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:

An inquiry from Bill Bickley:

Hello- I’m trying to identify what book the painting I purchased recently was used on…any ideas?? I thought it was a Mack Bolan or Nick Carter but have gone through most of those covers online to no avail. Do you know or perhaps know someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of these types of books you can show or post this for others to see and offer opinions/answers?? Thanks!

by Josef Hoffman

   In my view, the vast majority of cover illustrations for present-day crime novels are boring or even ugly, and that includes all subgenres. Worst of all are the uninspired photographic covers with images of a pistol or a knife, a house or a street, one or more people, especially if these have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of the crime story.

   There is not much point in pining for times past, when covers were still drawn or painted and suggested significant scenes of the crime story. It would seem to be the wrong approach to simply imitate the style of the cover illustrations of the 1950s, for example; and this is also wrong even if the old crime novels are reissued.

   For instance, I hesitate to buy the recently published book containing the collected stories of the Black Mask author Paul Cain (The Complete Slayers), as I feel put off by the much-praised illustration by Ron Lesser on the cover. It shows a scantily clothed, sexy young woman with a cigarette and a gun, with which she appears to have just killed a man.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   My distaste for this cover illustration has nothing to do with “political correctness” or even prudery, but rather with historical consciousness. I would have preferred it if original cover illustrations from old Black Mask editions had been used for the cover of the book, for example as parts of a collage.

   It’s not as if I do not also enjoy so-called “GGA” (Good Girl Art), but only when it originates from the same period as the publication of the books. Back then it was something new, a daring venture that only just escaped the censors. Nowadays one is practically bombarded with pictures of more or less naked people everywhere. Relying on sexploitation to create cover art is dull and annoying.

   Taking a historical view, I can even appreciate such an extreme and infamous, frequently reproduced cover image as Rudolph Belarski’s The Doll’s Trunk Murder by Helen Reilly (Popular Library, # 211) from 1949. It is so bizarre and surreal that even any misogynist tendencies that might exist are neutralised aesthetically.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   The picture shows a pretty young woman tied to a chair. Her mouth is sealed with adhesive tape. Her blouse is open, revealing much of one breast. A male hand holding a knife approaches the woman. The observer cannot tell whether the intended use of the knife is to abuse the woman, to kill her, or to cut through her fetters. The picture has a thrilling, explosive effect.

   Such an image would have quite a different impact on me if it were painted and published now, in 2012. As mentioned, I am not talking about “political correctness” here, which is sensibly applied to political speeches, news and similar statements, but which has no place in artistic products, even if they are merely lurid entertainment.

   What I mean is a contemporary taste. A relatively good solution to the problem was found by Black Lizard Books in designing the newly reissued, old noir crime novels. The cover illustrations by Kirwan capture the sinister atmosphere of these crime stories without imitating the original covers, as is sadly the case with some of the covers in the Hard Case Crime series.

   Here is a link to Kirwan’s covers he did for Black Lizard. I do not like them all equally, as I find some of them too surreal, but most of them are well done. One I think is very good is the one he did for Black Friday, by David Goodis. The atmosphere is so hopeless and the colours are so cold that the picture suits the story.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   A complete collection of the Hard Case Crime covers may be found here. An example of one I consider bad is the picture of Lawrence Block’s 69 Barrow Street. It is rather unimaginative to put just a nude in the middle of the cover, not exciting at all.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   Much better is the cover art of No House Limit by Steve Fisher. These big dice in front of the picture symbolize chance in life and are significant for the novel.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   Perhaps the publishers’ art directors should look around at some comic artists in order to find new visual forms of expression that might suit crime novels. Admittedly, it costs more to pay these artists for their work (which should also require that they read the crime novel in question) than it would to simply use a more or less suitable picture from a photo archive, or to plunder one from the masterpieces of art history.

   It involves more effort and expense to create a new picture than to select one that already exists. By the way, it is only acceptable to use a painting by Caravaggio on the cover of a crime novel that is published now if the story deals with the robbery of such a painting, or is set during Caravaggio’s time.

