Magazines


THE TORTURED HISTORY OF MANHUNT
by Jeff Vorzimmer


   The first issue of Manhunt appeared on newsstands in late 1952 and within two years became the widely acknowledged successor to Black Mask, which had ceased publication the year before. The stories in Manhunt captured the noir of Cold War angst like no other fiction magazine of its time and paved the way for television anthology shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

   Manhunt can best be described as a joint venture between publisher Archer St. John and literary agent Scott Meredith, both based in New York. In 1952, St. John published comic books and had recently ventured into and, in fact, developed 3D comics and graphic novels. His company, St. John Publishing, produced what is considered the first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust, in 1950, which was part crime, part romance, and followed that up later the same year with The Case of the Winking Buddha. Neither book sold very well and the line, dubbed “Pictures Novels,” was discontinued after the second title.

   Archer St. John, always an admirer of Black Mask magazine, the premier pulp magazine from the 1920s through the 40s, felt that since that magazine’s demise there was a void in the world of crime-fiction magazines and an opportunity. Of course, comic book publishers don’t usually have big editorial staffs nor do they solicit manuscript submissions. For that, St. John approached Scott Meredith, a literary agent who was beginning to turn the publishing world on its ear with practices such as charging would-be writers reading fees and submitting manuscripts to publishers simultaneously, creating an auction system of competing bids.

   For Scott Meredith it was an opportunity to get his stable of writers in print and create another stream of income. St. John served as the front man to avoid any ethical questions or conflict of interest charges that Meredith might otherwise face. St. John would manage the production of the magazine from layout and illustration to the printing and distribution of the magazine while Meredith’s office would supply a steady supply of fiction and editing.

   Of course, it was not a very well-kept secret within the publishing business. Those in the business, with even a passing familiarity with the roster of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, would notice a preponderance of his clients on the pages of Manhunt. In fact, all ten of the most prolific contributors to the magazine were Meredith authors who, between them, contributed over one-fifth of all stories that appeared in Manhunt over the course of its fourteen-year run.

   Manhunt has often been referred to, then and now, as a closed shop, only available to the Meredith stable of authors, but that’s not entirely true. As often as not, writers not represented by an agent would submit stories directly to Manhunt. These were forwarded to the Meredith office and occasionally published in the magazine, though the authors were not usually signed to a publishing contract on the strength of a single story.

   This would sometimes create awkward moments when a producer from a television studio such as Revue, producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and M Squad, would call up the agency looking to secure the rights to a story they read in Manhunt. The Meredith agent would stall the producer, scramble to locate and sign the author, then make the deal.

   Archer St. John originally wanted to call the magazine Mickey Spillane’s Mystery Magazine to compete with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, albeit with grittier, more hard-boiled stories. Having Spillane’s name on the masthead would have been appealing to both St. John and Meredith in that, by 1952, Spillane’s first six books had combined sales of 20 million copies. His first book, I, The Jury had sold 3.5 million copies by 1953, when it was adapted for the screen.

   When Scott Meredith checked Spillane’s contract with his publisher, Dutton, he found a clause that gave the publisher total control of Mickey Spillane’s name in conjunction with any books or periodicals. If they were to use Spillane’s name on the magazine they had to get Dutton’s permission. However, Dutton balked at the idea.

   Dutton felt that short stories were a distraction for Spillane, and they wanted him to get back to the business of writing novels. At that point, it had been over a year since Spillane had delivered his last novel to them (and it would be ten years before he delivered his next one). The name of the magazine was changed to Manhunt, a named borrowed from a then-defunct crime comic book.

   St. John intended to kick off the magazine with a Mickey Spillane story. He had heard that Collier’s Magazine had turned down a novella Spillane had written, “Everybody’s Watching Me,” and offered to serialize the novella in the first four issues of the new magazine and pay Spillane $25,000 (equivalent to $237,000 today). If Spillane’s name could not be on the masthead, it would at least be on the cover of the first four issues.

   The print run of the first issue, dated January 1953, was 600,000 copies and sold out in five days. It was digest size (5½”x7½”), 144 pages and priced at 35¢ and $4 for a year’s subscription. In addition to the lead story by Spillane, the issue also included stories by Cornell Woolrich under the name of William Irish; Ross Macdonald, under his real name, Kenneth Millar; and Evan Hunter, later known by the pen name Ed McBain.

   It also included a story featuring Richard Prather’s detective Shell Scott, featured in six novels of his own over the previous three years, and, who rivaled Spillane’s Mike Hammer in popularity, and another featuring Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell. Stories by Floyd Mahannah, Charles Beckman, Jr. and Sam Cobb (Stanley L. Colbert) rounded out the issue.

   St. John had his favorite artist, Matt Baker, a black man in the predominantly white world of comic book illustration, do the artwork for Manhunt. Baker was the artist who had done the panels for the first of the two graphic novels St. John had published, but brought an entirely new look to the Manhunt illustrations, heavy ink and each highlighted with a different spot color. Each story had one illustration on the first page in a style not unlike Manhunt.




Pages from the February 1953 issue of Manhunt with illustrations by Matt Baker


   Baker himself would do most of the illustrations for the first nine issues, thereby setting the style used for the entire 15-year run. Up-and-coming young artists such as Robert McGinnis, Walter Popp and Robert Maguire, as well as older, more established artists, such as Frank Uppwall and Willard Downes, painted the covers.

   The editorial note on the contents page of the second issue stated that the press run of the first issue probably should have been closer to a million copies. St. John apparently split the difference and ran 800,000 copies of the second issue. In addition to the second installment of “Everybody’s Watching Me,” the lead story was another by Kenneth Millar, a Lew Archer story titled “The Imaginary Blonde” under his new pseudonym John Ross Macdonald.

   There were also two more stories by Evan Hunter under the pseudonyms Richard Marsten and Hunt Collins, a Paul Pine story by John Evans, as well as stories by Jonathan Craig (Frank E. Smith), Fletcher Flora, Richard Deming, Eleazar Lipsky and Michael Fessier.

   In addition to the contributors of the first two issues, the third issue was notable in that it included stories by older, more established writers such as Leslie Charteris with a Saint story, Craig Rice (Georgiana Craig) with a John J. Malone story, as well as stories by William Lindsay Gresham and Bruno Fischer.

   The third issue also contained another two stories by Evan Hunter, one under the pseudonym Richard Marsten. In fact, Evan Hunter contributed 16 stories to the first 9 issues of Manhunt under his own name and various pseudonyms and 48 stories over the entire life of the magazine, making him the most prolific contributor by far. For a magazine that was supposed to be all about Mickey Spillane, it was turning out to be about Evan Hunter.

