The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins and 25 Other Ghost Stories is one of the oldest paperbacks I own. It is, in fact, one of the oldest fantasy paperbacks produced in the United States. It was published in 1941, just two years after Pocket Books released the first paperbacks in 1939, revolutionizing the American publishing industry. And like a lot of old things, it’s a little strange and doesn’t do things in a familiar way.
For one thing, as it was one of the first paperback anthologies ever produced, apparently no one thought the name of the editor was important. Some folks assume it was W. L. Parker, who wrote the intro, and others assume W. Bob Holland, but no one is really sure.
Also, it’s called The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins and 25 Other Ghost Stories not because it contains The Haunted Hotel (by Wilkie Collins) and twenty-five more stories about ghosts, but because it’s actually a mash-up of two previously published books: the novel The Haunted Hotel (by Wilkie Collins), and Twenty-Five Ghost Stories. So naturally, the page numbering re-starts halfway through the book. In the early days of paperbacks, publishers were trying all kinds of wacky things. Except original titles, apparently. Because, hey, let’s not go crazy.
And another thing. Have a look at the strange back cover (click for a bigger image). Today, we think of the back cover as, you know, a great place to tell prospective buyers a little about the book in their hands. In 1941, you mostly told readers what the hell a paperback book was. You imparted critical information, like “opaque paper,” “delightful flexibility in handling,” and “stained on all three sides with fast book dyes.” It’s easy to mock the primitive publishers of 1941 today, but let’s face it — if they hadn’t sold their early readers on paperbacks, you and I would be reading books exclusively in hardcover and clay tablets.
Also, apparently it was considered cute when writing early 20th Century ghost stories to hide behind pseudonyms like A Constabulary Officer, A Spinster, A Lady, or A Sportsman. Of course, several writers in this anthology opted for that old-stand by, Anonymous (and some are simply uncredited.)
But despite all the strange things about this book, there are still a few reassuringly familiar aspects to it. For one thing, it’s packed with some great classic ghost tales, from a Who’s Who of writers.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
Introduction to the Combined Volumes by W. L. Parker
The Haunted Hotel (1878) by Wilkie Collins
“The Black Cat ” (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe
“The Flayed Hand” (1875) by Guy de Maupassant
“The Vengeance of a Tree” by Eleanor F. Lewis
“The Parlor-Car Ghost” (1904) by A Lady
“Ghost of Buckstown Inn ” (1904) by Arnold M. Anderson
“The Burglar’s Ghost” (1904) by A Constabulary Officer
“A Phantom Toe” (1904) by Anonymous
“Mrs. Davenport’s Ghost” by Frederick F. Schrader
“The Phantom Woman” (1904) — uncredited
“The Phantom Hag” shortstory by Guy de Maupassant
“From the Tomb”(1904) by Guy de Maupassant
“Sandy’s Ghost ” (1904) by A Witness
“The Ghosts of Red Creek” by S. T.
“The Spectre Bride” (1904) by Elia W. Peattie
“How He Caught the Ghost” (1904) by Anonymous
“Grand-Dame’s Ghost Story”(1904) by C. D.
“A Fight with a Ghost” (1904) by Q. E. D.
“Colonel Halifax’s Ghost Story” (1897) by Sabine Baring-Gould
“The Ghost of the Count” (1904) by A Spinster
“The Old Mansion” (1904) by A Sportsman
“A Misfit Ghost” (1904) — uncredited
“An Unbidden Guest” (1904) – uncredited
“The Dead Woman’s Photograph” (1904) by Elia W. Peattie
“The Ghost of a Live Man” (1904) by A Traveller
“The Ghost of Washington” (1904) by Anonymous
The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins and 25 Other Ghost Stories was published by Avon Books in 1941. It is 496 pages, priced at 25 cents. The interior art is by John B. Musacchia and F. J. Russell. The cover artist is unknown. It’s not a particularly rare book, and copies routinely sell online for around $10.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.