Rediscovered: More Starrett and a Williamson — Plus a Margo

Awhile back I was chatting with Brian Leno about the great Chicago bookman Vincent Starrett, and mentioned that my preferred state for his Books About Books would be to have a copy (in jacket, nice condition, and so on) inscribed to some collector that also contains a holograph postcard from Starrett to the same person. Without looking, I suppose I have five or six such items.

I thought Leno responded by telling me that he had two postcards inserted in his copy of the 1965 Starrett autobio Born in a Bookshop, which I took to mean that he had two messages inserted into a copy inscribed to that same individual.


His Bookshop is unsigned and he just keeps his two Starrett cards from 1945 in it for convenience — I wonder where his newly acquired third card to horror writer J.N. Williamson will be archived?

The text side of the two postcards may be seen above — I’ll let you do your own transcribing. Starrett had a pretty clear hand, at least to my eye.

In the same shot Brian stuck in a Williamson signature already in his possession, from one of the signed deluxe hardcover states of the magazine Whispers.

And Margo Skinner sneaks in with her auto just below JNW’s. Margo was part of the San Francisco scene for years, companion to Fritz Leiber. I knew her well — one of the most irritating people I ever met. Nonetheless, I liked Margo, and she shows up in that one issue of Whispers because I took it on myself to act as an agent for her story “Space Trip” and make the sale to Stu Schiff.

Thus, Margo’s John Hancock assumes its place in with the hundreds (who knows, maybe thousands) of siggies in The Leno Collection.

Brian also has a JNW in the boxed and signed first edition state of Reign of Fear, a litcrit collection on Stephen King I edited for Underwood-Miller. I have that one as well, and just now the thought impinged on the old brainpan that I might very well have more autograph materials from JNW and other essayists from that book. I just took the stuff and threw it in a box as I prepped that title.

I probably ought to dig around in the files, if only to satisfy Leno’s no doubt piqued curiosity.

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Rediscovered: Yet Another Tidbit of Starrett and Sherlock

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday once more, and Brian Leno drags out yet another recent purchase for you to eyeball — with the backstory of how he got put on the scent.

John Hancock fans, the game’s afoot:

I picked up another Starrett.

At Barnes and Noble I bought a paperbound copy of Grady Hendrix’s very entertaining Paperbacks from Hell, and it really is a cool book — I can see why it’s always in the Top Ten in horror litcrit on Amazon.

Someone should do a Paperbacks from Cimmeria as a follow up for all the great Sword-and-Sorcery books from the 60s and 70s. . . .

Anyway, J. N. Williamson is featured in the From Hell book, couple of covers and a short bio. Marveling at the decadence of the cover art on those old softcovers, I noticed a photo of Williamson’s Brotherkind.

The synopsis by Hendrix was eye-catching. Some poor lady is “gangbanged on an UFO by a bunch of midget aliens” — and I realized that anyone who could write serious fiction like that needed to have his signature in my collection.

So I went looking for his autograph on ABEbooks.

I already have his signature a couple of times, most notably in your Reign of Fear, and in one of the hardbound copies of Stuart David Schiff’s superlative magazine Whispers.

But I realized one more never hurts, so I browsed the web and found a holograph postcard from no less than Vincent Starrett written to a very young Williamson, he’s only about seventeen. Pretty cool, huh?

No, not signed by J. N. Williamson, but by a guy who was a much better writer.

Starrett is obviously replying to a question the future author had asked about in their correspondence.

The postcard reads:

Dear Jerry — Thank you for the transcript of the Ballad — a most ingenious rendering! As the fruit of your declining years, how about putting The Hound of the Baskervilles into verse? Glad Smith is going to print the stanzas. Your Casebook note will appear soon. Good wishes!

And then of course signed and dated “19 April 1949.”

I really don’t know much about the content of the letter, but according to Wikipedia, Williamson said that the first piece of fiction he ever wrote was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, titled “The Terrible Death of Crosby, the Banker.” Perhaps the “Casebook note” was a detail sent to Starrett to use in one of his columns — in re: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, I’m guessing.

If a young writer wants to talk Sherlock Holmes who better to correspond with than Starrett?

A Starrett signature certainly is not rare, and neither is Williamson, but it’s pretty cool to own a piece of correspondence between the greatest bookman of the twentieth century and one of the members of the Paperbacks from Hell club.

I wonder if Williamson ever told Starrett that he had a pretty good idea for a novel. “This woman, you see, climbs into an UFO and suddenly she sees these midget aliens approaching, with an evil gleam in their eyes. . . .”

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Frisco Beat: The Bacall Hideout

Remember that time Bogie escaped from San Quentin and was on the lam?