   By mid-1953, St. John, with Meredith’s help, started a campaign to lure big name authors to Manhunt. They approached James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner, Nelson Algren and Erskine Caldwell. They offered as much as $5,000 (about $47,000 today) for a 5,000-word story. This was the kind of money writers could expect from the slick magazines, but not from the pulps.

   Many writers like Erle Stanley Gardner initially balked at the idea of publishing in Manhunt, but eventually succumbed. Gardner’s first response to his agent was, “I hate to turn down an offer of $5000 for a story, but, confidentially, I don’t like this magazine concept with which Manhunt started out. I think it is a definite menace to legitimate mystery fiction.”

   By the end of the decade all the big-name writers, including Gardner, had agreed to publish stories in Manhunt, though many appeared only once, the last being the only appearance by Raymond Chandler. His story, “Wrong Pigeon,” previously published only in England, appeared in the February 1960 issue.

   The year 1953 would be the peak year for St. John Publications. Manhunt was turning out to be one of its biggest-selling titles, spawning spin-off titles Verdict and Menace, and its 3D comics were selling millions of copies. The company had 35 different comic book titles with several lines of romance comics, Mighty Mouse and Three Stooges comic book lines, for a total of 169 issues published that year.

   Another of Archer St. John’s projects was a man’s magazine that would include articles of interest to men, photos of women in various stages of undress and quality fiction. However, he was concerned about the post office not allowing the mailing of what they would certainly deem pornographic material to subscribers. After Playboy appeared in December 1953, he was emboldened to move ahead with the project.

   In 1954, Archer brought in his 24-year-old son Michael to help run the business, while he focused on the new men’s magazine, Nugget. Again, he turned to his favorite artist, Matt Baker, to do the illustrations in the magazine. Although that year would turn out to be another good year for St. John Publications, there was trouble on the horizon.

   In the spring of 1954, there was a backlash against violence in comic books that were clearly aimed at children. The crusade was led by New York psychiatrist Fredric Wertham who published the now-infamous Seduction of the Innocent, a book-length study of the adverse effects of violent comic books on young minds, and led to a Senate investigation, which issued its own Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency Interim Report that included a list of comic book titles it deemed inappropriate for children. There were, of course, some St. John titles on the list.

   It was also apparent in early 1954 that 3D comics were just a passing fad. Sales of 3D comics plummeted to the point that, by March of 1954, 3D titles had all but disappeared. The sales of comic books in general were in a slump, brought on in large part by the scare created by politicians and PTA groups after the Wertham study.

   Other forces were coming to bear that would have a personal effect on Archer St. John and the fate of St. John Publications. In August of 1954, President Eisenhower signed The Communist Control Act, which outlawed the Communist Party in the United States. Anyone who had ever been a member of the Communist Party could face imprisonment or even the revocation of citizenship.

   Archer’s brother, the famous journalist Robert St. John, living a self-imposed exile in Switzerland and doing research for books on South Africa and Israel, was determined by the FBI to have been a member of the Communist Party. On September 24, 1954, Robert St. John was summoned to the American Consulate in Geneva and stripped of his passport. When Robert asked why his passport was being taken from him, the reply from the Consul-General was that it was because of his Communist Party activity.

   Robert turned to his brother Archer back in the States for help to get his passport reinstated and the necessary affidavits for the appeal. Over the following months Archer, who was very close to his brother Robert, became increasingly frustrated by the stonewalling he got from the U.S. government on his brother’s case.

   Adding to his personal turmoil was the fact Archer was separated from his wife and living at the New York Athletic Club. His employees at St. John Publications also suspected he was addicted to amphetamines in addition to being an alcoholic. By mid-1955 Robert’s case had still not been decided, though he had submitted numerous affidavits from noted citizens that affirmed that he was never a member of the Communist Party.

   In August, Archer told family members that he was being blackmailed, but didn’t give anyone any details. His son Michael told him not to give in to the blackmailers. Archer told his son that he was staying at the apartment of a friend but wouldn’t tell Michael where.

   On Friday night August 12, 1955, Robert St. John got a call in Switzerland from Archer in New York who told him, “Never in my life have I felt so frustrated. I feel like I’m banging my head against a stone wall. I see no possibility of my getting your passport back. I’ve done everything in my power to help you, but I’ve failed. I’m sick over this.” The next morning Robert got a call telling him that his brother had overdosed on sleeping pills, an apparent suicide. He was 54 years old.

   At times, Archer St. John’s life resembled a story from the pages of Manhunt — Al Capone’s gang once kidnapped him when he was young newspaper publisher — and his death was no different. The apartment where Archer had been staying was a duplex penthouse owned by an attractive, redheaded former model and divorcee named Frances Stratford. She had been sleeping in an upstairs bedroom and had found Archer downstairs lying next to the couch, unresponsive, at 11:30 a.m. that Saturday morning.

   A couple had been seen leaving the apartment the night before, and the police were investigating. On Monday, the New York Daily News reported, “A couple of shadowy West Side characters, a man and a woman, suspected of feeding dope pills to magazine publisher Archer St. John, were being hunted … by detectives investigating St. John’s mysterious death in the penthouse apartment of a former Powers model.”

   After St. John’s death, his wife, Gertrude-Faye, known as “G-F” or “Geff,” showed up at the offices of St. John Publications and promptly fired the entire staff, including Matt Baker. Apparently, she hadn’t wanted anyone around who knew about her husband’s affairs. The irony was that none of the staff knew anything about St. John’s private love life, not even Baker who was probably as close to him as anybody.

   Despite the failure of the previous Manhunt clones, Verdict, which lasted only four issues in late 1953 and Menace, which lasted two issues, the following year, Michael St. John decided to expand his own editorial staff and to introduce yet two more titles, Mantrap and Murder! in 1956. Unfortunately, the new titles suffered from the same lackluster sales of the first two spin-off titles and were discontinued just as quickly.

   Undaunted by the failure of four new titles in as many years, Michael kept searching for a formula that would repeat the success of Manhunt. What Michael and his business manager, Richard Decker, came up with was an opposite, more genteel, direction. They approached Alfred Hitchcock with an offer to license his name and image for a mystery digest.

   Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine was an immediate success and, in fact, sales would steadily increase throughout the rest of the decade while those of Manhunt were in steady decline, down to 169,000 by 1957. Its digest size, with two-column layout and heavily inked spot color illustrations, were identical to Manhunt’s.

   In an effort to boost sales of both Manhunt and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, St. John and Decker decided to increase the size of both magazines from their current digest size to regular magazine size to get, what they hoped would be, more attention on newsstands. What it got Manhunt was the unwanted attention of the Federal District Attorney.

