All Our Yesterdays 28
by Harry Warner Jr.
Once upon a time there was no hucksters’ room at the worldcon. For that matter there hadn’t been a worldcon for five years, when a sort of two-dimensional hucksters’ room, capable of extending itself through time long beyond the chronological confines of a worldcon, unlimited by the physical dimensions of a hotel room, was born in fandom., It was Fantasy Advertiser, the first big success of the market-place fanzines, and one of the all time record-holders for high circulation maintained over a long period of time.
Gus Wilmorth, who still appears at an occasional convention, began Fantasy Advertiser in the spring of 1946. It was a symbol of the fannish times. World War Two had prevented fans from staging worldcons, where big audiences could bid on prozines and other treasures at auctions. Meanwhile, wartime jobs and increasing salary scales had nade fans more prosperous than ever before, there had been a boom in the number of prozines, and wartime paper drives had decimated the quantities of stocks in back issue magazine stores and second-hand book shops. All over fandom, prices were going up, people were hunting harder for items that used to be easy to find, fans were returning from the service with the collecting urge goosed by knowledge they’d again have a safe place to keep their books and magazines, and conditions were just right for a regular publication where people could advertise their wants and offerings to a large readership.
If you are tensing yourself for awful disclosures about how cheap science fiction rarities were in those days, you are invited to relax to a state of semi-repose. The pages of Fantasy Advertiser disclose that there hasn’t been the inflation in collectors’ costs that you might expect over the twenty-year span. Because interests and tastes change, it’s impossible to compare lots of old prices you’ll find in today’s advertising fanzines, then calculate from those comparisons the exact rate of increase in prices. But I’d guess that only the extreme rarities and fanzines have shown manifold doublings, triplings, and quadruplings in prices. The prozines that were old in 1946 can probably be bought today for not more than twice what dealers normally charged then, maybe not quite twice as much, and you must remember that the cover price of a new prozine is today three or four times greater than the prozines cost new in 1946. Run-of-the-mill science fiction and fantasy books may have been a trifle cheaper just after VJ Day than they are now. Naturally, comparisons in book prices can’t be made right down the line because of special circumstances: paperbacks had not blossomed in great profusion then, while the semi-pro publishing houses’ books weren’t rare yet because they were so new.
The first issue of Fantasy Advertiser was dated April, 1946, and didn’t look as if it would amount to much; it was just a normal-looking thin fanzine, with a dozen pages mimeographed on brown paper, selling at five issues for a dime, and able to go through the mails for a penny postage. That fist issue contains some indications of how much money was wanted for stuff in those long-ago days. F. Lee Baldwin was offering $2 for a 1939 issue of Detective And Murder Mystery Magazine, Ackerman was asking $3.30 for Werfel’s then-recent fantasy novel “Star of the Unborn”, and E. Everett Evans was trying to sell a batch of 15 Planets for $10. Burroughs fandom wasn’t very active that long ago, but two of the ads in this first issue were devoted to trying to find copies of his books.
From that unimposing start, Fantasy Advertiser prospered rapidly and mightily. Before 1946 had ended, its mailing list stood at 1,000 copies, including many bookstores. By the next summer it had discarded the lowly mimeograph in favour of a form of offset printing known as plnography. The first issue of 1948 announced a new policy for the magazine which was now calling itself “the amateur professional for professional amateurs”. It intended to pay $5 for each article accepted for publication; material of interest to collectors was inserted between the advertisements in the ancient tradition of luring readers to look at pages more lengthily in this manner. Gus was talking about raising both advertising and subscription rates because of a prospective circulation increase to 1,500 copies. In its octavo format the January, 1948 issue contained lots of splendid little illustrations, including a batch from Lin Carter, and advertisements whoso messages make the reader of 1969 weep and smile and sometimes shiver. An Omaha bookstore was asking $3 for the first issue of Captain Future, then only eight years old, and $2 or more apiece for early issues of Startling Stories, $30 for a one volume edition of Poe’s works, but mysteriously only $50 for a complete set of Verne’s works in a limited edition. On the other hand, someone whose name was listed as Robert Degler of New Castle, Ind., had many issues of Famous Fantastic Mysteries available for 35 cents apiece and wanted only $1 for a copy of “Pilgrims Through Space and Time”. So you see, it isn’t safe to decide just what you’d pay for stuff in those days. Ackerman had a slightly unusual advertisement; he wanted to sell the original manuscript of Weinbaum’s “The Mad Brain”, but there was a stipulation. “The purchaser must publish the story!” Forry was quite honest about the quality of the manuscript, quoting Weinbaum’s widow on the topic: “The Mad Brain was hacked out for a newspaper syndicate – we planned someday rewriting it as a serious novel. But if his readers want to meet Stan in a slightly different phase of his earlier work......”
