Collecting Merritt: "You Collect Who?"

About Chris L. Adams: I spent years playing guitar in and out of bands, and was for years more of a voracious reader than a writer.  After that last band collapsed, I went back to writing, eventually turning out a half million-word Barsoom series as a tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a handful of short stories and novels.  I decided to self-publish the short stories while my Mars novels were being considered for publication. Something inside me drives me to create, and so together with writing stories and playing guitar, I also dabble in poetry and painting.

You may find me on my website,  There, you’ll find any pertinent links, information on available stories and where to download them, and other things you might find of interest.  And please feel free to contact me.  I enjoy a healthy discourse.

As important to me as Abraham Grace Merritt (I prefer his byline - A. Merritt) is, it constantly surprises me that there are still many today who have never heard of him.  Actually - let me walk that back a bit.  It used to surprise me.  I've seen that blank look so many times by now that the follow-up comment comes all-too automatically as I try to place Merritt in some context the rest of the world understands: "He was a famous pulp author who was admired by Lovecraft and Howard..."

And then it kind of trails off when some reply: "Howard?"  "Lovecraft?"  "Pulp what?"  

What's a pulp-story-loving guy to do?

If you're reading this, however, the chances are you know Merritt.  Or, maybe you just like pretty pictures?  Either way, you might as well stay, and talk collecting Merritt for a bit.  I promise pretty pictures.

My own brand of obsession with Merritt started off as with many other Merritt fans - an accidental stumbling upon of one of his novels (The Ship of Ishtar was my own introduction, an Oval Avon – but more about that in a bit).  Having loved the novel, I began actively seeking the other, mysterious titles listed inside.

It took me years to finish that set – the oval editions published by Avon in the 70s and 80s.  You have to understand, this was way before the age of the internet.  My biggest "haul" came from a local book dealer who had paper bags full of Howard and Burroughs and – A. Merritt.  The bulk of the Oval Avon series became mine in one fell swoop! 

But what is an Oval Avon?  It's a term I and two fellow collectors came up with to distinguish the various Merritt editions we began finding.  They have ovals on the front with the title in it.  And they look awesome.  They're colorful, vibrant, they have very cool artwork, and Merritt's name is in a really sweet, Merritty-looking font.  I've always loved this edition.

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To the book collector, Merritt is rich territory.  He published his first short story in 1917 in the same magazine that had yielded fame and renown to Edgar Rice Burroughs only five years prior when Burroughs exploded on the literary scene with Under the Moons of Mars.  That magazine was The All-Story, of which I've yet to obtain any examples.  But others followed.

And so it begins. 

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Magazines, hardbacks, paperbacks, one-offs (in particular, I would dearly love to have the 1937 Bizarre Series release of Three Lines of Old French), and collaborations.  Together with The All-Story Magazine (which changed its name to Argosy All-Story Weekly) there followed other magazines famous for their Merritt inclusions – The Avon Fantasy Reader, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels, which reprinted Merritt's novels and yarns from decades prior.  Long after his death, Popular Publications spawned its short-lived A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine, which is really a stunning looking magazine for all it spanned but five issues.  Avon published numerous titles by Merritt in their series, the Murder Mystery Monthly – recognizable by its skull logo.

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The paperbacks are where most collectors begin as Merritt frenzy continued, nearly unabated, for such a great length of time that it is only in the last couple decades that his name has begun to fall off the radar of modern-day readers (remember, the oval Avons were being published in the late 70s and early 80s, so his name was still out there).  Speaking of the oval editions, there are a other, common editions new collectors will be prone to come upon – the Black Avons (S-series), and the White Avons (a numeric series).  To me, the black ones looked cooler, but you be the judge.

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I currently have but one example of the White Avons.  While I was in the infancy of my Merritt collecting I had a complete set of both the Black and the White.  Then my house burned, and I lost my entire collection.  I had a display wall where I had hanging my only issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries - a Burn, Witch, Burn! edition, the story published alongside Philip M. Fisher's excellent Beyond the Pole, with stunning cover art by Virgil Finlay.  I still cringe thinking of that magazine turning to ash – it was in excellent condition.  It is one, I'm happy to say, that I later replaced.

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Although readership might wax and wane, Merritt has remained in-print pretty much non-stop since the teens.  Here is an eclectic grouping of printings from the 80s and 90s.  I was thrilled to find this 1996 Dorechester edition of Burn, Witch, Burn! Creep, Shadow, Creep!  How cool is that – the two titles I spent the bulk of my early Merritt collecting days seeking - in one book!