   After only the second issue at the bigger magazine size, Michael St. John, Richard E. Decker, Charles W. Adams (the Art Director) and Flying Eagle Publications (a subsidiary of St. John’s Publications and holding company of Manhunt) were indicted on March 14, 1957, for “mailing or delivery copies of the April, 1957, issue of a publication entitled Manhunt containing obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent matter” in violation of United States Penal Code 18 U.S.C. §1461.

   In District Court in Concord, New Hampshire, St. John’s lawyers moved to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that the complaint didn’t identify what article was specifically being charged in the issue as “obscene, lewd, filthy or indecent.” They argued that “the indictment is so loosely drawn that it would not afford them protection from further prosecution.” District Court Judge Aloysius J. Connor agreed and threw out the indictments on August 7, 1957.

   Federal prosecutors promptly refiled charges with specific complaints: “All six of the stories have definitely weird overtones and can certainly be characterized as crude, course, vulgar, and on the whole disgusting. But tested by the reaction of the community as a whole — the average member of society — it seems to us that only the feature novelette, ‘Body on a White Carpet,’ and the illustration appearing on page 25 accompanying the story entitled ‘Object of Desire,’ could be found to fall within the ban of the statute as limited in its application by the important public interest in a free press protected in the First Amendment.” The defendants faced a fine of $5,000 ($43,000 in today’s dollars) and up to five years in prison.



The offending illustration by Jack Coughlin accompanying the story
“Object of Desire” on page 25 of the April 1957 issue.


   On December 1, 1958, the final verdict of the District Court jury was that Flying Eagle Publications and Michael St. John were guilty and fined $3,000 ($26,000 today). Judge Connor gave St. John a separate fine of $1000, a suspended sentence of six months in jail and two-year probation. Richard E. Decker and Charles W. Adams were acquitted. Michael St. John immediately appealed the verdict and the case went to Federal Appeals Court.

   On January 21, 1960, the Federal Appeals Court in Boston set aside the verdict of the District Court and ordered a new trial. Chief Judge Peter Woodbury found that the prosecutors had erred in their instructions to the jury by telling them that two defendants, Decker and Adams, originally listed on the indictment had “been separated from this action” rather than that they were acquitted.

   A year later the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Circuit Court on January 10, 1961, and Judge Bailey Aldrich upheld the original fine of $5,000. After three years and nine months of litigation, St. John Publishing was financially drained. The circulation of Manhunt had dropped to 100,000, and Richard Decker had split with St. John in the summer of 1960, taking Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine with him to Palm Beach, Florida.

   Scott Meredith had always been annoyed with what seemed to be chronic cash-flow problems at St. John, and it only got worse. The magazine limped along for the next six years, and fewer of Meredith’s writers appeared in the magazine. Only 33 stories by the top ten Meredith contributors appeared in the 1960s.

   Only three Evan Hunter stories appeared in Manhunt in the 60s, the last story, fittingly, in the last issue of April/May 1967. By then the circulation had dropped to a little over 74,000 copies. Michael St. John decided to get out of the publishing business entirely and sold off all the assets of St John Publishing, including Nugget.

— From the forthcoming book The Best of Manhunt, Stark House Press, July 2019

      Sources:

Aldrich, Baily, Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals, Flying Eagle Publications v. United States, 285 F.2d 307, January 10, 1961

Ashley, Michael, author, Kemp, Earl and Ortiz, Luiz editors, Cult Magazines A-Z: A Curious Compendium of Culturally Obsessive & Curiously Expressive Publications, 2009, Nonstop Press

Benson, John, Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics, 2007, Fantagraphics Books

Benson, John, Romance Without Tears, 2003, Fantagraphics Books

Fugate, Francis L. and Roberta B., Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer, 1980, William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Carlson, Michael, “Interview with Mickey Spillane,” Crime Time website, June 29, 2002

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, July 8, 1925, pg. 16

Collins, Max Allan and Traylor, James L, Spillane (to be published in 2020)

Cook, Michael L., Monthly Murders: A Checklist and Chronological Listing of Fiction in the Digest-Size Mystery Magazines in the United States and England, 1982

Horowitz, Terry Fred, Merchant of Words: The Life of Robert St. John, 2014, Rowman & Littlefield

Meredith, Scott and Meredith, Sidney, The Best From Manhunt, 1958, Perma-Books

Morgan, Hal and Symmes, Dan, Amazing 3-D, 1982, Little, Brown and Company

Morrison, Henry, Literary Agent and former Scott Meredith Literary Agency employee (1957-1964), Interview, January 29, 2019

Nashua Telegraph, Nashua, NH, January 22, 1960, pg. 2

Nashua Telegraph, Nashua, NH, January 11, 1961, pg. 2

New York Daily News, New York, NY, August 15, 1955, pg. C5

N. W. Ayers & Sons Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals, 1954-1967

The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada, March 2, 1957, pg. 2

The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, NH, March 15, 1957, pg. 7

The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, NH, December 2, 1958, pg. 8

Quattro, Ken, Archer St. John & The Little Company That Could, 2006, www.comicartville.com

Waller, Drake, It Rhymes with Lust, 1950, 2007, Dark Horse Books

Woodbury, Peter, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Flying Eagle Publications v. United States, 273 F.2d 799, January 21, 1960

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Issue #49. Autumn 2018. Editor: Arthur Vidro. 36 pages. On the cover: Jack Ritchie.

   As always, the latest edition of OLD-TIME DETECTION brings to mind fond memories of works of mystery and detection of yesteryear, stories and authors that don’t deserve to be forgotten. Case in point: the few hardboiled private eye novels by Howard Browne that have just seen republication in an omnibus after seventy years, HALO FOR HIRE: THE COMPLETE PAUL PINE MYSTERIES. In his review, Michael Dirda applauds Browne’s style, “quite consciously written in the wise-cracking, tough-guy mode of Chandler’s fiction and 1940s Humphrey Bogart films. Yet even with their faint tongue-in-cheek air (and an astonishing amount of cigarette smoking), they make for heavenly reading.”

   When it comes to obscure detective fiction, Charles Shibuk has turned up titles that you’ve probably never encountered: H. C. Branson’s LAST YEAR’S BLOOD, Moray Dalton’s THE LONGBRIDGE MURDERS, and J. F. Hutton’s TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, books published more or less at the same time as Howard Browne’s.

   Francis M. Nevins biobibliographically spotlights Jack Ritchie, creator of the unforgettable Detective Sergeant Henry Turnbuckle; Ritchie, says Nevins, “figured out how to have endless fun tweaking the noses of the hoary old whodunit cliches while staying squarely within the great tradition’s confines.” For that reason, Arthur Vidro nominates Ritchie as one of his all-time favorites.

