Before doing the panel at Signman: John Law the other evening, I made plans to stop into Bibliomania — very close, in the heart of downtown Oakland, one of the classic bookstores of yesteryear but still in business today. I hadn’t been there in a long time, and felt like dropping a couple of bills for auld lang syne. Picked up the first couple of Solar Pons collections from Mycroft & Moran, the initial gathering blank-inscribed by August Derleth: “Greetings from a latterday Baker Street/Cordially,” then signature.
Derleth, as the author and publisher, signed many of his titles from M&M and Arkham House. In some of the catalogs and brochures he even offers to inscribe copies on request, so today his autograph is by no means uncommon. I don’t have much of a collection of actual Derleth books, but nonetheless have ended up with three or four that are signed. The guy signed a lot of books — like the great Chicago bookman Vincent Starrett, one of my favorites.
Obviously some of the Arkham offerings have a better chance of showing up signed. Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell and others hit a lot of conventions where someone might ask for an eldritch John Hancock.
Other titles. . . well, I just featured a quote from the guy who popped more than a thousand for an autographed The Phantom Fighter from Seabury Quinn, who said, “I had never seen or heard of a signed copy of this title, in some twenty years of collecting signed copies of Arkham House titles.”
And recently Kevin Cook wrote to say: “Probably the toughest Arkham House book signed by a living author was the Greye La Spina novel, Invaders from the Dark. There are supposed to be only three known signed copies. She was 70 years old when the book was published and never went to a convention or book signing event.”
Tougher than Phantom Fighter?
But here’s the thing. Apparently Derleth had his writers sign a certain number of copies as soon as the books were published — I presume intended to go into the hands of his most loyal patrons. I first heard about the idea from E. Hoffmann Price, who told me that in 1967 he had signed 50 or 60 (I have the exact number he reported written down somewhere) copies of Strange Gateways. He signed them, as I recall, when swinging through Sauk City on one of his cross-country trips, probably timed to coincide with the release of his first collection.
I was interested in the Price copies, because he told me those were the only copies of that book that he simply signed (and, of course, marked with his red chop). Every other copy he inscribed to someone personally.
(Price got an aversion to just signing items when he autographed a pile of Witchcraft & Sorcery featuring his new story at a convention, and noticed the dealer had them stacked up on the table at twenty-five cents more than cover price. Ed said, “I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to sit around signing magazines so some cheap pig-fucker can make a two-bit profit!”)
At any rate, my main thought was that if you happened across a copy with just the signature (and chop mark), you’d know it was one of those earliest inked copies.
But later I began to hear rumors that getting that initial bunch of copies signed was something Derleth did routinely. Meaning, at one time, some 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 autographed copies of Invaders of the Dark and Phantom Fighter may have been floating around.
Where are they now? I guess that is the question.
And if all this intriguing speculation is too vague for your tastes, let’s bring in our resident authority on Arkham House, John D. Haefele, to chime in.
Next Autograph Hound Super-Sunday post, please: