whereabouts. We received the following reply from the information officer of an organization that individual is affiliated with:

Following on from your email received 16 July 2004 I can now confirm that I have seen ____________________ who gave me the following information.

The house was badly bombed during the second world war and re-built by ____________________'s friends in 1950. ____________________ has contacted them to see if they can re-call who they sold it to or bought it from but unfortunately they have been unable to find any information. The property was purchased by ____________________'s mother in 1965 — she died in 1979 so we are unable to get any information there either.

I'm afraid that it looks like we can't help you in your search.

Sorry that I can't be of more help. (E-mail to Bob Pickle. August 19, 2004.)

G. P. Putnam's Sons: American Publisher of The Triple Crown

The American edition of The Triple Crown was printed by the very same Edinburgh printer as the British edition. The only apparent difference between the two was the replacement on the title page of "London," "Sidgwick & Jackson," and "1935" with "G. P. Putnam's Sons," "New York," and "1936."

The Penguin Group acquired Putnam's in 1996. They likewise had no record of anything.

Yale University Press: American Publisher of the Second 1935 Title

Yale put a slightly different title on Valérie's translation of Francis Wey. When it came out in 1936 it bore the title, A Frenchman Among the Victorians.

Yale University Press likewise told us they couldn't help us. When an American publisher merely distributed an uncopyrighted British work, it would be the British publisher that controlled the rights, and would thus be the one to contact. But, as Sidgwick & Jackson had already told us, because of the age of the title, the rights had likely reverted back to the author or her estate.

William Collins & Sons: London Publisher of Mrs. Pirie's 1939 Book

His Majesty of Corsica; the True Story of the Adventurous Life of Theodore 1st came off the press in 1939. This work was copyrighted in the U.S. and was dedicated to Valérie's children, Eric, Val, and Harry.

William Collins & Sons was bought in 1990 by News Corporation, which merged it with its previously acquired Harper & Row to form HarperCollins Publishers.

Harper Collins sent us the following reply to our enquiry:

Thank you for your email requesting contact details for the Valerie Pirie Estate. I am afraid that we no longer have any details of Valerie Pirie or her estate to provide you with. Perhaps the publisher of her other books might be able to help you. ("RE: Permissions Request." Email to Bob Pickle. July 22, 2004.)

D. Appleton-Century: American Publisher of Mrs. Pirie's 1939 Book

D. Appleton-Century of New York published an American edition of His Majesty of Corsica in 1939. They merged with F.S. Crofts in 1948 to form Appleton-Century-Crofts, which was subsequently bought by Meredith Publishing in 1960.

A phone call to the Lilly Library at Indiana University, which houses an archive of important documents from D. Appleton-Century turned up nothing, except for the fact that Prentice Hall, which merged with Pearson Education in 1998, is now the owner of what is left of D. Appleton Century.

A phone call to Pearson Education confirmed our suspicions: They don't have any addresses that go back that far.

U.S. Copyright Office: An Address for Valérie Pirie's Son

A search in the fall of 2004 at the U.S. Copyright Office for all three of Valérie's books yielded records for only her 1939 title. It was copyrighted that year, and the copyright was renewed 28 years later in 1967 by her son Eric L. Barrow. Since Eric controlled the rights for His Majesty of Corsica in 1967, we might assume that Mrs. Pirie had passed from the scene by 1967, and that at least one of her children was from a previous marriage.

In June of 2004 we sent out a lot of emails to British citizens having the last name of Pirie, and took special interest with those having the name "Eric Pirie." Not till September 2004 did we discover Eric's real last name.

Eric's 1967 copyright renewal gave an address for him in 1967 in Paris. We happened to find a young lady from the U.S. who studied in Paris about 2003, and lived with a lady on that very street, apparently just a few doors down. The young lady recommended that we contact the lady she stayed with who, unfortunately, does not know English.

We wrote a little letter enquiring if she knew anything about Eric's family's whereabouts. A friend of ours from Quebec translated it for us, and off it went at the end of December 2004. A follow-up phone call to the recipient of our letter by our friend in Quebec turned up nothing at all.

Spring Books: 1965 London Publisher of a Reprint of The Triple Crown

Spring Books' reprint looks identical to the original 1935 printing, except that the marginal notes are omitted. The reverse of the title page suggests that Sidgwick & Jackson held the copyright at that point.

Spring Books was part of Paul Hamlyn, Ltd. in 1965, and Hamlyn is now part of the Octopus Publishing Group.

Eventually we got a hold of the right person at Hamlyn, and were told the following:

Many thanks for your enquiry regarding The Triple Crown. Unfortunately our records just don't go back that far, and we do not have any address or contact details on file for Valerie Pirie.

I am sorry I can be of no further help. ("RE: ________  ________ told me to ask you about this book." Email to Bob Pickle. Aug. 6, 2004.)

We decided to try to verify that their records do not go back to 1965, and then received the following reply:

I have checked back through our author records and we have nothing listed under Pirie, or Valerie Pirie.

I am very sorry I cannot be of further assistance. ("RE: ________  ________ told me to ask you about this book." Email to Bob Pickle. Aug. 12, 2004.)

Consortium Books: North Carolina Publisher of The Triple Crown about 1976

Consortium Books published a number of books in the 1970's, and appear to have connections with McGrath Publishing. McGrath's last title in the Library of Congress is dated 1982. We currently do not know what happened to Consortium and McGrath, but it likely makes no difference. Since the book was not under copyright in 1976, Consortium would have had no reason to contact Valérie Pirie's estate, and thus would not likely have a record of how to contact her estate now.


Having exhausted every avenue that we know of to locate Mrs. Pirie's family, we have decided to go ahead and post The Triple Crown online.

We have also submitted reply comments in the discussion regarding "Orphan Works" being conducted by the U.S. Copyright Office. This discussion concerns whether copyright law should be modified in some way to deal with the problem of not being able to locate the copyright holder. At present no registration or copyright renewal by authors is required, making it nearly impossible to locate the authors or estates of old works. A number of possible solutions to this problem are being considered.

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