Monday, January 7, 2013

The Amazing John Martin Collection Of H.P. Lovecraft In Weird Tales

by Stephen J. Gertz

March 1938.
First Weird Tales appearance of Lovecraft's
Beyond the Wall of Sleep.
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

John K, Martin is, perhaps, best known as the far-sighted founder and publisher of Black Sparrow Press who fostered Charles Bukowski's career as patron and publisher. For that alone he has entered literary history. Yet few are aware that Martin has also been one of the great book collectors of our time. Now 82 years old, John has put his superlative collection of H.P. Lovecraft in Weird Tales, the famed pulp magazine, up for sale.

A remarkable collection of eighty gorgeous issues amassed over decades, each - incredibly -  is in fine to very fine condition with yapp edges intact; these old pulps are usually  encountered in rubbed, sunned, toned, and torn shape.

We recently had an opportunity to talk to John Martin about the collection.

March 1937.
Contains Lovecraft's The Picture in the House.
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

BT: When did you start collecting the pulps?

JKM: I began collecting books in general in 1950 when I was 20. At that time I was attracted to both Lovecraft and the pulps that published him. Over the years I collected and then disbursed many Lovecraft items, often in trades. About 15 years ago I decided to collect Lovecraft seriously once again, and to concentrate on the pulps, pamphlets, fanzines, leaflets, etc.

BT: Each copy in the collection is in Fine condition. Were you always aware of condition when you first began to collect them? (Not something young collectors generally pay attention to).

JKM: I learned very quickly that pulps and first editions in poor or average condition were not worth the time and money it took to collect them. That fine copies were essential. Also, I took more pleasure in holding and reading the individual items if they were in the same, or nearly the same, condition as when they were published. Somehow it turned back the clock for me to the time of first publication.

September 1937.
First Weird Tales appearance of Lovecraft's poem,
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

BT: When you began was it your intent to seriously collect or did it sort of snowball from informal to committed?

JKM: I was a serious collector from day one but I didn't begin to put together this current Lovecraft collection until about 1995.

BT: Weird Tales exclusively or others as well?

JKM: As per above, I collected Weird Tales plus every Lovecraft periodical publication I could find published up until c. 1940 (of which there are hundreds). Some are so fragile (and rare) they almost disintegrate in your hands.

July 1942.
First Weird Tales appearance of Lovecraft's
Herbert West: Reanimator, Part 2. The Plague Demon.
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

BT: Was H.P. Lovecraft your area of interest and  Weird Tales followed?

JKM: Then and now, my first interest was Lovecraft, followed by a desire to collect the first edition of everything he ever wrote.

BT: Where did you find the stuff?

JKM: In the early days, copies of Weird Tales could be found in used magazine stores and some bookstores for 25 cents apiece. Since I began this current collection in 1995, I was able to utilize the internet. Also I was able to go back to several dealers from whom I had purchased Lovecraft material in earlier times.

The prices for Lovecraft material (and most literary first editions) have ballooned beyond all reason. It's a prime example of hyper-inflation. A 1920s fine copy of Weird Tales with a Lovecraft contribution, can cost from $1500 to $5000, or more in a few cases.

May 1941.
First appearance of Part One of Lovecraft's
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Adapted to film by Roger Corman in 1963
as The Haunted Palace.
Cover art by Hannes Bok.

BT: Why Lovecraft?

JKM: As an impressionable, unsophisticated 20 year old, I read a story called "The Doom That Came to Sarnath." I was hooked. (It took me more than 50 years to find a copy of the June 1920 issue of "The Scot" where this story first appeared.)

BT: Favorite Lovecraft in Weird Tales?

JKM: "The Doom That Came to Sarnath" remains my favorite Lovecraft story. (It was reprinted in the June 1938 issue of Weird Tales.
BT:  Have you collected Lovecraft beyond Weird Tales, i.e. Arkham House, etc.?

JKM: I collected the two books what were printed before Lovecraft's death, "The Shunned House" (1928) and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936).

October 1937.
First appearance in Weird Tales of Lovecraft's
The Shunned House.
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

BT: You're known for your collection of D.H. Lawrence as well? What other collections have you put together? Is there an underlying theme that unites them in some way?

JKM: I have spent the past 62 years assembling author collection. I sold my D.H. Lawrence collection (that took me 40 years to build) a few years ago. I believe at the time it was by far the most extensive private holding of Lawrence's first editions, manuscripts, letters, artworks, photographs, and association items. Everything was in very fine condition.

Realizing that I am 82 years old and "can't take my books with me," I have also (along with Lovecraft) recently sold my author collections of Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, and Charles Bukowski. I still retain my collections of Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, A.E. Coppard, Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, along with several hundred miscellaneous first editions.

May 1938.
First appearance of Lovecraft's poem,
In a Sequestered Churchyard Where Once Poe Walked.
Also first appearance of Robert E. Howard's story, Pigeons From Hell,
which Stephen King called one of the best short stories of the 20th century.
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

 BT: Any particular reason why you're still holding on to those authors?

JKM: I am not exactly "holding on." I just haven't gotten around to offering them for sale. Also, I MUST be surrounded by books or I'll curl up and die. Also, I LOVE reading these authors over and over. (I think I have read every book I ever bought.).

BT:  After collecting for 62 years do you have any regrets about a book that got away, something sought but never found and acquired, a Holy Grail?

JKM: I never was able to buy a first edition of "Leaves of Grass." Ditto Pound's first book, "A Lume Spento." Ditto, "Sons and Lovers" in a first state dust jacket. My only three big regrets.

July 1933.
First appearances of Lovecraft's
The Dreams of the Witch House and
The Horror in the Museum.
Cover by Margaret Brundage.
BT:  You began collecting when legwork ruled, before the Internet brought the marketplace into collectors' homes, Any thoughts on the difference in experience?

JKM: The difference between collecting books the old fashioned way vs. collecting books over the internet, is the difference between swimming from New York to London or taking a jet.

BT:  Finally, your thoughts on Weird Tales cover art, so many by the great Margaret Brundage?

JKM: You'd have to be blind not to love the Weird Tales covers. Especially the ones from the 1920s and 1930s.

June 1938.
First Weird Tales appearance of Lovecraft's The Doom That Came To Sarnath.
Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

All images courtesy of Between the Covers, currently offering this collection, with our thanks.


  1. Hi from downunder,
    must be 10 years ago I did a movie of all the H.P. covers I could find:
    p.s. I love your work
    Malcolm Enright

    1. Malcom: That sounds awesome. Tried to download it but it didn't work for some reason. Would you mind sending it to me via sendspace or gmail? You can contact me at


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