Elsewhere in this particular issue is good evidence about what I meant about changing tastes. Claude Held had a batch of issues of Unknown for sale. Each of them cost $2.50. This is still a very rare magazine which brings good prices from people really anxious to collect it. But I doubt very much of issues of similar size in a hucksters’ room would bring prices substantially higher today, a quarter-century after the magazines were published. Held was reflecting the tremendous current demand for back issues of Unknown, because other prices in the same advertisement are quite reasonable, like $2.50 apiece for some of the first issues of the Clayton Astounding and $3 apiece for 1928 issues of Weird Tales.
If you’re a collector today, leafing though these old issues of Fantasy Advertiser can be a frustrating experience. You see so many things you would desperately like to own today at the prices they were offered for in the 1940’s - despite my thesis that inflation has not been excessive, there have been lots of exceptions for individual items, and there were occasional big bargins advertised when someone was unloading his collection or didn’t know the worth of rarities. Then there are the laconic listings of items you’ve never seen anywhere, which might be altogether impossible to track down today without decades of hunting. For instance, does anyone reading this know “The Far Place” by Willis A. Boughton? It was offered for $2 by the Kaleidograph Press of Dallas, Texas, identified as “a poetic fantasy of every man’s future”. Whatever its worth or worthlessness, it had five Finlay illustrations. Then there is the advertisement from something called the S.F. & S.F. Photo Bureau of Kings Park, NY, offering “complete sets of photos of the Convention”. You could get 25 4x5 prints for five bucks, and I felt bitter thoughts about my failure to invest in that September of 1950, because they would have been so useful when I was hunting illustrations for the first volume of the fan history. And who owns today the boxed copy of an autographed “Ornaments in Jade” by Arthur Machen, which Donn Brazier was ready to sell for $7?
Sometimes, when I get tired of worrying about the way humanity is exhausting the earth’s petroleum or silver reserves, I find some variety by fretting over the depletion of collector’s items as the years pass. Nobody to my knowledge has ever tried to calculate the rate at which the stuff becomes permanently unavailable. If a small semi-pro publisher issued and sold a thousand copy edition of a science fiction novel in 1944, for instance, what percentage of that edition was destroyed by 1950 because the purchasers threw away books they had no room to store and no patience to try to sell after a few years? What lower rate of destruction has ensued in the years since then, as copies that managed to reach the hands of collectors were burned or sold for waste paper after the collectors lost interest, or died without leaving instructions to heirs about the importance of saving the fantasy items? And now there’s a new source of depletion, insignificantly small today, but certain to gain as the years pass: the copies that are transferred into collections where they will be preserved but will remain permanently. Here and there a public library or university library is taking interest in building a collection of science fiction or fantasy, and when one of these institutions buys a collector’s item, that copy will never again go up on the hucksters’ tables. And as you leaf through these old issues of Fantasy Advertiser, you’re suddenly struck by the realization that the collector in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s could buy or trade for things which may be close by now to total unavailability. An article, rather than an advertisement, in the September, 1950 issue illustrates my point. Malcolm M. Ferguson was writing about the works of M.P. Shiel, and he cited the difficulties of building, even then, a complete collection of his works. How long would you look through secondhand bookstores before you’d find a surviving copy of a paperback Lippincott edition of “The Man-Stealers” which sold in 1900 for 50 cents? Or “How The Old Woman Got Home” in a blue cloth binding used on a leftover batch of sheets to save money? Or “A Mysterious Disappearance”, which Shiel serialized in The Household in 1914 under a pnename? (Ferguson might be a collector’s item himself now. He had an absolutely unique career in fandom. He was an American who did nothing in fandom until he went to England with the armed forces, immediately became famous as a bibliophile, then disappeared almost as rapidly when he returned to the United States.)
