The Collector’s Corner: McMania!

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What’s Hot: The Howard Review #1, World’s Rarest REH Fanzine #1, Cryptic chapbooks, REHupa ephemera, Bison’s Lord of Samarcand, The Phantagraph.

As I predicted in last week’s Collector’s Corner, Dennis McHaney’s Howard Review #1 was bid into the stratosphere. $877.77! If memory serves, an original Howard typescript sold for around that much a few years back. Who could have guessed that all those drugs taken by Howardheads in the 1970s would pay off in such spectacular fashion? Dennis is on a major eBay roll, with sale after sale marking new collecting highs in Howardland. It’ll be fun to see what he pulls out of the archives next. Probably a Jenkins Gent From Bear Creek. In any case, this clearly marks The Howard Review as THE major REH fanzine collector-wise, past or present. Nothing else even comes close.

McHaney also sold another rare item this week, a proof copy of an attempt at an REH magazine called REH: World’s Greatest Pulpster, with an interesting history of the sort that collectors go ga-ga over. As Dennis put it in his auction description:

ROBERT E. HOWARD: WORLD’S GREATEST PULPSTER became the title of a book in 2005, written by Dennis McHaney.

The title was first used in a proposed small press Howard journal in 2001. Material was gathered, proof copies printed, and then the project was abandoned when the publisher decided he didn’t want to do any more “small scale” Howard publishing.

Most of the material in the aborted magazine later appeared in the 12th and 13th issues of The Howard Review, and the title was used for the publisher’s award winning book on Robert E. Howard. Even the cover art was used elsewhere, in an amateur press association publication for The Robert E. Howard United Press Association.

In the Fall of 2001, the publisher printed five proof copies of the magazine Robert E. Howard: World’s Greatest Pulpster 1, a 48 page magazine which was given a lot of attention, in the fan press and on the internet. You can still find mention of it in outdated and neglected websites. The Howard small press was really stagnant at the time, and the actual publication of this magazine would have breathed new life into the field. The guy behind the magazine decided to take a long vacation instead, and the completely finished new Howard fan press magazine just simply went into limbo.

This magazine title may be resurrected in 2008, with volume 2, # 1, but this auction item is Vol. 1 number one.

Of the five copies of this magazine that were printed, three were sent to proofreaders, and the other two copies were retained in the publisher’s personal files. This is one of those copies. The magazine contains two Robert E. Howard stories, “The Tomb’s Secret,” and “Black Talons,” four Howard poems (see scan of contents page), and articles by Fred Blosser, Charles Gramlich, and Dennis McHaney.

There was a lot of Roy G. Krenkel art in the issue, published there for the first time, but also used in the two Howard Reviews that followed this.

This is a unique item. Is it the rarest Howard fanzine in existence? Could be.

Indeed it could, and when the bidding had ended, collectors had responded to this tease to the tune of $103.51. I picture Dennis in his apartment in Austin, tossing money into the air and cackling wildly. And I like the mention of his award-winning book — the Cimmerian Awards continue to gain traction in the Howardian marketplace of ideas.

Last week I said that if the next Cryptic chapbooks to be auctioned sold for more than $50, then it would be a strong confirmation that they continue to hold value in the modern Howard marketplace. The results are in, and the booklets that Reverend Bob wrought are doing OK. North of Khyber: $127.50. The Coming of El Borak: $105.50. The Adventures of Lal-Singh: $100.00. Lewd Tales: $89.00. Pay Day: $65.00. Even The Sonora Kid squeaked in over my benchmark at $51.00. These ugly little buggers are performing all the more admirably when you look at some of the items they are selling better than (more on those in a bit).

Every once in awhile something sells on eBay that is a little bit of something published in REHupa, a few sheets of a ‘zine or a piece of artwork, whatever. Dennis McHaney, still riding high from his other auctions, popped up with a tiny little booklet printed by him and run in REHupa several years ago, a reprinting of the charming Howard story “‘Golden Hope’ Christmas.” This short-but-sweet tale was written by Howard when he was only sixteen, and it’s a great thing to read over the holidays. (Here in Los Angeles Rah Hoffman, Donald Sidney-Fryer, Terry McVicker, and myself did exactly that a few years ago right before Christmas, taking turns reading aloud until we got through both “‘Golden Hope’ Christmas” and Lovecraft’s “The Festival.” Great fun.) With things like this it’s nearly impossible to guess how much it’ll go for. But hey, this is Dennis (as in Denni$$$$$) we’re talking about, right? The booklet ended up selling for $51.65, a fairly astronomical figure when you’ve seen in person how small and unassuming the thing is. But it’s well-made for what it is, with nice color artwork on the cover by J. Allen St. John, and it has the whole rare/REHupa/McHaney cachet attached to it. I’d guess that the entire mailing the booklet appeared in would sell for around the same price or perhaps a little more. Maybe a lot more now that people have seen how much the booklet sold for.

