Hammett: Tracking Down Two “New” Stories by “Peter Collinson”


The Holiday Season seems to have uncorked Terry Zobeck! He’s back with another Mystery in Hammett Bibliography — and even better, he’s already got the mystery solved!

Take another trip with Terry into the archives of the Library of Congress, tread the arcane pathways known only to the dedicated bibliographer. . . .

Think about it. From 1930 till today, this information has been lost, misfiled, missing in action.

Here’s Terry:

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Back in July Don sent me an email passing along a question from a Mean Streets reader, asking about a story called “Ah, Fate!” by Peter Collinson.

Now as we all know, “Peter Collinson” was a pseudonym used by Hammett on eight of his early stories.

And as we all know, no such story has ever been attributed to Hammett.

So I checked the FictionMags Index, a wonderful resource maintained by Bill Contento, and found a listing under Hammett’s name for the story in the February 1930 issue of American Short Story. I sent Bill an email asking about the story and he replied that since Hammett only used the pseudonym from 1922 to 1924, it was unlikely that he used it as late as 1930 for this story. He concluded the attribution to Hammett in the FM Index was most likely an error and that this was a different Peter Collinson — he noted that there were two others in his database — and that he would correct the Index, which he did.

But this past week I’m surfing the web for some Hammett information and paid another visit to Mike Humbert’s excellent Hammett website. One of his pages is devoted to documenting Hammett’s short fiction, accompanied by images of the covers of the original magazines and pulps in which they were first published. In scrolling down this page I came upon “Ah, Fate!” as published by Collinson in the February 1930 issue of American Short Story — there was no image illustrating the cover and no other information about the story.

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This time I thought to ask Hammett authority Richard Layman about it. He replied that he was unfamiliar with any such story, but would be interested in anything I could discover.

Yesterday I had a few spare hours, so it was off to the Library of Congress. Earlier in the week I had sent an email request to the LOC to determine whether they had the magazine in their archives. A quick response established they did indeed have it on microfilm. Turns out it was a short-lived digest-sized magazine, published from November 1929 through April 1930.

I arrived at the LOC and headed straight to the microfilm collections and requested the relevant roll of film. Within a half hour it was retrieved from the archives and I was ready to load it onto the modern reader — it would let me save any images desired to my USB flash-drive device.

With great anticipation I fumbled the roll onto the reader and scrolled to the February 1930 issue. And there it was: “Ah, Fate!” by Peter Collinson.

There was no biographical information on this Collinson.

I quickly searched the table of contents of the other issues to see if Collinson published anything else with American Short Story.  He did. The final story in the final issue of the magazine (April 1930) was “Strength” by Peter Collinson. Again no biographical information.

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I scrolled back to the February issue and began to read the story.

Mystery solved.

It was a reprint of “The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody”; the story I had just written up for my latest blog!

“Strength” similarly turned out to be a reprint, “The Barber and His Wife,” also recently blogged by me.

april titles

Turns out that American Short Story made a habit of reprinting stories originally published by Brief Stories. Both of the Collinson stories had appeared in this pulp, in February 1923 and December 1922, respectively.

Interestingly, unlike the other Brief Stories reprints, Hammett’s stories were retitled (even worse choices than Frederic Dannay’s). There is no copyright information that would indicate these were reprints. (A quick examination also revealed that both stories used the pure text of the originals, so Dannay’s versions were edited by him and not the American Short Story editor.)

We have no indication of whether Hammett approved these reprints or even knew of them.

These two stories may be the earliest examples of Hammett’s work being reprinted. They precede the King Features syndicate newspaper reprints by several years. As such they form an interesting footnote to Hammett’s bibliography.


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