Made his way into San Francisco and had his face touched-up by a back-alley plastic surgeon?

Holed up for awhile with Lauren Bacall in a swank apartment on Telegraph Hill?

Sure you do.

Brian Wallace sends along a link to an article describing that apartment (or one much like it in the same art deco building) currently up to rent. Lots of photos. Any fan of Dark Passage — and who isn’t? — should check it out.

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Rediscovered: Windy Reportage

Tom Krabacher sent along a few notes on the recent Windy City pulp convention, held on the outskirts of Chicago. He had a posse lined up to roam the aisles, but for various reasons several bailed on him close to the last minute — Kurt Shoemaker from Texas and his long-time pulp collector pal from Iowa Bill Thinnes, and also the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook, who chose not to fly in due to the mask requirements. Luckily he got to spend some time with John D. Haefele, who did his usual first day assault on the dealers on Friday, searching for the diminishing items left on his Want List. Haefele, in like a flash and gone, back to his lair in Wisconsin.

Here’s Tom:

Got back from Windy City late last Sunday night — enjoyable, even if you toss in the usual hassles of air travel, which this time included Southwest sending my clothes to Raleigh, NC rather than O’Hare.   

The event was significantly larger than the usual Pulpfest and offered the opportunity to connect with people I don’t see very often. Lots more dealers with a wider range of wares of somewhat higher grade — and higher prices — were there, including Gunnison’s former partner, Andy Zimmerly, who came in with dozens of long boxes full of good condition pulps. The result was a Thursday night pre-show feeding frenzy, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the 1998 Pulpcon. 

As they say: Pulpfest is for socializing, Windy City is for collectors.

Haefele and I connected a little before noon on Friday; I was talking to David Rachjel at his dealer’s table when John walked through the door. After he made a brief pass through the dealer’s room we headed out to a nearby tavern — a nice place with plenty of wood appointments, subdued lighting, and a friendly bartender— for pizza, alcohol, and a couple hours conversation, before he headed home. At Haefele’s suggestion we had wine — but he spoke too soon and would have preferred something harder after he saw they stocked Buffalo Trace whiskey. I’m not much of a bourbon/whiskey drinker, but the brand apparently must be all the rage in the upper Midwest.

It was the most enjoyable part of the weekend. Covid-cautious Cook was missed.

The Friday night auction was devoted to items from Bob Weinberg’s estate, which was dominated by lots of high-end Weird Tales issues. Bidding was fast and furious with lots of money being thrown around. Over the past few years, comic book collectors have started to look to the pulps as the new frontier for speculation and investment, to the dismay of a lot of pulp regulars, and at this show the presence of outside money was very apparent.    

The prime example was  the October 1933 Batgirl issue of WT (which has always struck me as one of the most overrated covers in all of pulpdom). It went for $11K — not to mention a 10% buyer’s premium. 

There were three HPL items that Weinberg apparently got from Derleth (who, in turn, likely got them from the Barlow estate):

— an Errata sheet for the 1936 Visionary edition of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” with handwritten notations by HPL

— Postcard from HPL to Galpin from 1922 (HPL signed as “grandpa”) — $750

— Envelope addressed from the UK to HPL, with HPL handwritten note saying “Please return to HP Lovecraft” and giving his address — $360

As prices go at this point in time, I have no idea whether those are reasonable or not. I was tempted to try for the postcard, really a pretty minor item, but it was clear that the person who eventually won it was bidding aggressively and would probably have outbid me in the end, so I blew the money on other things. (I’m not sure whether I should be second-guessing that decision or not.)

Saturday night was mainly items from Glenn Lord’s estate — REH correspondence, lots of Arkhams — though the condition was not always great; insect damage marred a number of them. Top items were a copy of Ebony and Crystal inscribed by CAS to REH ($1300) and an ex-library copy with facsimile DJ of the Jenkins A Gent from Bear Creek ($2600).

The copy of E&C was in good shape given its age — covers and spine in good shape, pages tight — and I would have thought it would have gone for more than it did. One can speculate as to why it didn’t, the big money players were there for the Friday night auction with all the high grade pulps (especially WT). They weren’t there Saturday; winning bids on a lot of items were lower than I expected.  

A more likely reason may be that people aren’t as enthusiastic about or as familiar with CAS, especially a collection of his verse. Still, an inscribed copy to Howard, linking two of the WT triumvirate, should have attracted more interest than that.

As for me, I came home with nothing spectacular: Biggest item was a nice condition Arkham 1944 edition of Jumbee, which I acquired at the auction, a copy of Will Murray’s new Shadow history (support one’s friends), some Unknown upgrades, and a number of early Adventure issues. Among the latter was a beat-up copy of the first issue (Nov. 1911) lacking both front and back covers; I’m not sure that I really needed it since I already have a complete scan of the issue but, like Jack Burton, I figured “What the hell.”