I hadn’t noticed until Cimmerian contributor (and two-time Cimmerian Award winner) John Haefele brought it to my attention, but one of the Bison Books (released in 2005) has actually gone out of print in hardcover: The Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventure Tales of the Old Orient. In my opinion it’s indisputably the best book of the bunch simply due to the incredible stories it contains in one place for the very first time. As [redacted] mentioned in The Cimmerian awhile back, this book makes not one, not two, but three earlier books of Howard’s Crusader-era tales superfluous. For those of you who haven’t read these stories, you’re really missing out. They rock, and achieve all of the blood-and-thunder and exotic mysticism of the Conan tales, in addition to some darker themes and bitterly and poetically brutal endings that many of the Conan stories lack. John was lamenting to me that he never acquired the hardcover state of this book while it was available. Now he’ll have to go to the used markets, and they have already priced in the tome’s out-of-print status — most copies are now listed for $50 and up.

Our last hot item for this week might seem strange, because it hasn’t been up for sale in a while. But in conversation with a Cimmerian reader about some private REH purchasing he was engaged in, I realized that while issues of The Phantagraph are available at fine genre book dealers such as L. W. Curry, none of the issues that feature Robert E. Howard’s “The Hyborian Age” are available anywhere on the Internet so far as I can tell. Not a single copy, in any condition. This is about as rare as you can get in this modern eBay and AddAll.Com age, and it made me wonder how much those issues would sell for if auctioned. At L. W. Curry the highest priced Phantagraphs (featuring things like Lovecraft’s appreciation of William Hope Hodgson) go for $100 and up, depending on grade. Even though The Phantagraph never finished printing the entire Howard essay (the three-issues that featured parts of it only took readers up to Conan’s time) I’m guessing they are still worth a bundle. A few years after the REH Phanatagraphs saw print, the fanzine’s publisher Donald Wollheim printed the whole “Hyborian Age” essay in a book by itself that now sells for $800 and up. If and when individual REH issues of The Phantagraph hit eBay again, I’d expect them to go for the same kind of prices that McHaney got for early numbers of The Howard Review. $500 and up for each would not be out of line I expect.


What’s Cold: Wandering Star Complete Conan of Cimmeria, Howard Boom paperbacks, Valeria statue, Red Sonja pastiches, Necro Press REH Selected Letters 1923-1930, REHupa #183, New Howard Reader #1, Amra.

The fall from grace in Howardia of the Wandering Star series continues apace with the startling auction last week that saw a copy of Conan II sell for an anemic $97.89. We’re talking about an unopened, pristine deluxe copy in slipcase, with color plates and all the trimmings, and signed by artist Gary Gianni. If this becomes the normal selling price for this item — and I think it will, or indeed drop even further — then those of you who purchased this for $200 and up back when it came out will be feeling pretty grim. At this price point I’m tempted to buy it just so I’d have Conan II in hardcover. For the record, there has been a lot of talk among fans of somehow getting people to pre-order copies of Conan III in an edition that more or less matches the first two Wandering Star volumes, and then use the pooled money to get the run printed for those who want to complete their sets. Nothing definite has come of this talk, but who knows, perhaps someone will get it done.

I talked a bit last week about how a new REH reader determined to get a large amount of his fiction quickly could do so cheaply by grabbing a few paperback lots off of eBay. This remains true, and the inexpensive nature of these items is highlighted by what sellers are not able to get away with. Case in point: the recent auction where a seller tried to sell a lot of “23 Conan and various authors” at a minimum price of $75.00. Sorry bud, but these books generally go for $2.00 or so per paperback when sold in bulk (and often when sold singly). At that rate, $50 (or to be honest, much less) would have been a much more reasonable start price. Of course, I always think the best starting price for any auction is .99 cents, with the logic that the market will nearly always find the proper sell price for each item. Very rarely the seller gets screwed by that strategy, but in my experience not often enough to kick about. I’m always amazed at the guys who list something again and again for a price way beyond what anyone would reasonably pay, hoping to catch a sucker off guard. A second lot of 18 Conan-and-related books did sell, and for a much more reasonable price of $39.00.

Another item that was priced way too high to begin with was a pastiche of Red Sonya (if you can call it a “pastiche,” since Howard never invented the Sonja with a “j” character, which originated in the Marvel Comics — his Red Sonya with a “y” appeared only in the excellent REH short story “The Shadow of the Vulture,” one of the stellar tales in the aforementioned out-of-print Bison book). Writers David Smith and The Cimmerian‘s poet laureate Dick Tierney wrote this particular Red Sonja novel, but it understandably failed to sell at a minimun buy point of $49.99. Meanwhile a Howardian pop culture item, a bust of Valeria of the Red Brotherhood from the story “Red Nails,” went unclaimed at a listing price of $49.99. Small wonder — a quick Internet search turned up brand new copies for $37.00 and change.