   Then Edgar Wallace gets spotlighted by J. Randolph Cox, as he chronicles in detail the ups and downs in the British author’s life and literary career. “He was not a great writer,” writes Cox, “for all of his flashes of genius and inspiration. He never claimed to be, and he did not need to be.”

   The fiction piece in this issue is Charles Shibuk’s teleplay version of Cornell Woolrich’s 1941 short story, “The Fingernail.” Memorable line: “Robert, are you sure that was all rabbit?”

   Nevins returns with notes on three motion pictures derived from Woolrich’s stories: DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946), which wasn’t received with any great enthusiasm at the time; BLACK ANGEL (1946), which, even though “every frame of this magnificent film noir is permeated with the Woolrich spirit,” the author himself regarded as “a disaster”; and THE CHASE (1946), which, writes Nevins, “is the one most likely to provoke an argument among noir aficionados” of Cornell Woolrich’s movies.

   Dr. John Curran, foremost expert on all things Christie, reports on the good and bad things that have been going on in Christiedom, particularly stage, film, and TV plays as well as upcoming books. Regarding the recent John Malkovich-BBC production of THE A.B.C. MURDERS, he writes, “Once again, I fear, the signs are not good.”

   Then we have in-depth reviews of three books: Jack Ritchie’s collection, THE ADVENTURES OF HENRY TURNBUCKLE, about which Arthur Vidro says, “If you want to laugh aloud while enjoying true detection, read this book”; Ellery Queen, Jr.’s THE BROWN FOX MYSTERY, “far,” writes Trudi Harrov, “from his best entry”; and S. John Preskett’s satirical MURDERS AT TURBOT TOWERS, which, says Amnon Kabatchnik, “pokes outrageous fun at the holy cows of our beloved genre.”

   In “My First Great Detectives,” Jon L. Breen waxes nostalgic about his initial encounters with the world of mystery, crime, and detective fiction; the characters whose exploits he followed from an early age were, not surprisingly, on the radio, but it wasn’t long before he delved into the written word, including Paul French’s Lucky Starr science fiction mysteries. (A trip to Patagonia if you can supply the real name of “Paul French” without looking it up. Of course, you pay for the ticket.)

   Charles Shibuk’s 1970 list of crime and mystery authors whose classic books were enjoying paperback reprintings at the time reads like a WHO’s WHO of detective fiction: Marjorie Allingham, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Michael Collins, Dick Francis, Andrew Garve, Adam Hall, Ross Macdonald, Ngaio Marsh, Judson Philips (Hugh Pentecost), Maurice Procter, Ellery Queen, Joel Townsley Rogers, C. P. Snow, Rex Stout, Robert van Gulik, and Cornell Woolrich.

   Finally, in addition to a puzzle are the comments from the readers, one of which deals with a much-discussed topic: “What’s wrong with modern mysteries? How about the obvious fact that they contain every aberration known to man . . . and some of the writing is by devout enemies of the English language?”


*** OLD-TIME DETECTION is published three times a year: Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Sample copy: $6.00 in the U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else. For a subscription to Old-Time Detection, contact the editor at: Arthur Vidro, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743 or oldtimedetection@netzero.net.

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Issue #48. Summer 2018. Editor: Arthur Vidro. 36 pages. Published three times a year: Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Sample copy: $6.00 in the U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.

   The first item in this issue of OLD-TIME DETECTION is J. Randolph Cox’s thorough account of the life and literary times of Arthur B. Reeve, the creator of a sleuth whose renown easily rivaled that of Sherlock Holmes. “The twenty-six books about scientific detective Craig Kennedy,” Cox tells us, “were once among the most popular detective stories by an American writer, with sales of two million copies in the United States alone.” Unlike the Sage of Baker Street, however, Kennedy’s fame proved ephemeral: “The very reason for Reeve’s popularity in the years before World War I, his topicality, dates the stories and makes him a largely forgotten author.”

   When Michael Dirda, in “Going Rogue,” waxes nostalgic about master-thief John Robie, the cat burglar in Hitchcock’s movie TO CATCH A THIEF, it leads him into a discussion of those other successful gentleman thieves who could be regarded as Robie’s “ancestors”: Grant Allen’s Colonel Clay (named Clay “because he appears to possess an india-rubber face, and he can mould it like clay in the hands of the potter”), Guy Boothby’s Simon Carne (whom “no one ever suspects”), E. W. Hornung’s A. J. Raffles (“less a social leveler than a disappointingly unimaginative opportunist”), and Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin (executor of “carefully planned capers”). In Dirda’s view, these rogues represent “a better time when great criminals could be rapscallions rather than mass murderers.”

   Charles Shibuk’s 1970 piece lauds “the continuing and meritorious situation of paperback reprinting of material that is worthy of your attention” (remember, this was long before the Internet appeared) and narrows in on such major and minor masterpieces as TRENT’S LAST CASE (“an epochal novel”), THE RASP (“a good example of [Philip] MacDonald’s variable talent”), THE GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY (“I’ve always thought that 1932 was a momentous year”), A TASTE FOR HONEY (“completely off-trail and unpredictable”), LAURA (“a dazzling masterpiece”), A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED (“one of her [Miss Jane Marple’s] better investigations”), DEATH AND THE JOYFUL WOMAN (“a completely individual piece of work”), DEAD WATER (“a splendid example of [Ngaio] Marsh’s skills in writing”), NERVE (“up to his [Dick Francis’s] usual rigorous standard”), and finally NERO WOLFE OF WEST THIRTY-FIFTH STREET (“a real treat for Nero Wolfe—Archie Goodwin fans”).

   This issue’s fiction selection should be practically unknown to most readers, “The Faulty Stroke” (1953) by Freeman Wills Crofts, a short short story first published in a newspaper and recently “unearthed by Tony Medawar.”

   Following that is an article version of a speech by that selfsame Tony Medawar, “The ABC of A.B.C.,” a scholarly (but not boring) treatment of the careers of not only Anthony Berkeley but also Berkeley’s series sleuth Roger Sheringham (“there is much of Philip Trent about him”), as well as his later “psychological detective stories” published under the “Francis Iles” byline. Medawar’s reading of Berkeley shows how he was determined to “challenge some of the generally accepted tropes of the detective story”: “While other luminaries wrought their magic consistently — Agatha Christie in making the most likely suspect the least likely suspect, and John Dickson Carr in making the impossible possible — Tony Cox delighted in finding different ways to structure the crime story.”

