COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir
Part 21: Pulp Art, Part Three
by Walker Martin


   This is the third and last column on one of my favorite subjects: Pulp Art. The two prior installments may be read on Mystery*File as Part 19 and Part 20.

   Often I’m asked where can a collector buy pulp or paperback art? eBay is certainly a source and I have often typed in an artist’s name and looked to see what is available. Or I’ve tried different combinations of words on eBay such as Original Pulp Art, Cover Paintings, Paperback Paintings, etc. Another source that I’ve used are the auction houses such as Heritage Auctions. Or you can visit another art collector. They often have pieces that they would be willing to trade or sell. For instance I’ve bought art from such well known collectors as Bob Lesser, Doug Ellis, and Bob Weinberg. At the recent pulp brunch at my house in November, I bought several Bjorklund drawings from WILD WEST WEEKLY from art collector and dealer, Paul Herman. As I mentioned earlier, Matt Moring and I completed a trade involving 4 pulp paintings at the brunch.

   But one of the best sources for original art are the pulp conventions: Windy City in Chicago, PulpFest in Pittsburgh, and Pulp Adventurecon in Bordentown, NJ. Of the three shows I consider Windy City to be the best source for original pulp and paperback art. The convention lasts three days each year and there are perhaps as many as a dozen dealers with art for sale. Next, comes Pulpfest with two main art dealers: Doug Ellis and Craig Poole. Sometimes other book dealers bring in art: Nick Certo, Scott Hartshorn, Mark Hickman, Ray Walsh, etc. Pulp Adventurecon is usually about the books and magazines but this year Craig Poole had several tables with excellent pulp, digest, paperback and slick art. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

   Frankly, I collect art because I love collecting but if you are thinking of possible investment value, you can’t go wrong with original art as an investment. Of course I’m assuming you pick nice pieces and not poor art. For instance I have a painting from DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY that is just a bloody hand. Another from the same magazine, is just the face of some ugly criminal. It’s possible these paintings will never be worth anything except for a few hundred dollars, but since I collect pulp magazines, I was happy to buy them as examples of the poor cover art occasionally used by the magazines.

   As you may have noticed I have no problem with buying unframed art, art in poor condition, even art with holes in the canvas. I used to frame everything, but now I say the hell with it and hang them up as is. If a piece is falling apart, I have restored it, however. There are art restorers that work on paintings, in fact Matt Moring and I met a restorer at the Bordentown convention and he has emailed us several photos of excellent pulp art that he has worked on.

   An important thing to remember is to be sure and collect original art that you like. If you like SF, there is plenty out there. Hero pulp art is very popular but quite expensive. Same thing with risque or spicy art such as pinup art. Detective and mystery art has increased in value during the past few years. I can remember when you couldn’t get much of anything for a detective pulp painting. Western art still remains fairly inexpensive except for the big names like Nick Eggenhofer or Gayle Hoskins.

   Many collectors make the mistake of ignoring western art which is a big mistake. The cover paintings are full of action, very colorful, and inexpensive compared to SF, hero and detective pulp paintings. So far there is practically no interest in love or sport cover paintings. Not many collectors are interested in the love or sport magazines either. As a result we don’t see many covers at all from these two genres. It’s possible they have mostly been lost or destroyed due to this lack of interest.

   Here are some great examples of inexpensive pulp art. Most collectors don’t seem that interested in preliminary art but they can be quite stunning as these pieces show. Often such prelim work is very sketchy or not that well done but these two pieces by Delano and Baumhofer are almost finished enough to appear as covers. The two magazines show how the finished cover paintings turned out and you can see there is not a lot of difference between the preliminary work and the finished canvas. The Baumhofer one showing the cowboy on the ground is especially impressive as a preliminary sketch.





   Now here is an example of a preliminary by De Soto that is very sketchy and unfinished. There is no way this Spider prelim could be used as a cover as is. But it does give the editor an idea of what the artist planned to do with the large painting on canvas. As far as I know this sketch was never made into a finished painting. By the way, I have two SPIDER preliminaries and they are quite rare. Only a couple of the cover paintings are known to exist.


   This is one of the earliest cover paintings that I have. It’s from 1914 and the artist is Howard Hastings. He painted a lot for OUTDOOR LIFE and that type of magazine so maybe it is from a slick. I bought this from art dealer Steve Kennedy in 1989 for $700. During this period I could spend about $700 each month on art and much later Steve told me that my $700 each month was a life saver for his business at the time. He had just started to deal in pulp cover paintings, and no one except for me was buying from him. Too bad I couldn’t spend more than $700 each month because I lost out on some nice art that Steve sold later to other collectors.


   I got this one from Pulpcon in the eighties for only a couple hundred. I wonder how it got that hole in it? It’s FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES.


   This is one of my very favorite illustrations. It’s a great Nick Eggenhofer interior, probably for a two page spread. It shows two stage coaches passing each other and one looks ready to tip over. By the way, I haven’t located where this is from in case anyone can help me out. It may be WESTERN STORY or one of the western titles published by Popular Publications like DIME WESTERN or STAR WESTERN.