A slew of Howard items sold for prices that either arguably signal a reduction in their value and general collectivity, or else are a one-time fluke. Necronomicon Press’ REH Selected Letters 1923-1930 now finally has some competition from the Howard Foundation’s Complete Letters, and the effect might prove dramatic. This copy sold for $45.66, which sounds like a lot on the surface, but which I think is about half what I saw it selling for a few years back at the height of its popularity. REHupa #183, on the other hand, doesn’t have new competition per se, but the #180s are of fairly recent vintage and there have been a number of them sold on eBay over the last year or so. This one went for what I consider the low end for REHupas in this day and age, $26.00, which a scant few years ago was considered the high end. I’m going to be selling more REHupas in the near future, most of them much older and rarer (some from when the a.p.a. had only ten or so members!) so we’ll see how those fare.

Joe Marek’s late 1990s fanzine The New Howard Reader was by all accounts one of the most content-rich REH fanzines ever — and also one of the ugliest. Each issue was jam-packed with rare REH stories, poems, fragments, and letters, things that were only available in widely scattered, hard-to-find sources. Joe did a service by making the deal with the Baums and doing the legwork to bring all of that material together in the same place. Unfortunately, two things worked to the series’ detriment. First was the scarcity — each one was printed in a limited run of about fifty copies. The second was the editing and production value. Tons of typos in the earlier issues, and everything printed on the cheapest possible paper with paper-thin covers fronted by badly scanned and pixelated artwork. I was amazed when Joe once reported in REHupa that he lost money on these things, going deep in the hole to get them printed. By the look of them you’d think he paid a buck or so each to make them, then sold them for around $15. They are in fact so unremittingly butt-ugly that I refuse to buy them on principle, and to this day I don’t own any copy of much of the material included in that magazine’s run. I love Dennis McHaney’s comment in the auction description:

I would describe the condition of this copy as near mint, except that it was folded and stapled crooked, as you can see in the scans of the front and back covers. Given the sloppy production values of the fanzine, this is probably not an unusual condition….

Ain’t it da truth. Because of their content and scarcity, they have been going for really high prices ever since they drifted out of print. $100 for one issue was not unheard of not too long ago. So it was a surprise this week to see #1 sell for a comparatively meager $21.48. [redacted] or some other knowledgeable blogger will have to figure out if most of the stuff in this issue has now been made available in other areas, which would partially explain the low selling price.

Finally, a tried-and-true low seller continues to struggle in the Howardian bazaar of the bizarre: Amra is now failing to sell at minimum prices of $12.00 (for #62) $9.95 (for #65) and even $2.00 (for #106 and $107). #24 and #26 each sold for $16 a few weeks ago. Not very impressive for this ostensibly Howardian fanzine.


Things to Watch:

Complete Set of Grant Conans: Put this under the “insane in da membrane!” department. Homeboy has a complete set of Grant Conans listed for $349.95. This for a series that was full of terrible art, gargantuan typographical errors (their edition of The Hour of the Dragon left out over 500 words!) and which ultimately was never finished. That minimum price breaks down to around $32 per book. Meanwhile, individual titles in this same series regularly go unsold for $20 each. If I wanted an incomplete Conan set for hundreds of dollars, I’d get the two Wandering Star volumes.

Cormac Mac Art and others: the insanity continues with this idiotic listing of a complete set of Baen paperbacks (you know, those of the corrupt texts, cheesy Ken Kelly covers, and prematurely browning paper) for a heart-stopping price of $49.99. That’s $9 per book — at a time when individual volumes are ice cold, regularly failing to get bids of even $3. Toss in the fact that the spines on all of these are creased, and you’ve got a radioactive auction. Stay far away, unless you’re Homer Simpson.

Howard Review #7: Will this rare item hit the level of #1 and #2, or will it peter out in the low double digits the way recent sales of #5 have? Hard to tell — as I said last week, there is serious blood in the water from those last spectacular auctions, and the moneyed sharks are circling. But I think this is going to go for less than those earlier ones. I’ll take a guess that it will top out at around $100. If it does exceed that and becomes another legendary haul for Dennis, I’m going to kick myself for not begging him for old copies back when he was drunk and susceptible to chicanery at Howard Days.

REH Selected Letters 1931-1936: The first chapbook in this set went for under $50 last week, and that one is rarer in my recollection. Look for this to underperform, too. At a $15 minimum asking price, it may not even get a single bid. After all, if you want to read the letters you can get the unabridged Complete Set from the REH Foundation, and the cheap quality of all the Necro Press chapbooks are nothing to write home about.

Arkham Skull-Face and Others: I list this here because the guy selling it did a ballsy thing which I like: even though this is an expensive and much sought-after collectible, he listed it with no reserve and is letting the market take its course. That should make for an exciting auction. We’ll see if it goes for the usual $400+ for a slightly battered copy with pretty good dj, or if it creeps higher in furious bidding. At this writing there is already one bid for $9.99, so keep an eye on it and see how high it goes. My guess? $550.