Tear Down This Wall!
By Steve Duin, The Oregonian ~ September 22, 2009
And earlier this summer, Frank Robinson did just that, bringing the famous "Wall of Pulps" down forever and shipping his renown pulp magazine collection off to Silver Spring.

Frank Robinson

The celebrated author of Pulp Culture and the speech writer for former San Francisco Mayor Harvey Milk, Robinson spent the last 30 years assembling the finest collection of high-grade pulp magazines in the world. The pulps were displayed -- gloriously -- on the wooden shelves of a floor-to-ceiling wall in the living room of his San Francisco home.

But shortly after he returned from playing himself in Gus van Sant's "Milk," Robinson realized the thrill of owning that collection was gone.

"I'm looking at them one day," Robinson said, "and I realized I hadn't read a single one. I was collecting magazines in near mint and you don't read a magazine in near mint and have it stay in near mint. Then I realized I wasn't even looking at them. If a couple magazines fell off the shelf, I left them there.

"There was nothing," Robinson said. "I'm not kidding. The only interest I had left was pride of possession, showing them off to other people and bragging about them. Jesus, I had those magazines for 30 years. That's longer than most people keep their wives."

Robinson had no interest in allowing Heritage Auctions to profit off his collecting passion. Instead, he called John Gunnison at Adventure House, arguably the country's largest dealer in pulps.

Gunnison told me last week that he will use Robinson's collection to produce an Ernie Gerber-style book on the pulps: "As Frank proved with Pulp Culture, there's a market out there for books on pulp images. People have been asking me for decades to put out a Gerber style book on the pulps. The problem has been finding images that are good enough that you don't have to spend countless hours retouching them."

Weird Tales 1

With Frank Robinson's collection, problem solved. Gunnison argues that the 6,000 pulps don't qualify as a true pedigree collection: "Frank has been upgrading for decades. It's not like he bought these off newsstands and carefully slipped them away, the way Edgar Church did."

But the pulps are in extraordinary condition. I've seen the Weird Tales. All but five of the books are gem perfect.

"That's the one thing Frank was the most proud of," Gunnison said. Whenever a stunning new array of Weird Tales became available, he added, "Frank was always at the right place at the right time." Once Adventure House publishes those images, Gunnison will use the book as a catalog to sell the collection. "As a single run, Frank's Weird Tales will generate the highest prices," he said.

Asked what it might take to buy the run, Gunnison said he thought $165,000 would do the trick.

Once Robinson decided to bring down his wall, Gunnison swung by with a truck, loaded it with pulps and drove the collection back to Maryland.

J.C. Leyendecker

Robinson? He held on to 20 pulps. An N.C. Wyeth cover. A Leyendecker. An upgraded copy of the first Weird Tales (August 1939) that he bought off the newsstand. An Indian cover. A logging cover from Complete Stories And no Spicys, no Terrors, no Horrors, no gallery of space ships.

"If you looked at the 20 magazines, you'd have an entirely different view of the pulp field," Robinson said. "Every cover I picked out was a people cover. I have a very low opinion of most pulp magazine art. I understand the appeal of the posters, but from the viewpoint of art, let's not kid ourselves."

Gunnison estimates that Robinson's book won't be available until summer 2010. He first must catalog the 14,000-piece collection of Darrell Richardson, a Baptist minister from Memphis who focused on the science-fiction and adventure pulps. Richardson, who was also a big Edgar Rice Burroughs collector, spent 70 years amassing his collection.