Mon 2 Nov 2015
by Kenneth Johnson.
I was informed by his son that Victor Berch died on Friday, October 30, 2015. He was 91. Victor is well known to many people in the collecting community and he will be sorely missed.
Victor had a massive collection that filled his house from top to bottom.
He collected dime novels and was well known among those collectors, being close personal friends with Edward Le Blanc and Ed Levy, of Charlton Publications.
He collected paperbacks of every kind, including much early porn, having amassed large quantities of Greenleaf, Brandon House and Olympia Press pbs, as well as many obscure soft-core pbs from the early 60s. One of his specialties was Lancer Books and he had a massive collection of Lancer and all its companion imprints.
He collected pulps. I first met him through pulp fan Will Murray. Victor had initiated a correspondence with Will and eventually, realizing that they both lived in eastern Massachusetts, they decided to meet for lunch. Will called me afterwards and told me what a fascinating person Victor was, so I expressed an interest in meeting him, too. When Will mentioned my name to him, Victor said “Is that the Ken Johnson who did the SF Pornography index?” and expressed a desire to meet me. Will brought him to my place and after admiring my somewhat modest collection and chatting about obscure bibliographic matters, Victor sat back and asked “So, what can I do to help you with your research?”
This, I learned, was typical of Victor. He loved helping other people with their research and was always generous with his time and expertise. A few years back, some people researching Louisa May Alcott made a breakthrough in identifying the potboiler stories she had written at the beginning of her career. Eventually several books were compiled from these stories; it is my understanding that the final volume consisted entirely of stories located by Victor Berch.
Victor was born in 1924. He served in the Merchant Marine in World War II. He graduated from Brandeis University with a Master’s Degree in Mediterranean Studies. In his course of study he learned to read and/or speak Spanish, French, Latin, Greek (ancient and modern), Russian, Arabic and Hebrew. I believe he could also read Egyptian Hieroglyphics. None of this prepared him for his professional career, however. In his wayward youth, Victor had been a book scout for George Gloss of the Brattle Book Store. It was that expertise that got him the job of Rare Book Librarian at Brandeis in 1966.
Victor was married and had two sons. His wife Sarah died several years ago, of Huntington’s Disease.
Victor had a health scare in 2007 and decided to begin disposing of his collection. A collector from New York bought all his dime novels and pulp magazines and wrote him a five-figure check. I got first crack at his paperbacks. He sold me his sleazy digest PBs at far below what he could have gotten for them on eBay, but he knew that I would put them to good use in my research. Bruce Black flew out from Illinois and bought 8 or 10 boxes of paperbacks, mostly porn. Even after that there was still a ton of stuff there and it took several more visits before I finally reached bottom. There was still so much stuff left that it hardly looked like anything was gone.
Unfortunately, Victor fell down the stairs in 2008 and broke his hip. He was in rehab for a couple of months, then moved into an assisted living facility in Brookline. He never fully recovered and became less mobile over time. He never lost his enthusiasm for research, however, and continued feeding information to Al Hubin for his Crime Fiction updates.
About 20 years ago Victor discovered that the Library of Congress had microfilmed a large amount of old magazines, including many early pulps. Through inter-library loan he had Brandeis borrow a huge amount of them and printed out the contents pages. He compiled a few indexes of short-run titles and published them in the Pulp APA but the bulk of them remained untapped. He passed them on to me when he started dumping his collection. For the last 6 years I’ve been slowly borrowing the same microfilms, annotating those contents pages, and sending the info to FictionMags. So in many ways Victor’s research efforts will continue to bear fruit for years to come.
This hastily written tribute can barely express how much his friendship meant to me. I have gratefully acknowledged his help in all of my paperback indexes. I have become a better bibliographer from his example but my expertise still pales in comparison. He has inspired many of us to do better work, dig deeper, and leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of knowledge. He will be missed.
Editorial Comment: I learned the sad news from Al Hubin in an email from him waiting for me when I got up this morning. I knew Victor was slowing down, but I heard from him several times over the summer, always cheerful and asking how I was doing. While his death wasn’t surprising news, it was still a shock, as it always is when someone you have called a friend for over 20 years passes away.
Here’s a list of the projects and articles Victor did for Mystery*File over the years, some his own projects, some in collaboration with others, including myself. Some have needed some updating for a while now. The fault is mine, not Victor’s.
Pulp Author CHARLES W. TYLER, by Victor A. Berch.
MASTERPIECES OF MYSTERY: A Bibliographical Account, Presented by Victor A. Berch.
THE STORY OF ALLEN HYMSON, by Victor A. Berch & Allen J. Hubin.
INTERNATIONAL POLYGONICS, LIMITED (IPL): A Checklist of Publications
compiled by Victor A. Berch.
Victor Berch on ROBERT EDMOND ALTER.
More on Phyllis Gordon Demarest, from Victor Berch.
A NOTE ON THE WORD “DETECTIVE” by Victor A. Berch.
WHO WAS ARTHUR MALLORY? – A 76-Year Old Pseudonym Revealed, by Victor A. Berch.
MURDER CLINIC: Radio’s Golden Age of Detection, by Victor A. Berch, Karl Schadow & Steve Lewis.
A COMPLETE SET OF FINGERPRINTS: An Annotated Checklist of the Fingerprint Mystery Series published by Ziff-Davis, by Bill Pronzini, Victor Berch & Steve Lewis.
A Checklist of HARPER’S SEALED MYSTERY SERIES – Compiled by Victor A. Berch.
A Checklist of Aldine’s Tip Top Detective Tales, by Victor A. Berch.