On the Trail of Vanished Pulps

On the Trail of Vanished Pulps

canadian_war_stories2Collectors have at times in the past discussed the possibility that there may be some fiction magazines issues from the last 100 years for which no copies exist anywhere. Anyone who is disheartened by this news, might take comfort from the following tale which I thought some might enjoy and/or find interesting.

I maintain a sizable online index of fiction magazines at Galactic Central, and although I don’t plan to start any serious work on the Adventure Fiction Index until 2012 (at least), I have spent a little time identifying where there are gaps in the data I have so as to maximise the time I had to fill the gaps.

Top of my list is Canadian War Stories for which, when I started, details were known only of 3 of the presumed 14 published issues – see here.

I knew of the existence of one other issue in “fannish” hands, but in five years had been unable to persuade the owner to send me the Table of Contents (ToC) for the index. As it happened, when I nudged him, he sent me the ToC by return – 4 down, 10 to go!

I put out pleas on the Fictionmags and PulpMags newsgroups, but nobody had any other issues, so the next step was to look at online library listings. No issues were listed for the British Library (or any other British academic library) or the Library of Congress, which wasn’t surprising, but AMICUS (the catalogue of Canadian libraries) identified a single library (the Canadian War Museum) which had a single issue, but it was one I was missing and they kindly sent me the ToC free of charge (they would charge me $15 for a scan or mail me a photocopy free – go figure) – 5 down, 9 to go!

Next up was Google.

Google had already helped identify the dates of several of the issues, thanks to an online listing of the papers of one William R. Bird (see the contents listings above) and, in addition, thanks to Google Books, threw up a book called DEATH SO NOBLE by J.F. Vance which included a (misdated) cover photo for an issue in the “Eric R. Dennis Collection” at Acadia University.

canadian_war_storiesA quick discussion with Acadia University revealed they actually had two of the missing issues and were happy to send me scans free of charge! 7 down – 7 to go.

There it stalled for a bit. I tried contacting the University who held the William R. Bird archive, but they never replied (I’m pretty sure the archive held only tear sheets). I also contacted J.F. Vance (mentioned above) who “thought he had 5 or 6 ToCs somewhere” but in the end, turned out to have only the same 3 I had got from Acadia.

However, Vance’s piece had mentioned that Canadian War Stories went back to a monthly scheduled in 11/29, citing a reference that Google Books didn’t show. This surprised me as we knew there were issues dated 1st November and 1st December and I had assumed there were 2 issues in each month, but on closer examination the 1st December ToC (which I had) clearly said “published monthly” so it seemed there were no 15th November or 15th December issues – only 5 missing ToCs now!

I asked Vance what the footnote referred to and he kindly checked his notes and said it came from an obscure book called “Romantic Kent: The Story of a County, 1626-1952” by local author (and Canadian War Stories contributor) Victor Lauriston. Clutching at straws, I thought that this statement meant that Lauriston must have owned a copy of that issue (which was one of the missing ones) and, as a contributor, maybe some other copies as well. Maybe, just maybe, those copies still existed somewhere.

A little digging (and some help from chum Victor Berch) led me to the University of Western Ontario who said yes, sure, they had the Victor Lauriston papers and they had been catalogued, but said catalogue was not accessible outside the library. Did the papers, by any chance, contain any copies of the magazine? Sure – a bound set of 8 issues – what would I like to know?

Turns out, I already had 4 of the ToCs, and they weren’t about to scan the others free of charge, but after taking a deep breath and waving a credit card at them, they sent me scans of 4 missing ToCs – 11 down and only 1 (August 1929) still missing.

Which is where I am today, though I live in hope the final ToC might turn up 🙂

The moral of the story for you collectors out there is simple. Just identify EVERY contributor to EVERY issue (including letter writers) and track down the estate of every such contributor as the missing issues just might be there. Should only take a lifetime per magazine 😀

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John Hocking

Nobody has said anything about this post, and that’s just wrong.
Great post, fascinating story, and admirable dedication to pulp fiction and its history.
You’re doing Good Work, man! Fight on!

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