Forry Ackerman’s First SF Art

Forry Ackerman’s First SF Art

The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars, by Elliott Dold.
From Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, April-May 1931

I’ve written from time to time about original science fiction art delivered to us by our Friendly Neighborhood Mailman.

Among the various original black and white interior illustrations we own from the science fiction pulps, this is our earliest, appearing 90 years ago. By artist Elliott Dold, it ran as a frontispiece in the April-May 1931 issue of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. It was not for any particular story; instead it was a one page feature showing “An Incident of the Future: The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars.”

Dold was the art editor of this short-lived title; the April-May 1931 issue was the first of only two. He appears to have been the editor as well, though some sources state that Dold’s brother, Douglas, was the editor. Both Elliott and Douglas, as well as the publisher of Miracle, Harold Hersey, had worked together previously over at the Clayton pulp chain. Elliott and Douglas each had a story appear in Miracle; Douglas’ in the first issue, Elliott’s in the second, dated June-July 1931. In an interview in the October-November 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine, Elliott discusses how Miracle was his brainchild – he’d talked Hersey into publishing it, and obtained all the stories, as well as doing all the art. He blamed its cessation on an illness which made it impossible for him to work on it. Perhaps coincidentally, during this same period his brother Douglas passed away, on May 6, 1931.

[Click the images for fan-sized versions.]

Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, April-May and June-July 1931

(As an aside, Douglas was likely unique in the pulp field as an editor in that he was blind; he edited several pulps for the Clayton chain in the 1920’s, as well as writing some fiction and non-fiction as well. In 1915, both brothers had joined the American Red Cross’ Serbian Relief Expedition to combat a typhus epidemic in Serbia; Douglas had recently graduated from medical school. Following a series of adventures, during which they joined the Serbian army to fight the invading Bulgarian army, the brothers were captured by the Bulgarians. Douglas was put in charge of a medical clinic for refugees, but was blinded in December of that year when he accidentally used wood alcohol to wash. As a result, Douglas (as well as Elliott, who needed to act as his guide) was released by the Bulgarians. Douglas Dold died on May 6, 1931 at age 43, but in 1935, the Yugoslav state posthumously awarded him the Cross of Mercy for the medical services he’d performed during 1915.)

Coming back to this illustration, it’s one of the few we own where I can trace its ownership all the way back to the artist. At the bottom of the piece, Dold has inscribed, “For Forrest J. Ackerman, D III-92 from his friend Elliott Dold.”  I’ve never figured out what “D III -92” means, but I suspect it could be a Zorome name given to Forry, based on the Professor Jameson stories by Neil R. Jones which were popular at that time.

By 1931, when this piece appeared, Dold had been an accomplished pulp artist for nearly a decade, with his illustrations having graced the pages not only of the Clayton magazines, but also several of the Fiction House pulps as well as other Hersey titles. However, his work for Miracle was his first science fiction work (ISFDB incorrectly credits him with the interior artwork for “Dr. Brittlestone’s Method” by Samuel M. Sargent, Jr. in the May 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, but this art, signed only with a “D”, is clearly not by Dold). Dold would go on to become the leading interior artist for Astounding Stories from the mid-to-late 1930’s.

Postcard from Ackerman to Darrow, April 9, 1931

In a postcard postmarked April 9, 1931 from Forry to fellow fan, Jack Darrow (the fannish nom de plume of Clifford Kornoelje), the leading West Coast fan asked the leading Midwest fan if he’d seen the new scientifiction mag, Miracle, and raved that, “The new artist Dold bids fair to rival Paul!”

Forry certainly was a fan of Dold’s art in Miracle – so much so that sometime between the time he wrote that postcard and April 10, 1932, he acquired this illustration from Dold. According to Christopher M. O’Brien in The Forrest J. Ackerman Oeuvre, this was the first piece of original SF art obtained by Forry – the start of his legendary collection of original science fiction art. In a letter from Forry to Darrow dated April 10, 1932, Forry describes his science fiction collection, stating that among many other things, he has “the autographed, original drawing of the frontispiece by Elliott Dold Jr., which appeared in the first issue of Miracle – the one showing The Midnite Mail takes off for Mars.”  The next year when describing his science fiction collection in the October 1933 issue of Fantasy Fan, Forry writes, “And Elliott Dold, Jr. has autographed his original frontispiece for Miracle Stories’ first issue, ‘The Midnite Mail takes off for Mars.’”

Letter from Ackerman to Darrow, April 10, 1932 (page one)

Letter from Ackerman to Darrow, April 10, 1932 (page two)

After owning it for roughly seven decades, Forry finally let this go to my friend Jerry Weist in the early 2000’s. Our mutual friend, Glynn Crain, eventually got it from Jerry in a trade around 2004 or 2005, and we acquired it from Glynn in another trade in 2019. And since Glynn handed it off in person to me, our Friendly Neighborhood Mailman didn’t even have to deliver the Midnight Mail for Mars!


Doug is a collector of pulps, as well as of pulp, science fiction and fantasy art. He co-founded and co-organizes the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. For many years his Tattered Pages Press published the pulp fanzine Pulp Vault, as well as other books on the pulps. He was one of the authors of The Adventure House Guide to Pulps, and has edited several pulp anthologies, including the Best of Adventure series. His book, Uncovered: The Hidden Art Of The Girlie Pulps, an in-depth study of the spicy pulps and their art, was named ForeWord Magazine‘s 2003 Popular Culture Book of the Year. In 2013, Bob Weinberg, Bob Garcia and he collaborated on The Collectors’ Book of Virgil Finlay, a collection of Finlay’s gorgeous art. The Art of the Pulps, which he co-edited with Bob Weinberg and Ed Hulse, won the 2018 Locus Award for Best Art Book.

Doug’s last article for Black Gate was Conan in the land of the Rising Sun.

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Barry Traylor

Fascinating article, I have loved the art of Elliot Dold for years. Thanks for sharing this Doug.

Last edited 5 months ago by Barry Traylor
MARK OWENS

I and my now ex-wife spent time with Forry at the 1976 S.F Convention in Kansas City. We even sat with him on the presentation, following the previous evening at a out door gathering. He liked my wife more than me of course.

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