The First and Only Weekly Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs

Each One As Before
Will Chase His Favorite Phantom
By George T. McWhorter
Curator of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection at the University of Louisville
talks about his efforts to build the collection.

This article first appeared in
The Magazine for Collectors of Books, Manuscripts, and Ephemera
Volume 1 ~ Number 2
September-October 1996

ABOUT THE COVER: The Many Faces of Tarzan
Background: Dust jacket by Fred Artung. Tarzan of the Apes
Dust jacket by N.C. Wyeth, Return of Tarzan
Cover by Clinton Pettee, All-Story Magazine
Tarzan and the Golden Lion by J. Allen St. John
The Land of Hidden Men by Frank Frazetta
Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller in the first Tarzan "talkie."
Cover for Sparkler Comics No. 14 by Burne Hogarth
Lord Greystoke by Jeff Jones
Tarzan Rescues the Moon by Laurence Schwinger from Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Since the time human's earliest ancestors hoarded pet rocks and bear claws, our penchant for collecting has grown and flourished. Bibliomania was born with the invention of movable type and the inevitable proliferation of books. Who can say how, where, why, or when an indi-vidual becomes inspired to collect books?

Psychologists tell us that our earliest influences are probably the most enduring. The circumstances that stimulated my own bibliomania are simple. I was born in Washington, D.C., at the start of the Great Depression when radio was still new, television was unheard of, and books were the chief source of dreams and inspiration. Add to this a mother who was deter-mined to teach her son how to read before he started school, and a pattern unfolds. Ben Franklin once observed that an ounce of habit is worth a pound of intellect, and I've discovered that the early habit of reading and collecting books lasts a lifetime.

My resolute mother fired broadsides from the Brothers Grimm and the daunting Charles Dickens in my direction, but I was unimpressed. So she gambled on the Burroughs book A Princess of Mars. As she read it to me, I was suddenly all eyes and ears and impatient to learn how to read. Almost before you could say "Trohanadalmakus," I was smuggling the Burroughs books to bed with me and reading them under the covers with a flashlight. I was completely absorbed in deeds of chivalry and high adventure. Burroughs's superlative vocabulary and extraordinary imagination were all that I needed to stay interested, focused, and motivated.

Like most of the boys in my neighborhood, I worked at odd jobs to earn pocket money. I spent mine on Burroughs books. I was nine years old before I dis-covered that he had written anything besides the Tarzan and John Carter books - such as The Land That Time Forgot (Chicago: McClurg, 1924), a pre-historic fantasy that, I'm convinced, ranks with the best fiction ever written. I thought that everybody read Burroughs until, as a seventeen-year-old college sophomore, I realized that my boyhood reading habits were not shared by everyone. I give Burroughs credit for my ability to breeze through college and finish the four--year course in two years, because his books had been my introduction to all learning.

In the ripeness of my years, I see Burroughs as a sublime storyteller, as a magician, and as a personality who is as real as any member of my own family. Because of him I survived the Depression, earned four college degrees, had two careers (one as a professional opera and concert singer, the other as a librarian), and am now digging in for the last few furlongs before being put out to pasture.

My formula for book collecting is best summed up in the words of my music literature teacher in Paris, Nadia Boulanger, who once said, in her inimitable fractured English, "One must do everything with love; otherways, not worth to do it."

After three years learning the book trade in the Department of Rare Books at the University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor, in 1972 I was appointed Rare Book Curator at the University of Louisville Extreme Library in Kentucky. I admit with-out remorse that as a librarian I am a fraud. I really am a collector of books. When a particular writer or book artist captures my fancy, I go after that persons work hammer and tongs until I've collected all that is available on the open market.

William Cullen Bryant wrote his most famous poem, Thanatopsis, when he was seventeen years old. It contains a sonorous line describing the generations of mankind, which never loses its appeal to me: "And each one as before will chase his favorite phantom."

As an adult, my first phantom was the British book illustrator, Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), whose flowing line, subdued palette, and subtle humor stirred my soul and tickled my fancy. I collected all of his published works and eighteen original works of art, donated them to the University of Louisville library, and set out after new phantoms, including Thomas Bird Mosher of Portsmouth, Maine, whose turn-of-the-century pressbooks are a booklover's delight; Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen) whose gothic tales intrigued me and whose Out of Africa became a twentieth-century classic almost overnight; and finally, Edgar Rice Burroughs, perhaps America's greatest undiscovered national treasure.

