A Burroughs Bonanza Estate Sale Recovery

A Burroughs Bonanza Estate Sale Recovery

Some of the September 22 estate sale finds made by Deb Fulton

Deb’s Part of the Story

I almost skipped this estate sale, which was held on September 22, 2022. The meat of the description posted online was model railroad items, with a side dish of old radios and parts. The few pictures that showed books were not particularly encouraging. Typical of estate sale companies, there was not enough detail in the pictures to read the title or author on the spines or covers of the few books shown.

Atypical of estate sale companies, the description had a little detail — it mentioned Tarzan books and “other books” from the ‘20s/’30s. But what I saw smacked of reprint editions, and that was not exciting enough for a fifty minute drive (each way). A brief consultation with Doug confirmed my view.

[Click the images for estate-sized versions.]

Picture from the estate sale post

That was my thinking the night before the sale. But the dustjackets on the books nagged at me, as did the pictures showing many boxes of magazines. If there were fiction (e.g., Tarzan) books from the ‘20s/’30s, could there be pulps in those boxes? Railroad Stories, which was a pulp during those years, came to mind given that the deceased was clearly a committed model railroader. And the house was from the 1870s — it would be interesting in and of itself. So, after getting Doug off to work and picking up my mother for our biweekly antiquing run, to the sale I went.

I arrived at the house in the early afternoon. The sale was well-attended and I feared anything of interest would be long gone. Room after room contained a mixture of railroad and radio items and household items. Finally I found the magazine boxes. They were full of nonfiction. Then I spotted some pulp-sized material, only to discover it was the bane of pulpster pickers, the “Mechanics” mags (e.g., Popular Mechanics). I did find a couple Railroad magazines, but they were from the ‘50s — long after that magazine ceased to be a genuine pulp.

Site of the September 22 Chicago-area estate sale

Hopes raised and dashed, I was getting worried. Then, finally, came the room with the books. Tucked seemingly at random among model train cars and engines were about forty-five hard covers. I gathered most of them up, grabbing anything by an author I recognized or in a genre of interest and nearly all photo play editions, 39 in total and all in dust jackets.

Unfortunately, many of the Burroughs books were the dreaded Grosset & Dunlap editions, although there were a few Burt editions in there too. Yes, all reprints but most everything was in pretty darn nice DJs. Prices ranged from unpriced to $3-$5 each. Signage said that if something wasn’t priced then it was too cheap to price.

A major estate sale faux pas: books priced with masking tape and sharpies

I called Doug and we agreed I should offer $3 each. He confirmed that he wanted everything I had stacked up. I didn’t mention a rather large fly in the ointment; the estate sale company, curse them, had priced the books, in their roughly 100-year-old paper DJs, by sticking masking tape to the DJs and writing on the tape with a Sharpie-type marker.

Even my mother, who knows very little about paper collecting, was shocked by this stupidity. Estate sale companies are almost always clueless about books and magazines. But I had confidence that Doug could get the stuff off without injuring the precious DJs.

Burroughs’ The Beasts of Tarzan (Burt)

I went down to the sale desk, leaving my mom to watch the loot and letting the room monitor know that I was going to talk to the boss of the sale. I offered $120 for the lot and the boss accepted after a little hesitation. I told her I was going to get a bag for the books from my car, but she insisted on my using a box she supplied.

The box was filthy and I wanted to argue, but the books were dirty already. Fifteen minutes later the books were securely packed in my car.

More September 22 estate sale finds

Doug’s Part of the Story

As Deb mentioned, when she first showed me the photos the auction company had posted, I was skeptical. Nothing recognizable really jumped out, although the mention of Tarzan books in the listing was obviously of interest. But many estate sale companies will ascribe a 1920’s date to Tarzans even if they’re much later. Kudos to her for deciding to go!

When Deb called me from there to give me the update, it sounded good. Even better, when I got home and was able to unbox the books, was that the dust jackets were in great shape, with one major flaw. As she noted, the estate sale company had stuck masking tape on the DJs and then used a marker to write the price. They weren’t always too careful about getting it all on the tape, so in a few cases, the writing went on to the DJ.

Before and after the careful tape-removal process

However, the tape was fresh, and I decided to ask my collector friends on Facebook for some suggestions on how to remove tape. In the end, the method that worked like a charm was to use a hand held hair dryer, set on medium heat, low air setting, for about two minutes. With that method, nearly every piece of tape peeled away cleanly and easily with tweezers leaving no residue.