Even though the advertisements are the part of Fantasy Advertiser that can arouse the emotions most readily, the fanzine’s non-advertising matter holds a lot of interest too. The January, 1950 issue for instance, contained articles by Lin Carter on Lord Dunsany and George Martindale on James Branch Cabell, 165 entries for a checklist of fantasy books in print, a checklist of all issues of prozines that were on the stands dated 1949, and a group of book reviews. The July, 1948 issue contains the only detailed obituary known to me on W. Paul Cook, one of the pioneers of Lovocraft fandom, and an amateur publisher from 1901 until his death culminating in five superbly printed issues of The Ghost, each containing 50 quarto pages filled with magnificent material of fantasy importance. “Already this file of The Ghost is difficult to obtain”, Earle Cornwall wrote in the obituary notice. “Aficionados clung tenaciously to their copies, learning soon after Cook’s death the owner of the Driftwood Press could find no copies among Cook’s effects.”
In general, there wasn’t room in Fantasy Advertiser for exhaustive-type articles on scholarly topics. But sometimes the reader got the impression that this encouraged better writing, without the padding and the meanderings from the topic that sometimes bob up when someone wants to act learned in a fanzine. The Fanscient and Fantasy Commentator are probably the only other fanzines of that general era that equalled Fantasy Advertiser for long-term publication of hard-core writing about fantasy and science fiction with high quality standards. Roy Squires, who had taken over the editorship of Fantasy Advertiser at the end of 1949, somehow managed to get 10,000 or more words of non-advertising text into a typical issue.
The last issue with its original title appeared in November, 1951, and I lost touch with the publication after its change in name to Science-Fiction Advertiser. I don’t see FA mentioned very often these days in locs and articles where fans reminisce about the great old fanzines of the past, perhaps because it seemed too commercial, too closely linked to the filthy pros and the hucksters to win affections. And yet, I can think of many legendary fanzines which are less fun to read and less useful to own than this one. Quite aside from the masochism you get from looking at lost collecting opportunities, you can find several ways of using those closely packed pages. They would provide raw material for a dozen articles tracing the trends that have occurred in how much fans will pay for stuff and the ways that fans have altered their fields of interest. (Who bothers to collect Blackwood these days, for instance? His books were enormously sought-after at one time.) If you were doing bibliographies, you might find a line-by-line search through every issue justified by occasional clues to the existence of editions or titles which you hadn’t previously suspected. There’s also the faint possibility that a few lost collections, neglected in attics or cellars for decades might be put back into circulation by some vigorous police work. Many of the advertisers in FA are still active in fandom today and it’s common knowledge that other advertisers’ collections were broken up and resold after death or gafiation. But countless dozens of names and addresses represent individuals or small firms that drifted unnoticed out of fandom’s awareness. It might still be possible to trace down some of them after all these years and discover some dusty rarities that have been forgotten but not annihilated as yet.
After all, it was just a few months ago that I got a letter from a collector of standard gauge Lionel trains, asking if I had any equipment for sale. He’d fount my name and address in a promotional magazine Lionel published in 1928 when I was six years old. We can’t let old prozines crumble to dust while model train collectors are saving old Lionel locomotives from rust.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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