I firmly believe that one collecting interest at a time is all the average collector can handle, unless he's a millionaire and can hire an agent to do his work for him -- a circumstance which certainly takes the thrill out of the hunt. A collector needs to research the market by subscribing to all known dealer catalogs in the field and, with luck, making contact with other collectors for leads and referrals. I had established good relations with British dealers such as Bertram Rota, Ltd., in my Rackham-chasing days, and they gave me first refusal privileges on some of the best items in my collection.

Starting From Scratch
When my mother died in 1976, I decided to build a book memorial in her name at the University of Louisville. To my astonishment, no library in the world contained all of Burroughs's books and serials; although he was represented in many general science- fiction collections. This was the incentive I needed. My childhood books were lost to time and neglect after I left for college, so I had to begin from scratch to build a new Burroughs collection. But when I began col-lecting Burroughs, I was in a whole new ball game.

Most of the mainstream booksellers didn't deal in Burroughs. He had fallen largely into the hands of amateurs. I was used to the genteel practices of rep-utable antiquarian book dealers like the Maggs Brothers of London or Goodspeed's of Boston, whose bibliographers described the physical condition of books on a standard scale ranging from "poor" to "fine" ("mint" was used sparingly). The Burroughs specialists of the time had no such standard. They used terms like "very good" and "near mint" to describe books with cracked hinges and shredded dust jackets, some of which had been taped (one of the worst things you can do to a book) and had missing or mutilated pages.

But experience taught me how to proceed. I limited myself to one category at a time and began by collecting all seventy first editions of the Burroughs books. Of these, eleven were published after the author's death and consist primarily of short stories written for pulp magazines. I had no trouble tracking down the first editions that were published after 1931, when Burroughs began to publish his own books (he incorporated himself in 1923 to han-dle movie rights and commercial offshoots of the increasingly popular Tarzan stories). But the twenty-nine McClurg first editions published between 1914 and 1929 were difficult to find in good dust jackets.

A Touch of Serendipity
One of the leading Burroughs fanzine editors of the 1960s, Camille Cazedessus, decided to sell his private collection at about the time I began serious collecting. I was able to buy most of his collection, which included Burroughs's first published story, "Under the Moons of Mars" (All-Story Magazine, February-June 1912), the first publication of "Tarzan of the Apes" (All-Story Magazine, October, 1912), and his first published hard-back, Tarzan of the Apes (Chicago: McClurg, 1914). Thirty other jacketed first editions came with this pur-chase. All of them were in excellent condition, especially The Mucker (Chicago: McClurg, 1921) and The Gods of Mars (Chicago: McClurg, 1918), both of which had crisp pages, tight bindings, and bright unchipped jackets with gleaming white spines. Such copies are close to the ideal and rarely come onto the market. Not until years later did I realize my good fortune.

Serendipitously, I acquired a pulp-magazine collection of more than 10,000 volumes from the library at the University of California-Los Angeles, which was weeding out its duplicates, so I was able to add nearly all of the Burroughs pulps to my collection. Only one serial was incomplete {pulp collectors tell me that copies are fiendishly difficult to locate today) -- Burroughs's second story "The Outlaw of Torn," which was published in New Story Magazine as a five--part serial between January and May 1914. Ten years passed before I was able to complete the series.

About two years into the collecting game, I was offered all of the Maxon, Foster, and Hogarth Sunday Tarzan pages in a lot. So I launched into a new category by sending out want lists for the missing years between 1950 and 1972. I also subscribed to the Asbury Park Press to get the Sunday Tarzans, then being drawn by California artist Russ Manning, as they appeared.

Collecting Rackham, Blixen, and Mosher was simple in comparison to collecting Burroughs. I have seen many significant private Burroughs collections over the years, and each contained some item not found in any of the others. The subcategories are incredibly expensive to collect, especially the Tarzan merchandising items from before 1940.

A second major factor in the development of the Burroughs Memorial Collection was the acquisition of a large portion of the private collection of "the father of Burroughs fandom" Vernell Coriell, who, before he died in 1987, sold most of his original paintings and first edi-tions to pay for doctor bills. I was asked to evaluate his estate and sell his book collections for the family, which I did. I took my commission in trade instead of cash, and I purchased other segments of his massive Burroughs collection from his heirs. It was especially rich in newspaper serials, foreign editions, and his publishing backlogs for the Burroughs Bulletin and Gridley Wave, both of which I now edit for the Burroughs Bibliophiles.