Among the lot were 16 Edgar Rice Burroughs books. The earliest 4 Tarzans were Burt editions, the others were all Grosset & Dunlap.

Ten Edgar Rice Burroughs hardcovers — four Burt, and six Grosset & Dunlap

The last six Burroughs hardcovers

The original owner wrote several things on the front endpapers of all but one book. This included his name, the date he’d acquired it, and the price he paid if he bought it or noting that it was a gift, as well as occasional miscellaneous notes.

He also numbered all of his books in sequence from when he acquired them; the earliest book in the 39 book collection that we got was the G&D photoplay for Way Down East by Joseph Grismer, which was book #2, bought on April 26, 1922 when he was seventeen and a half (I was able to identify the original owner through Google; he was born in late 1904 and passed away in 1985, so this was the estate sale of one of his heirs).

More estate sale finds, including ‘Way Down East by Joseph R. Grismer

The earliest of his ERB acquisitions in the books we bought was the Burt edition of The Return of Tarzan (#6, bought on May 23, 1922). He seems to have bought books frequently through Tarzan and the Golden Lion (#59, February 20, 1924), but then mostly stopped buying. Tarzan and the Ant Men (#62, December 25, 1925) was a Christmas gift, while the last two numbered books in the collection are Tarzan and the Lost Empire (#65) and Tarzan the Invincible (#66), both of which were Valentine’s Day gifts on February 14, 1933.

It’s interesting to speculate on what might have caused him to stop buying, after he’d been a frequent book buyer, but the answer to that will never be known. Perhaps he had money issues, or maybe no longer had the time to read.

After cleaning, and with price tags removed

His earliest non-Tarzan ERB book was The Mucker (#25, December 12, 1922). Now that I know what to look for, by blowing up the estate sale company photo, I can see that they also had A Princess of Mars, but that was gone by the time Deb got there. I assume he must have, at one time, also had Tarzan of the Apes, but it wasn’t at the sale.

Generally I’m not a fan of folks writing in books, but I find his notes in them, from roughly 100 years ago, very cool. You can trace how he built the collection and, given how hard it often is to pin down dates of any particular G&D reprint, it gives a good idea of when these were published.

Non-Burroughs titles among the September 22 estate sale

Just over half of the books, however, were non-ERB titles. I’ve shown many of them above; they have some great artwork and some fine authors represented among them, and most were photoplay editions.

The coolest find when I went through them was The Masked Woman, a detective novel by Johnston McCulley published by Watt in 1920 with a great Paul Stahr cover. McCulley is best remembered as the creator of Zorro. When I first looked at the book, the jacket was quite nice but with age wear.

The protected dust jacket for The Masked Woman by Johnston McCulley (Watt, 1920). Cover by Paul Stahr

However, when I got around to removing the tape from this DJ, I was stunned to find that there was a second dust jacket underneath the first! I’ll show this second jacket as well, which presumably has been protected for over 100 years under the upper jacket and looks like new. The original owner bought this one on January 31, 1923, and it was book #31 in his collection. He noted he paid $.25 for it, and that it was one of three books he bought that day.

Whatever caused the original owner of these to stop buying books, he certainly treasured these for the rest of his life based on their condition, and then they were well cared for during the next nearly 40 years. Thanks to Deb’s tenacity, they’ll continue to be cared for into the future.

The outer cover of The Masked Woman, and The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Doug and his wife Deb are collectors of pulps, as well as of pulp, science fiction and fantasy art. They co-founded and co-organize the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. At the Worldcon in 2022, Doug and Deb were presented with the Sam Moskowitz Archive Award from First Fandom.

Doug’s last article for Black Gate was Buying Perry Rhodan Art.

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Some of those covers are quite beautiful.


Beautiful collections

Michael Ward

I’ve seen lots of copies of these editions, both Tarzan and Photoplay, over the years, but I’ve never seen such a nice set of the dustjackets. Well done.

Barry. Traylor

Wow! Quite a find.

Rich Horton

That’s wonderful. I actually have a copy of that edition of THE GODS OF MARS, with dj, thought dj is in far worse condition.

[…] (Black Gate): I almost skipped this estate sale, which was held on September 22, 2022. The meat of the […]


One of the small west Texas school library’s where I grew up in the 80s had a 1st edition of Princess of Mars in the general stacks. I knew what it was, but was too straight laced a kid to steal it. I suspect it had been there for decades, I have often thought of swinging in to see if it is still there.

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