   Jon L. Breen’s farewell “Murder in Print” review column from 1983 is reproduced, emphasizing how much the mystery scene had (and had not) changed over the past decade (“The classical school, allegedly on its last legs for years, has weathered the storm and continues to be strong”).

   In the “Christie Corner,” the world’s foremost living expert on Agatha Christie’s works, Dr. John Curran, reacts to a recent BBC-TV “adaptation” of ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, blowing it out of the water (“This appalling and illogical travesty would not have been found in Agatha Christie’s wastepaper basket”); the threat of yet another version of THE ABC MURDERS (“already the signs are ominous”); a stage version of THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE (more “ominous talk of ‘Miss Marple for a new generation'”); the recent resurfacing of one of Agatha’s earliest stories, “The Wife of Kenite” (“the closing scene will stay with you for a long time”); and Christie Mystery Day, organized by Dr. Curran to make up for the abbreviated Agatha Christie birthday festivities.

   Finally, the Mini-Reviews section includes overviews of Woolrich’s FRIGHT by Trudi Harrov, Hoch’s ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE by Arthur Vidro, Stern’s BEHIND A MASK—THE UNKNOWN THRILLERS OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT by Amnon Kabatchnik, Kemelman’s ONE FINE DAY THE RABBI BOUGHT A CROSS by Arthur Vidro, and Boucher’s THE CASE OF THE SOLID KEY by Ruth Ordivar.

   Toss in Charles Shibuk’s “101 of the Best Mystery Novels of All Time: A Preliminary List” and the readers’ perceptive comments and you have another fine issue of OLD-TIME DETECTION.

   *** For a subscription to OLD-TIME DETECTION, contact the editor at: Arthur Vidro, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743 or vidro@myfairpoint.net.

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Issue #46. Autumn 2017. Editor: Arthur Vidro. 36 pages. Published three times a year: Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Sample copy: $6.00 in the U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.

   The latest issue of Old-Time Detection is here, and it’s definitely worth a look, as it’s full to the brim with information and insights about detective fiction’s Golden Age (and beyond).

   J. Randolph Cox has a biographical sketch of A.E.W. Mason, remembered today more for his general fiction than his mysteries (“[In the character of Hanaud] Mason seems to have wanted to create a professional detective who was unlike Sherlock Holmes, a man who was genial and friendly and willing to trust his intuition. Hanaud is all of these but is never described explicity. He is revealed by his actions, as an actor in a play is revealed”).

   Dr. John Curran keeps us up to date with the latest doings in the ever-expanding Agatha Christie universe (“This year’s [Agatha Christie] Festival was, sadly, a disappointment”).

   Jon L. Breen offers expert opinions about authors who were hot in the early ’80s (“This is a worthy sequel because of its freshly-minted bamboozlement”).

   Francis M. Nevins gives us a fine overview of the life and times of uber-reviewer Anthony Boucher, a genius in any field he chose to explore (“At two the next morning she [Lee Wright] woke up her husband with the excited cry that she had just found the first unsolicited manuscript she ever wanted to publish”).

   Michael Dirda has recommendations for those chilly evenings when TV isn’t spooky enough (“Even if you’re snowed in for the holidays — or all of January, for that matter — these collections will keep you cozy”).

   Charles Shibuk reveals the pleasures to be found in paperback reprints (“… the best reprint period I have seen in many years”), but notes the sad decline of a detective fiction legend (“Gone is the mastery of plot and puzzle, the spinning of deceptive clues, the sharp and incisive descriptions and dialogue”).

   Dennis Drabelle highlights the late P. D. James’s short mystery fiction, something she seldom produced (“The four tales in this slim volume, then, are old-fashioned, at least up to a point: no noir, yet plenty of shadows; no explicit sex, but ample erotic tension. And James spins them with the economy demanded by the short form”).

   … and, to top it all off, editor Arthur Vidro offers up a typically fine puzzler by William Brittain originally from EQMM (“The man in the comic strip. He walked right up the alley there just when the men came out of the bank, and touched them with his electric hands. And then he took them back down the alley”).

   You can subscribe to Old-Time Detection, by contacting the editor at: Arthur Vidro, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743 or oldtimedetection@netzero.net.

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Issue #45. Summer 2017. Editor: Arthur Vidro. 34 pages. Published three times a year: Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Sample copy: $6.00 in the US; $10.00 anywhere else.

   We always look forward to the next issue of Old-Time Detection because not only is there always something about detective fiction in it that’s new to us, but also older items that allow us to indulge our weakness for nostalgia, and this issue is no exception.

   Between the covers of this most recent issue you can find: Michael Grost’s best picks of the forties and fifties; Dr. John Curran’s latest about what’s going on in the world of Agatha Christie, including a discussion of an execrable film adaptation (1928) of a Harley Quin story (“an unrecognizable hodgepodge of nonsense”); Martin Edwards’s take on his new book, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (“I’ve not confined myself simply to rounding up the usual suspects”).

   More: an Inspector Mallett short short short story by Cyril Hare that hasn’t seen publication for seventy-seven years, with Tony Medawar’s comments on same; Francis M. Nevins’s take on The Leopard Man (1943), a significantly altered filmed version of a Cornell Woolrich novel; J. Randolph Cox’s substantial article (roughly a third of this issue) about Robert Barnard (1936-2013), “a more sophisticated Agatha Christie.”

   And still more: Michael Dirda’s review of a book about Fergus Hume’s famous The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), the one that, profit-wise, got away from him; Charles Shibuk’s list of classic mysteries that deserve reprinting; and thoughtful reviews and commentary from Shibuk, Jon L. Breen, Trudi Harrov, Amnon Kabatchnik, and Arthur Vidro.

   If you’re interested in subscribing to Old-Time Detection, you can contact the editor at Arthur Vidro, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743 or oldtimedetection@netzero.net.

LESLIE T. WHITE “Tough Guy.” Reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017. This issue’s Mystery Classic, selected and introduced by Jim Doherty. First published in Liberty, 21 June 1941. Reprinted in Liberty Quarterly: 19 Tales of Intrigue, Mystery & Adventure (Vol. 1, No. 1, ca. 1950).

    In his introduction to this story, Jim Doherty makes a solid case for Leslie White as one of the very first practitioners of the police procedural novel. Up for discussion in particular are Me, Detective (1936), a biographical account of White’s own career, Harness Bull (1937), and Homicide (1937).

    Most of White’s work was done for the pulp magazines, producing as he did well over 100 short stories for that market, beginning with “Phoney Evidence” in The Dragnet Magazine, January 1930. To substantiate his case, Doherty describes some of White’s career in police work, and how he used it to give all of his crime fiction a solid, believable setting.

