Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Collecting Robert E. Howard Pulps - Part 1

This is a revised version of an article I wrote for The Cimmerian blog in 2009.

Some REH items from my personal collection.
I have always been a collector by nature and collecting Robert E. Howard material can be both challenging and rewarding and most certainly addictive. I began with the comic books and paperbacks when I was young, then moved on to the books published by Donald M. Grant, Arkham House and other small presses. Today, I am primarily focused on collecting pulp magazines with Howard stories. It is as a Howard collector that I will be posting here at The Cimmerian. There are many REH experts out there whose knowledge in this area dwarfs my own, but I have picked up a few things during my obsessive attempts to accumulate obscure “Howardiana” and I hope to share some of this knowledge with you over the following weeks.

A few years back, Don Herron wrote an excellent article for Firsts magazine on collecting Robert E. Howard books – a “must read” for any REH collector. I plan to follow Don’s lead and discuss collecting Howard, but in other media – pulps, comics, fanzines, toys, etc. This week I would like to begin where Howard himself got his start – with the pulps.

Pulps on sale at a newsstand in 1938.
From 1896 to the middle of the twentieth century, pulp magazines were a very popular form of disposable entertainment. Printed on cheap paper (whence they derive their name) with slick, sometimes lurid, covers, pulp magazines were one of the primary means of publishing popular fiction in the days before the mass market paperback. Authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Ron Hubbard, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, “Tennessee” Williams, Arthur C. Clarke, Dashiell Hammett, and of course Robert E. Howard got their start writing for the pulps. During their heyday in the years between the two world wars, pulp titles such as Argosy, Blue Book, Adventure (a favorite of Howard’s), The Shadow, Doc Savage, Amazing Stories, Black Mask, and Weird Tales sold millions of copies.

July 1925 issue of Weird Tales,
After several previous rejections, Howard sold his first story, “Spear and Fang,” which was published in the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales. For the remainder of his life and even after his death, he would be a regular contributor to Weird Tales and many of his most famous characters from Solomon Kane to Kull to Conan appeared in the pages of “The Unique Magazine.” These issues are highly sought after by collectors and can be quite expensive, especially in higher grades. But Weird Tales was not the only pulp to publish Howard’s work – his yarns also appeared in Argosy, Oriental Stories, Magic Carpet, Top-Notch, Action Stories, Fight Stories, Spicy Adventure, Thrilling Mystery, and a number of others.

For collectors interested in delving into the fascinating world of pulp magazines, there are a number of useful resources available both online and in print. A great place to start is ThePulp.net, an excellent site with an abundance of information, history, and useful links including links to dealers that sell pulps. The PulpGallery is a great site with numerous cover images. Collectors Showcase is a French site that is a very useful reference tool as they not only have a thorough collection of cover images, but also detailed contents of many issues.

There are several great books about pulps, but the “Bible” for pulp collectors is Bookery’s Guide to Pulps by Tim Cottrell. This price guide and reference work is essential for anyone wishing to make a serious foray into pulp collecting. Also useful is The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps by Ed Hulse.

For information on Howard’s appearances in the pulps, the first stop, as always, should be HowardWorks.com. There, every REH story and poem published in the pulps is catalogued and split into two separate pages, his appearances in Weird Tales and his appearances in other pulps. A similar bibliographic-style reference is The Neverending Hunt by Paul Herman – essentially a print version of HowardWorks.com but annotated.

Bookery's Guide to Pulps
So where are the best places to find pulps for sale? As mentioned above, ThePulp.net has links to a number of dealers that sell pulps. There are always numerous pulps listed for sale on eBay but, as always, unless the seller is known to you then caveat emptor. Heritage Auctions often have REH pulps in their quarterly Signature Comic & Comic Art Auctions. There are two major pulp conventions held annually in the US, which many of the country’s biggest dealers regularly attend: The Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago and PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio.

Many pulps change hands in private sales between dealers and collectors. It helps to get to know other pulp enthusiasts and build a network of contacts. Internet forums and conventions are great way to make these connections. Many dealers will also take wantlists and will try to fill them. Some of my best pulps were acquired privately from fellow collectors.

In future posts I will go into more detail on specific pulps with Howard content, discussing scarcity, value and collectability. I also plan on giving occasional market reports with actual sales data on notable Howard collectibles. Until then, good hunting!

Next Installment:
Collecting Robert E. Howard Pulps - Part 2

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