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My Incredibly Busy April, #2: The Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention

Posted in Conventions,Special Events on May 14, 2019 @ 9:41 pm

I’m posting this convention report several weeks after I planned to, but better late than never. I flew home from Los Angeles on Sunday the 7th and had just two days to prepare for my trip to the 19th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention.

I’d be traveling with the usual suspects: dealer Nick Certo and collectors Walker Martin, Scott Hartshorn, and Digges La Touche, aka “the Jersey Boys.” We’ve been driving together to pulp conventions for ten years now. The big change from previous Chicago expeditions was our choice of rental vehicle. We finally harpooned the Great White Whale and rented a newer, sleeker van—one seating 12 instead of 15 but in every other way a much better drive. By this time the Whale’s mileage probably tops 100,000, and after last year’s trip to PulpFest we’d begun having second thoughts about taking it out again. When we started making plans for this year’s Chicago trip, Nick flatly refused to go in the Whale, forcing us to investigate other vehicles. The one we chose was more expensive by roughly $200 but proved eminently satisfactory otherwise.

We left from my house early Wednesday morning, the 10th, and spent the night in South Bend, Indiana, roughly three-quarters of the way to Lombard, Illnois, the Chicago suburb where the convention is staged. The show’s co-founder, Doug Ellis, leaves in another suburb close by and hosts an annual pre-show open house. As usual we planned on reaching his place by Thursday noon, but this year we forgot the one-hour time difference and actually rolled in at 11 a.m. I mention this only because it enabled me to make a great purchase.

We pulled into Doug’s driveway as he, close friend John Locke, and Windy City partner John Gunnison were stuffing boxes into the U-Haul trailer they rent to transport convention supplies and Doug’s dealer stock. Having arrived too early for lunch, we helped the guys load the boxes stacked up in the garage. I noticed two labeled “Unknown Set.” At first I thought, How could it be an unknown set? He put the magazines in the boxes himself, didn’t he? But then—duh—I realized the boxes contained a set of the classic pulp magazine Unknown. I asked Doug how much he wanted and we cut a deal right there in his garage. The show hadn’t even started and already I’d made a major score!

We drove from Doug’s to the con hotel, the Westin Lombard, in plenty of time to check in and grab dinner before the Thursday-night setup. This year the dealer room was expanded to squeeze in an extra 30 tables, for a total of 180—the most ever. Unfortunately, that meant reallocating the large space previously set aside for programming (auctions, panel discussions, film screenings). As a result, the other events were shunted into a smaller room on the other side of the hotel. Previously we were able to fill our 15-foot movie screen, but the smaller room gave us a much reduced “throw” from the projector and proved barely adequate to contain the large crowd attending both Friday-night and Saturday-night auctions.

I hated to lose the larger space, but it’s great to have more dealers. The array of material for sale was impressive, although I noticed far more collectible hardcovers than pulps in the room. That didn’t make me unhappy, though; I purchased more hardcovers this year than at any previous Windy City show.

Last year was pretty much a washout in terms of adding to the core of my pulp collection, a 600-issue run of Adventure from 1918 to 1948. But earlier this year I’d gotten a handful of needed issues on eBay, and I picked up a half-dozen more at Windy, included the last I needed to complete 1924 (one of the 36-issue years). Also found a few issues needed to fill out my ’30s run of Blue Book. So I was a happy camper.

The auctions—always highlights of a Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention—featured rare material from the collections of the number one Robert E. Howard fan Glenn Lord, the late Bob Weinberg, and Tim Issacson, who consigned a two-year (1934 and 1935), high-grade run of Dime Detective. Record-breaking prices were realized for many items.

Of Friday night’s offerings the real shocker—for me, anyway—was the $3,750 (plus 10 percent buyer’s premium) paid for a 32-page 1944 pamphlet titled The Case Against the Comics. A cautionary document advocating severe censorship of comic books, it predated Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent by a full decade and is extremely rare. Still, this copy fetched two or three times what I would have expected.

