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Pulp Magazine Cover of the Day


A Primer on how to collect these prized pieces of Americana

I am continually asked this question by people who are contemplating starting a Pulp Magazine collection. Years ago when pulps were cheap, people just acquired them without much thought, and often tossed them with even less thought when they tired of them. But today, they have become much more expensive, as people have come to appreciate the lavish artwork, the unconventional stories, and other attributes of these pieces of history. So I will use my 50+ years in collecting pulps to cover the following:

  • What are the major ways people organize a collection?
  • What are the best sources of pulp magazines?
  • Are pulp Magazines a good investment?
  • What can I do with duplicates?
  • How Important is condition in Pulp Collecting?
  • What is the best way to preserve my collection?
  • What provisions should I make to pass on my collection?
What are the major ways people organize a collection?

Most people organise a collection around the interest that brought them to pulps in the first place. These can be as varied as the individuals involved. Lets discuss a few:

  • Financial
    • Some people decide to collect pulp magazines because they feel they are a good investment for the future. I will give my thoughts on the investment potential of Pulps below. This requires them to guess at trends in the marketplace and decide which pulps will appreciatethe fastest. A neat trick if you can manage it.
    • But in my opinion, that is not a very good reason to collect pulps. It is far better to collect for the joy of collecting, and if financial rewards come along, so much the better. Unless you happen to acquire the pulps through an inheritance, or in some fortuitous manner such that you do not pay retail price, you be better off with more traditional investments.
  • Cover Art
    • Most collectors today are attracted to pulp magazines by the cover art, and base their collection on this aspect of the hobby. The cover art is certainly different than can be found on periodicals extant today, and represent a less complicated view of the world. People were once more tolerant, or maybe just ignorant 50 years ago. But the sexist, sterotypical non-PC covers would not last 10 minutes on a newsstand today
    • Many choose to collect by themes. Common ones are GGA (good girl art), Damsels in distress, aliens, etc. I have an acquaintance in New York city who collects magazines with dinosaurs on the cover.
    • Others choose to collect by cover artist. There are internet pages for many such artists, including Paul, Freas, Saunders, Frazetta, Bolles and others. Some of these artists did covers only for pulps. Others were artists who did cover art for other publications, or supported themselves in other artistic endeavors.
    • Many of the covers were done as oil paintings, and survive today in private and public collections. Years ago I bought Doc Smiths pulp collection from his daughter. Today I wish I had been able to hang onto this treasure, as it contained his personal copies of Amazing Stories where many of his stories originally appeared. These contained marginal notations as to changes in the stories he contemplated for future publication. The one item I did not purchase from his daughter was the original oil painting from the October 1939 issue of Astounding Stories. This was the first appearance of the Gray Lensman story. The painting was about 36 inches tall and was far more impressive than the cover on the magazine.
  • Completists
    • This was once the way most people collected pulps. They either attempted to collect every pulp ever produced, every pulp of a particular genre, or every pulp of a particular title. My first efforts at collecting involved collecting every issue of Astounding Stories. I started with the newsstand copies as they were published. For those of you who do not have the benefit of my years, the photo (right) shows what newsstands once looked like, with hundreds of magazines trying to attract your attention. I do remember things were in color in those days, color having just been invented shortly after my birth.
    • Soon thereafter, I discovered a used bookstore that often had back issues of Astounding. I haunted this bookstore until the proprietor finally started putting issues back for me as they came in. I was able to find issues back to 1939 with his help. These often cost me as much as 25 cents each! It was a lot of money at the time, as my part time job only paid $1 per hour. But it was certainly cheaper in any sense than the 1930-32 Clayton issues I bought later to complete my collection.
    • Completists generally try to acquire every month and year of a particular title. They are often frustrated by the habits of collectors who only select certain issues, creating rarities. Others try to collect the first issues of every pulp, again frustrating the completists. Being a completist today would be a frustrating and expensive experience, unless you concentrated on a single magazine.
  • Author Enthusiasts
    • Many pulp collectors collect individual issues containing stories by their favorite authors. Often they will collect the pulp issue containing the original appearance of a novel or short story. For instance, the Asimov short story NIGHTFALLhas appeared in many story collections over the years, but the initial appearance was in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Stories. Asimov is one of the most famous writers and is collected by many. Heinlein, Clarke, and many other old time writers are equally popular. However, I am often contacted by children and grandchildren of obscure authors. They wish to find something written by their ancesters. In many cases, they had only recently learned that ancester had been a part time writer.
    • Many issues contain more than one original story, such that these issues become scarce. One of the most collected writers is L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Some issues with his stories also contain stories by Heinlein or others, creating a source of aggravation for the completist.
  • Story Readers
    • It comes as a complete surprise to many that pulps were once actually read by many. The fact that some people still read them is even more surprising. But some people do buy pulps to read, although this is a declining segment. By modern standards, the writing in many pulps is second rate. At the height of pulp popularity, there were thousands of magazines published weekly, and some twice weekly. Before TV, housewives would devour romantic pulps that were published twice weekly rather than the soaps they watch today. Because there were so many pulps, and relatively few writers, the quality often suffered. And the payment was often a fraction of a cent per word, so the incentive to polish the writing was low. Contrast that to today where there are thousands of would be writers, and relatively few readers. On the other hand, many great writers learned their craft writing for pulps. Practice is often the key to competence, and writing for a pulp with a weekly deadline certainly provided practice.
    • Many pulp readers are content to buy coverless copies of pulps, which can still be purchased relatively cheaply. However, many like the whole experience, so they buy complete pulps, and may be indestinguisable from the aforementioned Author Enthusiasts. Many pulp dealers no longer sell coverless copies. Instead, they apply scanned or photographed covers, which usually raises the price a bit.
  • Signed Pulps
    • Many collectors go for signed copies of pulp magazines, either signed by the writers or cover artists. Often writers would be accosted by collectors at conventions with a stack of magazines under their arm to be signed. Some authors turned the tables by colect, signing and selling their stories. PJ Farmer was one who did this for awhile.
What are the best sources of pulp magazines?


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