   This is PEOPLES from the early 1920’s and the artist is Wittmack. This is another painting I got from Kennedy when he was selling me one painting a month back in 1989. I never bothered to get it framed. Frankly I find that framing sometimes detracts from the painting. Steve liked to frame his paintings in a gold frame which I did not like much. And of course Bob Lesser habit of framing the pulp magazine inside with the painting, I found to be sacrilege and very annoying! But despite my many complaints over the years Bob continues this practice. As far as I know there is no museum, art gallery or art restorer that would frame the magazine under glass with the painting. After a few decades you would have a pile of pulp chips and a stain on the canvas.


   I love when I get this type of painting. It’s by Norman Saunders and was used on a pulp AND a paperback years later. It was first used on WESTERN ACES magazine in the 1940’s and then reused on the Ace Double titled GUNSMOKE GOLD in the 1950’s. One funny story about me buying this art. When I first saw it the dealer wanted $200 for it as a paperback cover. I stupidly looked closely and muttered that it was signed by Saunders and bang, the price went up right away to $400. Later I discovered it was also a pulp and this makes it worth far more than the $400 I had to pay.


–   Whatever happened to art dealer Tony Dispoto? I bought this from him and it’s a great piece by one of the best of the pulp artists. It’s a Flanagan from BLUE BOOK in the mid-1930’s illustrating a great adventure serial by James Francis Dwyer.


   This is a rare example of Walter Baumhofer’s early work. It’s from ADVENTURE in the mid-twenties and I got it at Windy City for only a couple hundred dollars.


   FIGHT STORIES by Gross. A pulp collecting brain surgeon was once visiting me and was interested in this because boxers often require such surgery.


   I love showing this painting to visitors. It’s 10 STORY WESTERN by De Soto and has over 20 pinholes punched through the canvas. In other words someone used it as a dart board! I’ll never get it restored because it shows just how little respect these paintings used to command back in the day. I’ve heard so many horror stories of cover paintings thrown away, lost, burnt, etc. Back when they were painted they were just about considered worthless.


   Author Ryerson Johnson once told me that he was an editor for a couple years for Popular Publications back in the forties. When he resigned to return to full time writing, he was shown into a large room full of paintings and illustrations and told to take what he wanted because it was all going to be thrown away eventually. He took several paintings and a couple large stacks of interior illustrations. Decades later he sold this art to me and other collectors.


   When I first bought this ADVENTURE cover, it was on a board that was spongy and soft. You could take off pieces of the board with two fingers. I thought it was just about worthless and ready for the garbage. But art restorers can do magical things and this painting was saved. It was somehow transferred to another board without any damage.


   This is another strange story. Collector Al Tonik had the paperback to this cover and decided to commission artist Rudi Nappi to paint it again as a recreation of the original painting. The artist did the recreation which is almost an exact copy for $100. But then later on I discovered the original paperback cover painting. So Al sold me the recreation to go along with the original cover painting. I now have both paintings, the original which was done in the 1950’s and the recreation which was done in the 1990’s or thereabout. Sometimes we think these old paintings are lost but they show up anyway!


   This is from BATTLE STORIES and I bought it from Illustration House in NYC. Notice how the magazine reversed the image. They did this sometimes to make room for the magazine title or cover blurbs.


   This is by the great Frank Paul and is from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, one of my favorite magazines.


   This is FIGHTING ACES by Blakeslee. I got it from Bob Weinberg back in the 1980’s. He was just released from the hospital and needed money to pay his medical bills. He had over a dozen of these aviation paintings which he sold but I only bought two of them. I guess I was broke again!


   I also collect advertising posters which are pulp related. This is a poster advertising Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE.


   I have several paperback racks which I spent decades searching for. This is the first one I found and I had to trade a Clark Ashton Smith first edition to get it back in the 1970’s. Most collectors don’t realize how rare these things are. Someday after we are gone they will be worth a lot of money.


   An unusual night scene which must have happened to many cowboys. They hear a sound and reach for their gun. I got this one a couple years ago at the Bordentown convention and it’s from WESTERN STORY in the thirties. I saw the art dealer come through the door and I immediately ran up and asked the price. It was inexpensive so I bought it. But I had driven in with my old pal Digges and when I went to put it into the car there was absolutely no room. He had filled the entire car up with boxes of pulps. Fortunately my friend, Sai Shanker was visiting me the next day and he delivered it to me at my house. But we were so busy talking that he almost drove off to the airport with it still in his car.


   Well, that’s it, all you need to know about pulp art in three easy installments. Thank you Steve Lewis for publishing this and thank you Sai Shanker for taking the great photos. And finally thank you to all my art collecting friends over the many years. Many of you may no longer be with us, but you are not forgotten. After all we are just the temporary caretakers of our collections. Eventually we leave but the collections continue on!