    “Tough Guy” was written toward the end of his pulp fiction days, and that’s even a stretch, as Liberty magazine was not really a pulp. It’s the story of a tough cop named Gahagan who lives for nothing other than his job, a primary part of which is nailing a notorious killer and crime boss by the name of Danny Trumbull.

    Things go awry in his life when the trail leads him to Trumbull’s eight-year-old daughter Penny, who lives alone with her father but who has no idea how totally bad he is. This one starts out in full tilt pulp mode, but by the end, it’s become, as you might have expected, a long way from being a hard-boiled tale of a tough guy cop. Quite the opposite.

    Which does not make it a bad story, by any means. In fact, I enjoyed this one more than any of the other twelve stories in this latest issue of AHMM, many of them (to my mind) rather weak efforts and/or not interesting to me. It’s starting to get difficult to justify spending $7.99 an issue for a magazine that I can’t get excited about any more.

DOUG ALLYN “Animal Rites.” Published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July 1996. Reprinted in All Creatures Dark and Dangerous (Crippen & Landru, 1999).

    It cannot be easy to write a full-fledged detective story in the confines of a short story or even a novelette, but this issue of EQMM has at least three that qualify, the best of them being this 26 page tale by Doug Allyn, who has been a regular contributor to the magazine since 1985.

    “Animal Rites” was the third appearance of Dr. David Westbrook in the magazine. Westbrook was an animal veterinarian whose office was located in the northern end of Michigan’s lower peninsula, not far (I can easily imagine) from the small town where I grew up. It is hard to say how many stories could be placed in such a protagonist in such a setting, but Allyn managed to write nine of them, seven of them included in the collection published by Crippen & Landru in 1999. (Two appeared after the book came out.)

    In this particular tale, David is caught between two sides of a panel debate on live TV. The topic is the hunting of animals for sport, yes or no? Tempers are raised, a confrontation breaks out, and the next day one of the participants is dead. One of the others confesses, but based only on their instincts, neither David nor the local sheriff is convinced.

    It takes a vivid dream to bring into his consciousness the clue David needs to solve the case, but the reader can easily pick up on it as well. The characters are interesting, the setting (to me) like home, and a reasonably fair mystery. All the right ingredients.

    Another good detective story is this issue is “The Thief of Nothing,” by Jeffry Scott, in which Detective Inspector Scipton agrees to help an elderly lady who is convinced that someone is continually breaking into her home, but never taking anything. Scipton helps solve the case, but surprise of surprises, another one as well, plus (and a big plus) in the course of the events he meets a woman who may be the one he’s looking for. At least she thinks so.

    I’m not sure how many stories the late and much missed Edward D. Hoch wrote about Nick Velvet, a thief noted for never stealing anything of value, a fact agreed upon even by the police. In “The Theft of the Bogus Bandit,” Nick is forced to keep that reputation as rock solid as ever when an imposter using his name begins a spree of holdups in which not only does he steal diamonds and the like, but while doing so also severely attacks the people he is stealing from. Nick, naturally, is outraged.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE ILLUSTRATED DETECTIVE MAGAZINE. September 1931; 10¢, 122pp, 9″ x 12.”

   This slick magazine distributed through Woolworths and published by Tower Books, is surely one of the strangest detective magazines of that or any other era. The full title includes The Illustrated Detective Magazine, Thrilling and Romantic Mysteries of Real Life, billed as “The Most Unusual Detective Magazine You Can Buy at any Price.”

   The magazine was aimed at women running from 1929 to 1932 and changed its title after thirty three issues to Mystery. Not all the stories are romantic in nature, though the bias in favor of women readers is fairly evident.

   The Illustrated Detective Magazine is an odd mix of disparate material. There are true crime and confession-style articles like “The Woman Who Paid With Her Life” by ‘a Police Official’ about the murder of blackmailer Vivian Gordon; “The Iron Czar” by Jim Roberts about early New York gangster Iron Man Becker; and “He Risked All for the Thrilling Chance,” asking what happened to the crusading detective/reporter of an earlier age, as well as beauty and cooking aids and articles on scientific detection.

   The issue’s fiction opens with a story called “Received Payment,” unbilled to any author but described as ‘another’ crime busting account of Mary Shane, who turns out to be an attractive semi-independent sleuth in this case helping to put bootleggers out of business who sell poisoned bathtub gin. It’s a fairly tough little story and Mary Shane tough as nails in her underworld dealings, if not particularly realistic or believable. It’s closer to the dime novel than hard boiled. This and some other features are illustrated with dramatized photographs while some have black and white illustrations, mostly handsomely done in wash rather than line, thanks to the slicker paper.

   This issue features the opening installment of “The Hollywood Bridal Night Murder” by Octavius Roy Cohen, featuring his popular fat jovial canny sleuth Jim Hanvey. Cohen was a sure seller on the front of magazines of the period, and Hanvey was popular enough to have two film outings. It’s standard Cohen fare, meaning entertaining but nothing special. You won’t be all that driven to find the later installments or the book publication unless you are an obsessive sort.

   The second big story in the issue is “The Egyptian Necklace” by R. T. M. Scott, an adventure of Aurelius Smith, a private detective who would form the basis for Richard Wentworth and the Spider when Scott wrote the first entry in that series. While the story is dated, it shows the strengths and weaknesses of the Smith series and Scott’s writing, and is the most pulp-like of the stories in this issue. It’s probably the story most readers here will enjoy the most, with its hints of melodrama and mystery from the East.

   Major fiction entry number three is a humorous tale by Ellis Parker Butler, “The Heckly Hill Murder” featuring ‘Oliver Spotts, the Near Detective of Mud Cove, Long Island.’ It is a moderately amusing romp by a well known humorist of his time, but mindful too that whimsey doesn’t always survive the passage of time. It shows Butler’s talents to good effect but how a modern reader reacts to it is anyone’s guess.

   The rest of the magazine includes a sort of fictionalized expose called “The Queen of the Beggars” by James Jeffrey O’Brien, about a young man who runs afoul to the beautiful and dangerous self styled ‘queen’ of the big city beggars. There are also some rather sensational ‘true confession’ pieces, a bit on code-breaking, a plea and offer of a $1,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of Judge Crater, and articles on fingerprinting and other aspects of police work, interspersed with ads for Woolworths, articles sold at Woolworths, and publications of Tower Books.

   All in all it is a very odd little magazine, but a pretty good bargain for a dime if you happened to be shopping in Woolworths. This was the third issue, and it continued until 1932 in more or less the same vein. It is certainly one of the stranger magazines of its type I’ve run across.