   It might well be that I have suffered a surfeit of crime novel cover art and am therefore hypercritical. I know of no ideal solution. Perhaps some other crime lovers have better suggestions.


ELLERY QUEEN Calamity Town

  ELLERY QUEEN – Calamity Town. Little Brown, hardcover, 1942. Pocket 283, paperback, 1945. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft.

   When I first started reading Mysteries, back in the mid-60s, I pretty much devoured the earlier titles of the acknowledged “masters” of the Classic Detective Story (except for Erle Stanley Gardner, whom I ignored until the late 70s) so I probably first read this about a quarter-century ago. I turned to it again, just recently, because it was the only Ellery Queen selected by H. R. F. Keating in his 100 Best Books of Crime and Mystery.

   Ellery “Smith” comes to the New England town of Wrightsville to work on his new novel, and stays — due to Wartime housing shortages — in a house built by Mr. Wright for his daughter Nora, when she was going to be married … only just before the Wedding, her fiance, one Jim Haight, disappeared.

ELLERY QUEEN Calamity Town

   Shortly after Ellery takes up residence, however, the missing Haight returns, and it isn’t long before he and Nora are re-betrothed and then married. Ellery gives up the house, but as he and Nora’s sister are moving some of Jim’s things in, they discover three letters, dated for the forthcoming Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, in which he describes Nora’s illness and death.

   Sure enough, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Nora is ill, but come New Year’s Day, it’s someone completely else who buys the farm, a victim of Arsenic poisoning.

   Hard to say whether I figured out the solution of this one or just remembered it from my Salad Days, since the idea has been used since. The characters are credible, if not terribly deep, and the prose serviceable. Not as memorable as the three Queen novels on my list, but pretty good nonetheless.

Editorial Comment:   The top image is that of the hardcover First Edition. The lower one is one of the later Pocket reprints. I chose it because of the rare split-screen effect, one that I don’t believe was used very often by paperback publishers, then or now.





To Readers of Detective Stories:

   One day last December our editorial and sales departments agreed that too many mystery stories are being published in America and decided to accept no more such novels for at least six months. The next day two manuscripts were received. They were both by the same author. They were both detective stories. They were both accepted at once for publication.

   The Case of the Velvet Claws is one of those manuscripts. The second will be published in the fall. (*) And both sales and editorial departments claim the credit for being the first to prophecy that Erle Stanley Gardner will find a place immediately as one of the most popular authors of detective fiction.

   We hope that after reading this book you will agree we were justified in changing our minds.

(signed)   The Publishers.

* The Case of the Sulky Girl.

The Story

   Perry Mason, criminal lawyer, is retained by a much-too-beautiful woman who obviously is concealing more than she is telling. She has heard that Perry Mason not only a law unto himself, but that he never lets a client down. She has been indiscreet, and is involved in blackmail.

   The case is immediately complicated by murder, and Perry Mason finds himself as busy keeping clear of the law himself as he is in saving his client. The action is swift, dramatic, convincing. The handling and solution of the case are well developed and logical — perhaps because the author is a practicing lawyer with a trained legal mind.

   Mr. Gardner’s writing has a style and personality of its own. His characters are colorful and vital. The lawyer, Perry Mason, and his charming secretary, Della Street, we believe, will become famous characters to all detective story enthusiasts.

386 Fourth Avenue        New York

THE INSIDE BACK JACKET FLAP:   A detailed synopsis of –In Time for Murder, by R. A. J. Walling, a mystery novel also published by Morrow.

THE BACK COVER:   A statement of the philosophy of the publisher relative to detective fiction, and a list of the titles they had recently published:

   Stroke of One
   –In Time for Murder
    Those Seven Alibis
    Gold Bullets
    The Case of the April Fools
    Cut Throat
    A Dagger in the Dark
ROGER DENBIE (upcoming)
    Death on the Limited (April 1933)

COVER PRICE:   $2.00.