Plus a Quick Footnote from Haefele:

I did attend Windy City day 1, and found one Arkham House upgrade, but nothing else I couldn’t pass up. The highlight of the day was spending the afternoon with Tom.   

One nice thing happened, however, when I was seen dragging Rajchel’s copy of Lovecraft: The Great Tales across the room. Some person unknown to me stopped to say I was going to enjoy reading the book, that he was 2/3rds through it and thought it was excellent.

As far as I know, he had no idea I was the author.

We were interrupted before we could explore the coincidence, and I didn’t see him later.  

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Rediscovered: Doodlebug

The collection of Lovecraft’s letters to Robert H. Barlow, O Fortunate Floridian, has so many irritating flaws and omissions I honestly think it would be better to toss it on the scrapheap and do a new edition under less fannish editorial hands — John D. Haefele’s recent Lovecraft: The Great Tales features much better (and previously unseen) photos of HPL visiting RHB in DeLand.

Visiting Barlow, and his cats High, Low, Jack and Doodlebug. . . .

Brian Leno’s recent interest in Barlow is by no means his first show of interest, he’s had this envelope for awhile. Perhaps it could be considered part of his Lovecraft collection, the tiny John Hancock from the Providence writer — but it feeds into any sort of Barlow collection he may seek out in his persistent quest for autographs.

Brian checked and the note anent Doodlebug is missing from O Fortunate Floridian. If you have that book, you might want to make a copy and insert it near the text of the September 26, 1935 letter.

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Rediscovered: Barlow and the Becks

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday continues Brian Leno’s recent fascination with the tragic literary figure Robert H. Barlow, spotlighting some of the most recent autograph items he’s picked up as satellites to that interest.

And just as one thing connects to another (really, would anyone in the normal course of things expect Barlow to have met William S. Burroughs?), Brian hauls back into the conversation Robert E. Howard, Doc Howard and Otis Adelbert Kline.

Your show, Brian:

I’ve never seen the Kline note I just acquired reproduced anywhere before, but that certainly doesn’t mean it hasn’t — images of both sides above.

I’m no authority on Kline and his dealings with Dr. Howard after Robert E. Howard’s 1936 suicide, but I believe Druid Press — which consisted of Robert H. Barlow, Groo Beck and possibly Claire Beck — were sent a package containing Howard’s poetry somewhere at the end of 1939, or the beginning of 1940.

In February 1940 Druid Press wrote to Kline and told him they weren’t going to publish the poems and were mailing them back express.

Between then and around the date of this 1940 note it seems Dr. Howard made some sort of offer to them if they would change their minds. Obviously he wants to know their plans regarding the poetry, but Kline must have dropped out of contact with the Druid Trio shortly afterwards.

In April of 1941, Kline is trying to locate them once again, to explain that the good doctor is withdrawing whatever offer he had made.

He writes Dr. Howard that he no longer knows where they could be, but he believes E. Hoffmann Price knows one of them.

(The timeline of the whole Howard-Kline-Druid correspondence remains a bit murky. The doc burned a bunch of Howard’s poems by mistake and then, around 1943, wanted to know if Druid Press had made copies.)

The history of Barlow and the Beck brothers is very interesting.

Barlow went to Lakeport, California, where the Becks lived and he wrote in his short autobiography that he “could not decide which of the Beck boys to fall in love with.”

While Barlow was gay, apparently the Beck brothers were not, although Barlow writes that Claire evidently “had a mania for bathing”, liked to wear “skin-tight drawers” and had a “nice prick, uncircumcised.”

Later Barlow would move in with Groo on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and they would share a bed. Barlow made advances but Groo, apparently, wasn’t biting.

Barlow wrote that Groo had a “Christ like red beard” which “excited him sexually.” He also noted that the Beck boys were ” big as oxen” which probably got him going a little bit also.

The Groo Beck inscription comes from After Sunset, a book of poems by George Sterling — they had sent a copy along to Kline to show as an example of their work. Published under the eponymous imprint of San Francisco bookseller John Howell, Barlow usually is credited as editor and Groo as the printer. In Barlow’s short autobiography, collected in O Fortunate Floridian, he writes that Beck did 90% of the work from a manuscript the bookseller Howell had. He says the book made expenses.

I would guess that Groo’s signature is pretty uncommon. His inscription is a poetic one, but it’s safe to assume he’s no George Sterling.

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Rediscovered: Barlow and Burroughs

Another Autograph Hound Weekend looms before us, this one — like many before — anchored by John Hancocks that have drifted into the mitts of Brian Leno, and will never drift out. Not in this lifetime.