One of the greatest assets to building the collection was the help we received from the author's grandson, Danton Burroughs, who placed invaluable memorabilia with the University of Louisville on permanent loan. Some of these include his grandfather's schoolbooks and early primers, the military cape he wore at the Michigan Military Academy in 1892, his fountain pen, briefcase, monogrammed cigarette case, and more than fifty presentation copies of his books to his children, most of them with humorous cartoons sketched across the preliminary leaves by "Papa."

The most recent important addition to the collection, acquired last year, is the archive of biographer Irwin Porges. The archive contains his original research and correspondence for the 1975 centennial biography of Burroughs, published by the Brigham Young University Press and in paperback by Ballantine. More than 350 pages of the original manuscript were never published, making it a unique research tool. Also included were taped interviews with Burroughs's family and friends and the negatives of the photographs used in the book. These materials had lain in an attic for more than twenty years, exposed to mildew and other conservation problems. Two qualified researchers have been working with this archive, John Taliaferro's biography of Burroughs is scheduled to be published by Scribner's in 1998 and Phillip Burger is writing a treatise on the early years of Burroughs.

The Most Prized Treasure
Probably the rarest Burroughs collectible is the original dust jacket for the first edition of The Return of Tarzan (Chicago: McClurg, 1915). It was designed by N.C. Wyeth and first used as a cover illustration for New Story Magazine's August 1913 issue, which contained the third installment of the story. No complete first-edition dust jacket is known to exist; although a private collector in Maryland owns an incomplete one (at least the publisher's slug on the spine is still present).

Henry Heins, the "Dean of Burroughs Bibliographers," notes two states of the first-edition dust jacket: the first has the selling price 0f $1.30 printed on the spine, where as on the second state version the price was raised to $1.35; all other points are identical. Both flaps are bare, and a promotional blurb on the back cover is enclosed in an ornamental border. Reasons for its rarity are narrowed down to two possibilities: either Wyeth collectors snapped up all of the copies before the Buroughs collectors arrived on the scene, or the jacket was printed in a very limited quantity -- perhaps not enough to cover the initial print run -- before they were jobbed out to the reprint publisher, A.L. Burt Company of New York in 1915.

A major theft occurred at the Burroughs Corporation warehouse in Tarzana, California, in 1982. Thieves took the only know perfect copy of The Return of Tarzan in dust jacket. It was never recovered, so if and when it turns up in the next century its value should be enormous. There were no marks of ownership on the stolen copy, and theoretically it will be impossible to identify. A total of twenty-six rare books were included in the heist, which police think was an inside job. Many of them were autographed, and one was the author's presentation copy of his first book, Tarzan of the Apes, to his wife Emma. It reads:

My dear wife: Do you recall how we waited in fear and trembling the coming of the postman for many days after we sent the Tarzan ms. to Metcalf? And will you ever forget THE morning that he finally came? Not even this, our first book, can quite equal that unparalleled moment. That we may never have cause for another such is the wish of your devoted husband, Ed. R. Burroughs.
This book would be recognized instantly if it came up for sale on the open market, so we must assume that the thief gloats over it in private or that its chances for survival are dim. But I am a born optimist. If a Gutenburg Bible can turn up in a German bell tower 500 years after publication, I dare to hope that a jacketed first-edition copy of The Return of Tarzan with the Wyeth cover art will find its way to the Burroughs Memorial Collection before I die -- or, as the Burroughs buffs say, "Before you sail down the River Iss."

The Faces of Tarzan
Hundreds of competent artists have illustrated the Burroughs books during the past eighty years. The most famous is Chicago artist J. Allen St. John who illustrated thirty-three first editions. Burroughs greatly admired St. John's work which, he believed, depicted Tarzan according to his own description "muscled more like Apollo than like Hercules" in Tarzan and the City of Gold (Tarzana: E.R.Burroughs, 1933). The artwork of Frank Frazetta dominated the paperback covers of the early 1960s. His legion of imitators have given Hercules the edge over Apollo in the graphic record of Tarzan.

Other superb Burroughs illustrators include Neal Adams, Boris Vallejo, Michael Whelan, Frank E. Schoonover, Joe Jusko, Gino D'Achilles, Zdenek Burian, Ray Dean, Reed Crandall, Jeff Jones, Richard Hescox, and the author's son, John Coleman Burroughs. Most Burroughs collectors own at least one original piece of art which, in most cases, was acquired at considerable expense.

The Burroughs Memorial Collection has commissioned several original works as cover illustrations for The Burroughs Bulletin, including a scene from Jungle Tales of Tarzan by Ballantine artist Larry Schwinger.

The library's poster collection is extensive and is augmented regularly as foreign items appear on the U.S. market. One of the most interesting posters is a six-sheet Elmo Lincoln in The Adventures of Tarzan that hung in a silent-movie house in 1920.

