Frisco Beat: Robert Barbour Johnson

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday once more, and our maniacal John Hancock-collecting pal Brian Leno hauls out a new acquisition. If I remember right, he told me he’s been looking for a Robert Barbour Johnson for decades, but if the signature did come on the market he missed it.

Until now. A copy of The Magic Park from 1940 (if not the first, certainly one of the earliest histories of Golden Gate Park) surfaced, for only $35. I thought the price was ridiculously low, but then some previous owner stuck glued words on the spine, which kind of goops up the collectability.

The main angle Brian wanted was the siggie, though, and he sprang on it. “Inscribed, business card with initials, and then signed. Lord knows the money was right. I know RBJ isn’t the most collected author but I always wanted the guy that wrote ‘Far Below’ and now I got him.”

“Far Below” is one of the most famous yarns published in the pulp pages of Weird Tales, but Johnson — resident of San Francisco for many years — also wrote a string of circus stories for the prestigious pulp Blue Book. Among other Johnsonian activities.

I cover him in the history and guidebook The Literary World of San Francisco. Over the years, people have mentioned to me that they think Johnson is one of the most interesting figures I touch on. If you ever find a copy of that book, I believe you’ll agree.

I’ve got a signed The Magic Park, plus a long inscription by RBJ in a book of science fiction tales. You can’t tell from Brian’s pic, but the boards are green with gold stamping on the front. No lettering of any kind on the spine.

Brian tells me, “The business card is nice but it’s been glued to the book. From what I can see by straining my eyes all that was on the front was Robert Barbour Johnson.”

If you have trouble with RBJ’s scrawl, the card reads:

“Just wanted you to have one of the new book. Will drop in some other day. R.B.J.”

So now at last Brian joins me in the RBJ collecting club. But don’t think this haul will slow down his roll.

“I got Oliver Reed coming next week,” he says. “There was a guy that knew how to party.”

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