A copy of the December 1932 Weird Tales (with the first Conan story) gaveled in at $2,500 plus buyer’s premium, a surprise in that it wasn’t even close to being the best copy I’ve seen.

Another breath-taker was a first edition of Herbert Asbury’s 1928 horror-story anthology Not at Night! signed by Asbury, H. P. Lovecraft, and August Derleth: $4,500 plus buyer’s premium. Bob Weinberg had gotten this item from Derleth’s estate.

A fairly disreputable copy of Weird Tales #1 brought $3,750 plus.

Auctioneer John Gunnison brought down the gavel on 230 lots altogether in Friday’s session.

The Saturday auction was somewhat less impressive and exciting, but not without its highlights. Early on, the first World Fantasy Convention Award statue, presented to Glenn Lord in 1978, sold for a cool two grand plus premium. My pal Walker was the underbidder on that one.

The evening’s big kahuna, though, was Glenn’s copy of Lovecraft’s The Shunned House in the 1928 edition privately published by W.Paul Cook. For those unfamiliar with this particular item: Under the auspices of his Recluse Press, Cook printed approximately 300 copies but never had them bound. Many years later Derleth acquired half the print run, distributing 50 sets of the unbound sheets and binding 100 for sale through Arkham House. Glenn acquired one of the unbound sets and had a Houston bindery do a custom job on his copy. On the basis of rarity alone, Shunned House is a phenomenally valuable item, but in this case rarity plus provenance equaled $5500 plus premium.

I never plan to win anything at the Windy City auctions because the stuff I want most invariably sells for a lot more than I’m willing or able to pay. But every year brings a few pleasant surprises, and I occasionally pick up minor items for resale. On Friday I decided impulsively to bid on a 1925 bound volume of Flynn’s that had come from the Munsey offices. It was in pretty nice shape but auctioneer John Gunnison couldn’t get a $50 opening bid. He dropped down to $40, but still nothing. Then he went to $30, and failing to get any interest he was about to pass it when I piped up. Nobody bid against me. I also paid $30 for the 1920 issue of Argosy with the first installment of Francis Stevens’ “Serapion.”

I really wanted several of the Dime Detectives but was outbid on two of the three, winning the June 1, 1935 for $90—a righteous price for that issue.

A month or two before the show, Doug had asked me to moderate a panel on Planet Stories, 2019 being the 80th anniversary of that magazine’s launch. Walker and fellow pulp scholar Garyn Roberts agreed to sit in. But that Saturday night our dinner ran long and we were late getting back to the hotel. With no time beforehand to compare notes or map out a strategy, my fellow panelists and I took the stage in a hurry and just improvised. To my amazement, the 45-minute discussion went over quite well and all three of us fielded compliments afterward, and on Sunday morning.

A total of 525 people passed through the doors, and business was brisk. I sold nearly 90 percent of the Murania Press stock on my dealer-room table, along with a couple dozen bargain-priced pulps. And, of course, I mingled with dozens of friends I only see at the various pulp conventions.

So the show had been a good one for me, both sales-wise and in terms of acquisitions. All five Jersey Boys had done well, in fact, and normally would be basking in the afterglow of a successful convention while making the 800-mile drive home. But on Sunday morning a freak snowstorm dropped several inches of slushy white stuff on Chicagoland, and it was with great trepidation that we loaded the van and left Lombard shortly before 2 p.m.

It’s no fun driving in lousy weather when you have a two-day trip ahead of you. Fortunately, the snow let up once we’d logged a hundred miles or so, although it rained to rain the rest of Sunday and most of Monday—in other words, practically all the way home. Things had finally dried out by the time we reached the Delaware Water Gap separating Pennsylvania from New Jersey.

This was our group’s tenth excursion to the Windy City convention. And one of the most enjoyable, inclement weather notwithstanding.

Doug, his wife Deb, and John Gunnison in the dealer room at Doug’s exhibit. (Picture by Sai Shankar)

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