WEIRD TALES, September 1935. The cover of this issue includes one of artist Margaret Brundage’s beautiful nudes for which she was well-known, and still is, for that matter. It illustrates the first story, “The Blue Woman,” by John Scott Douglas, which puzzled me right then and there, since the woman on the cover is not blue, but a beautiful and entirely natural shade of pink.

   I’m sure it helped sell a lot of copies of this issue, though. The story itself is not very good, though, and one wonders why Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales at the time, chose it to be the lead story. There is a pseudo-scientific reason why the woman is blue, and the observant reader will put two and two together within the first page or so of the story, as soon as it learned that the wife of wood-carver Ludwig Meusel was released from her job at a watch factory with a large payment of cash and a diagnosis of a fatal illness.

   A lanky red-headed private eye named Ken Keith is brought into the case of murder that develops, which he solves with not too much effort. I do not know whether Keith appeared in the two earlier stories by Douglas that appeared in Weird Tales, but if not, perhaps he showed up in one of other roughly 350 stories Douglas also wrote for the aviation, adventure, detective and sports pulp magazines over the course of his writing career. Well, probably not the sports pulps.

   The second story in this issue, “The Carnival of Death,” by Arlton Eadie, doesn’t so indicate it, until the end, when surprise! I discovered that it’s the first of four parts. I really hate it when that happens. It’s about mummies, ancient Egypt and a present day curse, and I’d love to able to finish it, but alas, my collection of Weird Tales isn’t extensive enough to do so.

   The novel was published in its entirety by a British publisher but is impossibly difficult to find. Ramble House has published a restored edition of The Trail of the Cloven Hoof, another of Eadie’s novels serialized in Weird Tales the year before (1934), but so far, although promised, they don’t don’t seem to have found a copy of this one to use.

    “The Man Who Chained the Lightning,” by Paul Ernst, is the second of eight adventures of Doctor Satan to appear in Weird Tales, and the story is more one of horror and the grotesque than weird, per se. Doctor Satan was one of the earliest and perhaps the longest-running of the pulp super-villains. His genius could have been put good use for the world, but instead he dressed in a red rubber suit and a cap with horns and used his fabulous inventions for the commonest of crimes.

   In this story he uses electricity both to kill and to re-animate corpses to steal funds from the bank accounts of the city’s wealthiest men. Opposing him in this case is equally brilliant Ascott Keane and his more-than-secretary Beatrice Dale. Dr. Satan is foiled this time, but the image of his naked captives cooped up in cages too small for them will stay with me for a long time.

   Before moving on, it should be noted that all eight of Dr. Satan stories have been collected any published in a single volume by Altus Press (2013).

   I have always associated the name of Clark Ashton Smith with fantasy fiction, infused with the essence of poetry and the ebullience and brilliance of descriptive writing. The story “Vulthoom” is science fiction, however, but with no diminishment in the use of words to produce an almost overpowering sense of wonder.

   Two men who find themselves in impoverished circumstances on Mars are invited to work for an immortal being, Vulthoom, having arrived from another planet millions of years ago and now living miles beneath the surface of the red planet, to help pave the way for him to conquer Earth. They resist, but trying to escape and after making their way through miles of underground tunnels and caves, they….

   If the opportunity ever comes your way, read this one. As well as later in other collections, it first appeared in Genius Loci and Other Tales (Arkham House, 1948).

   Next is the conclusion of “Satan in Exile,” by Arthur William Bernal, a novel serialized in four parts. I did not read it, but the synopsis suggests that it is a science fiction story about Prince Satan, a pirate or bandit of the interplanetary spaceways, with a nod toward Robin Hood. It has never been reprinted in complete form, nor can I suggest whether or not someone should.

    “The Shambler from the Stars,” which follows, is a short story by Robert Bloch, and a rather famous one which is dedicated to a certain H. P. Lovecraft. Translating a ancient book from the Latin, while visiting an eccentric expert in the occult living in Providence, Rhode Island, the narrator manages to summon a strange vampire-like being from space. Here’s an excerpt:

    “It was red and dripping; an immensity of pulsing, moving jelly; a scarlet blob with myriad tentacular trunks that waved and waved. There were suckers on the tips of the appendages, and these were opening and closing with a ghoulish lust…. The thing was bloated and obscene; a headless, faceless, eyeless bulk with the ravenous maw and titanic talons of a star-born monster. The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.”

   Two short short stories follow next. The first, “One Chance,” by Ethel Helene Coen, takes place in a plague-invested 18th century New Orleans and has a very effective O.Henry type twist. The second, “The Toad Goad,” by Kirk Mashburn, is a rather ordinary tale about an Aztec artifact collector in Mexico who removes a sacred object he shouldn’t.

    “The Monster God of Mamurth,” by Edmond Hamilton, is a reprint from the August 1926 issue of Weird Tales (shown to the right). In this an archaeologist seeking ruins of ancient Carthage comes across city in ruins inside an invisible wall and guarded (for so he discovers once inside) by a giant invisible spider-like creature. Variations on a theme, but an effectively creepy one when in the right hands, as it is here. (Remarkably, as I have later discovered, it is the first of Hamilton’s many works of science fiction or fantasy to be published.)

    “Return of Orrin Mannering,” by Kenneth Wood, and the last story in this issue, is a ghost story less than two pages long about how a desperate killer fugitive is brought back to justice. A filler, but smooth enough going down.

   By this time, after all of capsule summaries and associated commentary, you will have realized that for the relatively steep price of 25 cents in 1935, readers really got a lot for their money. Not all the stories were gems, but how much ordinary, mundane non-genre short fiction from the the same year is still as readable today?

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 14: Weird Tales
by Walker Martin


   Three years ago I discussed the Frank Robinson Collection auction which was organized by Adventure House. The biggest lot at that auction was the complete Weird Tales collection which sold for a quarter of a million dollars. Yes, that’s right, as in $250,000.00. Then we fast forward 3 years and again Adventure House held an auction for a complete collection of Weird Tales, only this time the set got zero bids. I believe a discussion of this auction will show not only what occurred and why one set sold and another set did not sell, but also we will learn how pulp collectors have changed over the years.

   As with the Frank Robinson auction, this recent auction which was held on May 1, 2015, also did not generate much comment on the various discussion groups that I visit online. I know as a long time fiction magazine collector, I certainly want to talk about such subjects, in fact I’m starved for conversation and I guess that’s one of the reasons that I continue to post my pulp collecting memoirs. People have been collecting pulps for over a hundred years now, ever since the first one was published in 1896. I’ve been at it for over 50 years and I feel it’s important enough for us to continue posting articles and commenting about what happened during the time these fiction magazines ruled the newsstands.