Collecting Today
Collecting Burroughs can be daunting to beginners because no complete set of reprint editions of his books can be found on the current new book market, not even in paperback. The prevalent feeling is that if Walt Disney's animated Tarzan film (due in early 1998) and the new Tarzan television episodes (now being filmed in Johannesburg, South Africa) are successful, the Burroughs corporation might authorize a uniform edition before any more titles enter public domain. Time will tell.

Few mainstream dealers take note of Burroughs until they spot the prices realized from major auction houses. A few are revamping their former prejudices. The Pacific Book Auction Galleries recently sold the Kapelman Collection of Burroughs. Members of the Burroughs Bibliophiles received the catalog; although dealers looking for resales dominated the bidding, I was able to get a fine jacketed copy of The Land That Time Forgot (arguably Burroughs's best book) for #6,300, a cut above the average price for a first edition in dust jacket but worth the extra expense.

Collectors who use communications systems on the Internet, such as the World Wide Web and e-mail, can open more doors than was possible in the 1930s when I began collecting or even in the 1970s when I started again.

Despite a seventy-five-year history of bad Tarzan films that have soured Burroughs's public image, the real stamp of his genius lies in his books, which are mostly based on imaginary worlds that resist or sidestep change. Many of Tarzan's literary contemporaries are dead. Booth Tarkington's Penrod shared the best-seller list with Tarzan in 1914, but only Tarzan has survived in the public awareness. The fleshing out of the Tarzan legend in the newspaper daily and Sunday funnies, as well as in comic books and films, allowed Burroughs to endure.

If the Disney film and series are successful, the prices of first-edition Tarzan books in dust jackets will go up. If the projects bomb, the prices will level off. But Disney has a knack of ensuring that their movies do not bomb, and Burroughs's grandson says he's just finished reading the film script and it is magnificent.

The Burroughs Memorial Collection was recently visited by two television crews shooting documentaries on Burroughs. Arts & Entertainment's segment is scheduled for this Fall, and Les Film du Village out of Paris is showing six hours of documentary and roundtable discussions on Burroughs and Tarzan. Neither of these documentaries may affect the book market directly, but they may start the ripples flowing. Of greatest interest and  excitement to fans, however, is the long-awaited publication of one of Burroughs's unpublished novels. Written in 1924, it concerns a foundling and is titled Marcia of the Doorstep. Donald M. Grand, Inc., will publish it this year, along with an unknown play by Burroughs titled You Lucky Girl! That he wrote for his daughter Joan when she was an aspiring young actress.

An unfinished Tarzan fragment (eighty-three typewritten pages) was found in the author's safe. Joe Landsdale finished the story and Dark Horse Comics published it in 1995. It was first published in pulp magazine format and then in hardback as Tarzan: The Lost Adventure. A few other short pieces remain unpublished, but the Burroughs corporation seems inclined to give them to the public soon -- a reversal of their stance during the past forty-five years.

The late 1990s are enjoying a renaissance in Burroughsiana through the films, comics, books, Trendmaster toys, collector cards, computer games, and audio taped readings by Hollywood actors such as Ben Kingsley. Similar revivals occurred with the first Tarzan talking movie in 1932 and the paperback boom of 1962, but it will take a few years to see how deep or how permanent a dent Tarzan will make in this decade.

Keeping the Phantom At Home
Most of the best Burroughs collections were formed in the 1930s, but when their original owners died, those collections were dispersed on the open market. The Burroughs Memorial Collection will never be dispersed; and the university library hopes to attract substantial endowments to keep it up to snuff, both in terms of new acquisitions and in conversation and preservation techniques. The collection now contains as many as 70,000 books and related items and is growing almost daily. A catalog of holdings and bibliographical records was published in 1991. We hope to publish an update by Spring 1998.

Nobody really knows what the future will bring, but I'm hoping that the  Burroughs Memorial Collection will cast a steady beacon of light to new generations of fans who have discovered what fun it is to read the works of one of America's greatest storytellers. Gertrude Stein once cautioned Burroughs's Oak Park neighbor Ernest Hemingway with the words, "Remarks are not literature." Readers will find more than remarks in the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

George T. McWhorter is curator of the Burroughs Memorial Collection at the University of Louisville Ekstrom Library in Kentucky, USA. He has published three books on Edgar Rice Burroughs: a concordance, a pictorial catalog, and a biography. He has spent many years singing professionally. He continues a part-time concert career, including eight leading roles with the Kentucky Opera Association.
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