NOTE: Thanks to Bill Pronzini and Mark Terry for the cover images used to provide the information above.


ANN CARDWELL – Crazy to Kill. Mystery House, hardcover, 1941. Black Cat Detective #10, digest paperback, 1944. Harlequin #22, Canada, pb, 1949. Macfadden 35-119, paperback, 1962; Uni-Books reprint, no date. Nightwood Editions, softcover, Canada, 1990. The book was also converted to an opera with this title by James Reaney, Sr., and John Beckwith; it was performed in Canada in 1989.

ANN CARDWELL Crazy to Kill

   Earlier this month there was a post of a review of this book by Canadian author Ann Cardwell. The review by Bill Deeck ended with a tantalizing sentence trailing off in an ellipsis of ambiguity. “One of the rare mysteries with a mental institution setting and one of the rare… But that mustn’t be revealed.” We were all puzzled. What did Bill Deeck mean?

   I ordered a copy and when it arrived last weekend read the very short novel rather quickly. The book, a paperback published by an outfit called Uni-Books, was littered with typos and punctuation errors but most infuriating of all the characters’ names kept changing — sometimes within the same paragraph. I don’t have any other copy to compare this with so I can’t tell where these errors came from, but it still drove me batty.

   One of the murder victims is called Tim but he when he is first introduced his name changes from Tim to Tom in the span of one line. Later in the book he is referred to as Tom again and then Tim a few lines later. The narrator, Agatha Lawson, is once called Miss Lawrence which is the first name of one of the police detectives. Miss Lawson is also once called Miss Wilson — the name of one of the nurses in the hospital. On the rear cover of the book Dr. Holman is rechristened Dr. Holden by someone who clearly didn’t read the book.

ANN CARDWELL Crazy to Kill

   The blurb on the back also downplays the lurid murder story and instead focuses on a very minor incident involving a jealous lover’s triangle among two nurses and a doctor — although two doctor’s names are mentioned and a fourth nurse’s name is thrown into the works.

   You can imagine how this was more than just a minor distraction like an occasional typo that may pop up in even a leading paperback publisher’s book. I even began to wonder if this was intentional. After all, Agatha Lawson is a mental patient and this could have been a clever manipulation of truth and delusion on the author’s part. Then I discarded that thought and did my best to overlook the errors and typos. The story was engaging enough and I ought not to let minutiae like that get the better of me

   So to the story. Miss Lawson narrates a tale of a crazed murderer on the loose who is killing staff members and attacking patients seemingly at random. No motive seems clear. The multiple methods of murder (stabbing, bludgeoning, strangling) only reinforce the suspicion of a homicidal maniac at work.

   I have to admit having been trained so well in the contemporary thriller trope of the “unreliable narrator” that I was skeptical of much of what Miss Lawson told the reader. I wasn’t sure I was getting the real facts and played closer attention to the other characters’ speeches and behavior.

ANN CARDWELL Crazy to Kill

   Agatha is also obsessed with leaving the institution and seems more concerned about passing her “sanity exam” than with the murderer in their midst. Yet somehow she is allowed to serve as a Watson to the two police detectives in charge of the investigation. As she tells Lt. Hogan, “It takes a thief to catch a thief,” implying that she knows more of the ways of the patients than an outsider would.

   I hesitate to go into the sometimes complicated plot any further. Bill’s review does a good job of mentioning the salient points. Let me just say that Cardwell did a good job of misleading the reader. There are several surprises that caught me off guard leading up to the final revelation of the killer.

   The final twist may not be a huge surprise but it was the perfect ending to a story that reminded me of a few of those British anthology horror films of the 1970s like Asylum and The House that Dripped Blood. Cardwell may well have created a minor classic in the subgenre of the homicidal killer mystery.

   A review of other books published prior to 1941 might even prove that her book is a first of its kind. I cannot think of one earlier than this with a similarly constructed story although there are a handful with that rare … ah, but that must not be revealed. Deja vu, eh?