Take it, Brian:

I’ve been hearing about a William S. Burroughs and Robert H. Barlow connection for a bit and just did a little digging. I never knew they were acquainted. Apparently Burroughs studied the Mayan Codices under Barlow at Mexico City College and went on at least one field trip with Barlow in Mexico.

When Barlow killed himself at the beginning of 1951, Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg on January 11 to say: “A queer Professor from K.C., Mo., head of the Anthropology dept. here at M.C.C. where I collect my $75 per month, knocked himself off a few days ago with overdose of goof balls. Vomit all over the bed. I can’t see this suicide kick.”

This quote easily found on Wikipedia, which also mentions that Barlow studied art under Thomas Hart Benton.

He got a lot of living into an abbreviated lifetime of 32 years.

If you already knew this, sorry. But it was new to me.

When I met Burroughs and had him sign my paperback of Naked Lunch I wonder if I had mentioned Barlow to him if he’d have remembered. That would have been cool.

My bet would be that Burroughs would have chatted instantly about Barlow, if Leno brought the subject up — no, you can’t say for certain, but when I met Burroughs I was really impressed with how sharp his mind was. I have no doubt, and suppose a further question would be did Burroughs ever hear or know about Barlow’s connection with Lovecraft.

Which reminds me of another thing that profoundly irked me with the book O Fortunate Floridian (yeah, a stupid title), collecting the letters of Lovecraft to Barlow.

Nowhere in the book is William S. Burroughs mentioned. One of the major literary and cultural figures Barlow encountered. Other than Lovecraft himself, who else would even come close?

Yet the morons assembling the book— from ignorance or carelessness or indifference — omit him and thus lose what must be the best contemporary quote about Barlow’s suicide via a Seconal overdose.

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Rediscovered: A Bradbury Footnote

The noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook comments on the Ray Bradbury autographs that have shown up recently on the blog:

“I can tell you that he was signing books the same way since the 1950s.

“I have dated signatures to prove it.

“Used to be that the ‘Ray’ was pretty clear, as was the ‘B’ in Bradbury — but the rest of ‘Bradbury’ has always been unreadable.”

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Rediscovered: A Review of an Eldritch Review

Over on the DMR blog Deuce Richardson just popped up a review of John D. Haefele’s most recent book (and presumed magnum opus) Lovecraft: The Great Tales.

He wrestles with the complexities, and I suppose my fave pull quote would be “Haefele wasn’t looking to get to first base with this Cyclopean tome. He swung for the Lovecraftian fences.”

One of the Amazon reviews for the book by Tom Krabacher also grapples with the scope and scale of the study, but my personal favorite lines come from another Amazon bit from Jeffrey Scott Sims, where he notes: “A pleasure to read, its great length just flies by. I didn’t want it to end.”

And as a footnote to the Deuce review — keeping in mind that any single review couldn’t possibly cover every nuance of the text — the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook just mentioned to me that “Deuce missed what I consider the seismic revolution in Lovecraft studies, with HPL changing his whole style of writing after reading The King in Yellow — after Joshi has proclaimed for years that Chambers had ‘little’ effect on HPL.”

Yeah, one angle and another and another in those 700-plus pages. Who knows what specific insight will most resonate with any given reader?

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Rediscovered: Endless Autographs

The steady flow of autograph materials over the last few days has plunged Autograph Hound Brian Leno even deeper into John Hancockian reveries, but then he’s never quite free of such musings. . . .

“Of course I’ve been reading with enjoyment the autograph stuff on your site. For what it’s worth I’ve seen a lot of Bradbury inscriptions where he uses the exclamation mark. So my feeling is John! has a keeper. (In the same fashion, I have a Clint Eastwood signed photo inscribed to Brian, but not this Brian.) 

“When I saw the reference to Ray Faraday Nelson and Roy Batty it triggered my memory and I realized I needed a Nelson signature.

“Not a lot of them out there but still pretty easy to find, and obviously nowhere near the cost of PKD.

“So I have a signed Ray Faraday Nelson ambling its way to my post box.

“It will sit proudly next to my PKD signed letters book, and I wonder if Nelson ever saw or experienced all the cool things Roy Batty did.

“Thanks to modern technology I’ve been able to listen to the wind whistling on Mars, but my man Roy has me beat all to hell.”

Thus, Leno.

Me, while I am nowhere near the throne of an autograph king of his ilk, in this niche I have him beaten (for the moment). I have quite a few inscribed R. Faraday Nelson books, probably most dating from around the period I enlisted Ray to essay the part of Fatty Arbuckle in a little role playing game I honchoed.

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