   I also feel it’s very important that we continue to support the two major pulp conventions, Windy City and Pulpfest. I’ve attended both over the years and have had many interesting conversations about the pulp era. At Windy City in April I had the opportunity to view the Weird Tales set which was on display behind the Adventure House tables. I also eagerly bought the $10.00 Weird Tales collection auction catalog. Published by Adventure House this is a 40 page full color description of the 274 issues. True, only 239 covers are shown but all are listed by condition in the back of the catalog. In addition to the 274 issues published during 1923-1954, the catalog also lists the 79 issues of the revived Weird Tales that were published during Summer 1973 to Spring 2014.

   So this was a major auction of perhaps the most talked about, most famous pulp title of them all. It was advertised on the Adventure House website, emails were sent out announcing the auction, and a full color catalog was available for only 10 dollars. Why was it a flop? Why no bids?

   Well, of course the most obvious reason is the fact that the minimum bid was set at $60,000. But if the Robinson WT set of three years ago sold for 250,000 dollars, how come this recent set could not attract $60,000? Well you know the old saying in real estate: location, location, location. In the pulp and book world, it’s: condition, condition, condition.

   The Robinson collection was almost perfect. White pages, newsstand fresh covers, complete spines. Weird Tales was called “The Unique Magazine”. Well, the Robinson set was truly “unique”, definitely the best condition set of Weird Tales in existence. It could and did command a premium price.

   So what was wrong with the set offered up for auction in May 2015? What prevented it from even getting one bid at the $60,000 minimum? The catalog described several good points such as blood red spines(they usually are faded), high quality paper, and custom made tray cases to hold each volume. When I viewed the set myself at the convention, I was impressed by all of the above. Unfortunately the following faults have to be mentioned:

1. The first 45 issues, March 1923 through June 1927 are bound in 10 blue volumes. Personally, I think using blue was a mistake. I have a set bound in red and it looks more impressive. But this is just a personal preference. The main problem with bound pulps is simply that many collectors won’t touch them at all. And those that will accept bound copies want a significant decrease in the usual price.

   In the first paragraph I mentioned how pulp collectors had changed over the years, and this is one example. It used to be that old time collectors, guys who actually bought the magazines off the newsstands, loved to have their pulps bound. It gave them a look of respectability and the garish magazines looked more like a sedate book that they could proudly display on their bookshelves without being sneered at by other collectors and even non-collectors. Pulp collectors nowadays don’t think like this at all. They want the individual issues and they don’t like them bound.

2. Because they are bound these first 45 issues, which are very rare and expensive, only rate a good or good minus as far as condition.

3. Most issues in the early 1930’s have Scotch tape or clear tape on the head and foot of the spines. This was another practice that many of the old time collectors followed. I’ve seen pulps ruined with masking tape, discolored scotch tape, and even electrical tape. One guy even used stamps to close tears in the cover. Pulp collectors back then evidently thought nothing of closing and repairing tears with all sorts of tape. Now of course collectors frown on the use of tape.

4. The tray cases are a very good idea and look nice. Unfortunately several of the cases show water damage.

   In my opinion, the above points prevented a high minimum bid and certainly explain why no one started off bidding at the $60,000 level. It’s too high a figure for a set in this condition. Perhaps a lower figure would have encouraged some beginning action and the final bidding might even have reached a high level. Perhaps a minimum bid of $20,000 would have been better but then again, you run the chance of the set going for such a figure and I guess the seller would consider that unacceptable.

   I used to have a set of Weird Tales for many years but that was back in the days when you could buy issues for $5.00 each. Back in 1968, when I was discharged from the army, I had two big goals in my life: to get a complete set of Black Mask and a set of Weird Tales . I managed to do both within a few years. Since then I’ve seen many extensive runs of WT and I’m not even sure that it’s that rare. It seems that everybody, like many SF collectors, saved their copies! It’s really a pretty magazine, a thing of beauty.

   My present set is not complete because I no longer care about the early issues of 1923-1925, most of which I find not that readable. My present set is a bound set from 1926-1954. I’ll tell the story about this set and it will illustrate the differences between the old time pulp collectors and the newer pulp collectors who never really bought any of the magazines off the newsstands.

   In the 1980’s, Harry Noble, who had been buying pulps since the early 1930’s, decided to put together some bound sets of his favorite SF and fantasy magazines. He did this with such titles as Astounding, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels, Unknown Worlds, and of course, Weird Tales . He had trouble finding an inexpensive binder but finally found someone who would bind several magazines into one volume for a low price. Harry didn’t really care about the early issues, not only because they were not that readable, but also because they were too expensive for him to buy. But 1926-1954 he could handle and he started to his project one volume at time.

   But some of his issues were coverless and he borrowed copies from my set of individual issues and made color Xerox copies of the covers. There were at least a dozen, maybe more issues that were bound with Xerox covers. As a second generation pulp collector, I tried to talk Harry out of binding the pulps. Some of the issues were in really nice shape and it was a shame to see them bound with trimmed edges. But Harry was from the first generation of collectors and he liked the look of the bound volumes.

   Harry worked on this project for almost 20 years, up until his death at age 88 in 2006. He had prior warning that his illness was terminal and at the 2006 Pulpcon he told me and several other friends that he was dying. He welcomed us to visit his house and buy his extensive collection of pulps, books, and vintage paperbacks. Which we did. I made four such trips buying his sets of Western Story, Astounding, Short Stories and other items.

   One day, at dinner at my house, a group of us were having dinner and the subject of the Weird Tales set came up. Harry said he wanted $10,000 for the bound in red years of 1926-1954. I pointed out that not only were the most expensive issues missing, but the set was bound which was a problem as far as value was concerned. Also I knew from personal experience that at least a dozen issues had Xerox color covers. I also remembered that there were a few other issues with pieces missing out of the covers.

   However, I said I was willing to pay $5,000 considering the flaws, etc. Another well known, veteran collector also said he thought it might be worth $5,000 but no more. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure it was worth the 5 grand. Harry, who loved bound sets, was justifiably upset of course. In fact, he said he would throw them in the dumpster before selling them for $5,000. One of our friends got a laugh by saying to tell him which dumpster because he would be there.

   I figured that was that but a couple weeks later, I got a call from Harry. He had tried several other collectors and bookstores and no one would pay the $10,000. I’m pretty sure they would not even have paid the $5,000. Harry said if I still wanted them I could have the set for $5,000 and I accepted. He didn’t last much longer and died in December of 2006. So ended a 40 year friendship.

   But I still have Harry’s bound set and it looks beautiful bound in red in the master bedroom. But I’d still rather have them unbound!

Editorial Note: This video produced by Adventure House of the Weird Tales collection they were offering may not stay online for long, but at least for now, it is still up:

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