Editorial Comments:   As far as I know, Uni-Books was one of those repackaging companies that bought up rights to books from other publishers and put new covers on them but more or less kept the text block the same. They then sold the books as the equivalent of instant remainders, dumping them off to drugstores and supermarkets to sell at whatever discount they chose.

   The cover of the Macfadden edition, done by Ronnie Lesser, continued the “nurse” theme of the Black Cat version, but there’s still that menacing shadow standing in the doorway as a reminder that there is a mystery involved.

   The Uni-Books cover, however, the lowermost of the three you see here is purely a generic one with nurses only. Unless you read the small print (the same as on the Macfadden), you’d never know it was a mystery. (Well, there is the title, of course.)

   They’re not exactly unknown, but to fans of Michael Avallone in the US, they might as well be. Perhaps it’s only a tease, but British mystery bookseller Jamie Sturgeon has sent me cover images of two of the three Avallone crime novels published only in England. (An earlier version of this post stated that all three are Ed Noon adventures, but only #2 and #3 are.)

1. The Killing Star. Robert Hale, 1969. Dust wrapper by Eileen Walton:


Blurb: Five housewives butchered, horribly mutilated and on each terrible occasion, the unknown killer had marked the symbol of the Star of David on the door. What ancient and horrible vengeance was reaching out from the graves of Europe to announce a greater crime?

   Follow Detective Sam Swope on one of the most remarkable cases ever to tax the powers of “police procedure.” Learn as Sam Swope does that Death has many faces but the most savage mask of all has to be the one that comes in the guise of friendship, service and love. This is a raw and brutal book that is as contemporary as the morning’s murder.

Beginning the first chapter: High Noon. Now. Vietnam, race riots, Civil Rights battles. Taxes, irreverent movies, LSD trips for the unsophisticated and the foolish. Teenagers unsettled about how to cut their hair, how to dress — how to look. The cheats, the frauds, the second raters are having a field day at the expense of the victims. Music is struggling to sound coherent. The voice of the country is fighting the echoes of the unconstitutionality, alien reverberations and the shouts of doom from all sides.

   The Left, the Right and Dead Centre are at destructive odds. The big clocks, the little clocks and fifty million wrist watches toll and tick towards Infinity. Take a rocket to the moon, vote Medicare and honour thy father and mother as thyself and meanwhile – look out for Number One!

   The place. Your City and mine… Steepled, skylined, smog-filled, crime-filled and throbbing with immediacy. Concrete and common clay. General Motors products crowding the byways, jet planes thundering overhead, forests of T.V. antennae stabbing the unfriendly sky. What’s in it for me?

   This is the battle cry of the metropolis. The sun, the moon and the stars have no chance for survival. Poetry, Beauty, Honesty are but dreams. The winds, the rains, the storms lash and howl through the canyons of the skyscrapers. The Crooked City never sleeps. It is a big zoo, vibrating with the footsteps of the great white hunters. The metropolis is in the cross-haired sights of annihilation […]

2. The Big Stiffs. Robert Hale, 1977. Ed Noon.

3. Dark on Monday. Robert Hale, 1978. Ed Noon.


Blurb: The incredible crime wave began with a mysterious after-midnight telephone call to Manhattan Private Eye extraordinaire, Ed Noon – a death S.O.S. from an Irish dancer who looked Chinese. Then came the locust plague of poison-pen letters, a lethal swarm of brutality and terror which metamorphosed into an ugly chain of slaughtered Broadway showgirls.

   All of which made Noon a Monday worrier – the Ed Noon of the pre-President’s agent days, the Noon who still slept on the couch in his office, when the hit musical DRAGON TIME playing to SRO audiences on Times Square, was also the playground of one of the most viscous killers Ed Noon had ever encountered. A killer whose name would not be found in a fortune cookie…

BONUS: The Flower-Covered Corpse. Robert Hale, 1969, preceding the Curtis US paperback edition (1972).


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