Thoughts on a December Evening
by Walker Martin


   While looking through the Western Story duplicates that I obtained recently, I’ve been involved in that occupation that has driven collectors crazy for generations. Yes, I’m talking about the heartbreaking job of comparing issues to see which copy is the better one. The better condition copy you keep for your own collection and the lesser condition copy eventually finds a new home.

   Why did I use the words “crazy” and “heartbreaking” above? Because sometimes the copies have different flaws that make it almost impossible to choose one issue as the “better” one. For instance, many times I’ve compared the two copies of the same issue and seen a small piece out of the cover of one issue; but the other copy has some spine problems or perhaps the pages look white compared to almost white, meanwhile someone has scribbled on the contents page “VG” and maybe the back cover has been bent or maybe, etc, etc, etc.

   I’m like the horse caught between two bales of hay; I can’t make a decision and so I starve to death. Or in the case of the collector, you keep both issues!

   A while back we were discussing items that we sometimes find inside pulp magazines or comments that a prior owner has written. I’m looking at the June 5, 1920, issue of Western Story and it has a great N.C. Wyeth cover showing a cowboy riding a bucking bronco while two pals cheer him on.

   Unfortunately, a prior owner by the name of Frederick Gutzwiller has chosen to scribble on the cover. He has written his full name plus the date of Sunday June 13, 1920. He has even added the time: 1 PM. In addition, he must have reread the issue more than 10 years later, because he has written June 1931 and June 1932. There also is a stamped date of January 1935.

   Inside, on the contents page he has written beside some of the stories these dates again. In addition he has rated some of the tales with the comments “poor” and “No Good”. One story he particularly hated because on page 49 where the story “Duty” by S.S. Gordon begins, he has written “29th of June 1932” and slammed it with both “Poor” and “No Good”. But wait, he’s not finished. He then puts on the top of every other page the initials “N.G.”, standing for no good.

   Between pages 90 and 91, Mr Gutzwiller, I presume, has tucked a 16 page pamphlet titled, “Cultural Directions for Will’s Pioneer Brand Nursery Stock”. I see the booklet was published in Bismark, North Dakota. At first I had no idea what this booklet was about but upon reading further I found out it all about planting fruits, vegetables, plants, and trees.

   I also have pulps where Mr Gutzwiller has listed on the covers the various prices realized for eggs, vegetables, and livestock. What I find so interesting about all this, is that he made these notations more than 80 or 90 years ago and probably is long dead. Yet he lives on with his name prominently displayed on some old magazines for collectors to puzzle over and wonder about. I guess that is a sort of immortality, more than some of us will ever receive.

   In fact, as soon as I sign off this computer, I’m going to start writing my name, address, and date on the covers of my pulps. I have a lot, so this might take me quite awhile. I can hardly wait to scribble “Walker Martin” on the set of fine condition Planet Stories that I won at the Frank Robinson auction held by Adventure House.

POSTSCRIPT: Today I’ve spent the whole day continuing to compare issues, which I find to be a lot of fun. There is nothing that make me happier than to look at a fine condition Western Story that I just obtained recently and then see that it is about a dozen times better than my old copy which is sort of brittle and faded, just like me!

   Replacing the old, battered copy with the nice condition copy is like being reborn. I feel like a new collector instead of an old one. If I can find hundreds of nice Western Story magazines at this late stage, then what new worlds are waiting to be conquered? Or collected!