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Merritt's works have long been synonymous with excellent artwork – Virgil Finlay's perhaps topping that list.  The Avon Pocket Books of the 40s and 50s are resplendent with dazzling artwork.

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And there were other Avon efforts – the T-Series of the 50's and 60's…

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Unfortunately, not all publishing houses had good taste in their covers.  I've seen some hideous ones.  As a matter of fact, various members of the Swords of REH, myself included, got into a discussion of which was the ugliest Merritt.  Yes, they abound.  And I collect these as well.

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The Psychotic Adventures edition pictured is a comic adaptation of Merritt's The Women of the Wood.  In this same image you'll also see some unattractive covers, with the purple Dwellers in the Mirage by Paperback Library possibly taking the trophy in this grouping for most hideous.  In this same image, though, we also see some cool UK editions – a Corgi Burn, Witch Burn! and an Orbit edition of the same title. 

When I began collecting Merritt, the Ovals, the Blacks, and the Whites were all we could find.  There were three of us seeking Merritt in every bookstore within an hour or so drive of our stomping grounds, and so we scrambled to score a 'find'.  If one of us came up out of a book pile, grinning and clutching a Merritt, he was the victim of the instant envy and derision of his fellows. 

But Merritt's Creep and Burn novels had not been published in those most-commonly encountered editions.  As such, they were rare in our neck of the woods.  We never saw one.  It would be years before we obtained either of those titles in paperback, and after my house burned, neither of us had an example of either title (recall, my Famous Fantastic Mysteries edition of Burn was immolated).  I came to associate those two titles with extreme rareness and scarcity, and it initiated a Holy Grail quest within me such that if I found a copy of either of those titles for a price I could afford, I snagged it.  I now have multiple copies of each, in paperback, hardback, and magazine formats.  I've since come to feel that neither of those two titles is any scarcer than other titles in the same series, going by the frequency with which I run across these online.  They are, however, scarcer in general, having been printed with less frequency than Merritt's fantasy and science fiction (Creep and Burn are more mystery novels with a hint of horror).

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As mentioned above, Merritt provides a rich repository from which to collect, covering every format (even DVD) and there are items to fit every budget threshold.  I enjoy having an eclectic collection.  It's certainly on my agenda to pick up more magazines (I only have a few) and more first edition hardbacks.  It pays to do generic searches, so you might discover editions you've never heard of.  I enjoy searching on Merritt's name on Abe Books and using the various tools and filters to make discoveries.  Clicking on Hardbacks, First Editions and sorting by Year of Publication can yield some interesting results.

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The trio of Futura editions, another UK publisher, did not break the bank.  I discovered these on Abe Books – my favorite go-to source.  While we're on the topic of European editions, I somehow ended up with two French editions of Dwellers in the Mirage.  As mentioned previously, Merritt's works have, in their various editions, been adorned with some fantastic artwork by famous artists, such as Virgil Finlay, and Hannes Bok.  On these Jai Lu French editions, we also discover another well-known artist – Boris Vallejo!

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Thus far our discussion has consisted of pulp magazines, pulp digests, and paperbacks.  Is there more out there?  Of course!  After having been published in the pulps beginning in 1917, the value of Merritt's work was quickly realized.  With seeming little effort on his own part, Merritt saw the publication of his first hardback.  By 1919, only two years after his publishing Through the Dragon's Glass, Merritt's first hardback arrived - the G. P. Putnam's Sons edition of The Moon Pool which combined the magazine editions of his stories, The Moon Pool, and Conquest of the Moon Pool.  The duo of hardbacks pictured, Creep, Shadow! (note the missing Creep in the title), and Reflections in the Moon Pool, by Sam Moskowitz, together with the New Collectors editions (more about those below), represent my only hardbacks by Merritt.

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The New Collector editions of The Fox Woman and The Blue Pagoda (Pagoda was written by Hannes Bok), and The Black Wheel (a Merritt fragment completed by Bok) are wonderful editions and not too expensive (at least, not minus the jackets, as mine are).  Note there are two states of The Fox Woman.  The difference?  On page 19 on one state is a nude man – on the other, you'll find a nude woman.  After discovering this little detail, I had to seek out the other, and so now have all three states of the New Collector editions which were published after Merritt's death.

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Above I mentioned my wish to add the Bizarre Editions printing of Three Lines of Old French (which really is a beauty for all its simplicity).  Another non-typical Merritt piece that the collector might wish to seek out is the collaborative round robin – The Challenge from Beyond.  Nestled within the rank and file of such guys as H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, our A. Merritt is in good company.  My own copy of this is from Necronomicon Press.

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And this wasn't Merritt's only collaborative effort.  His short story, The Last Poet and the Robots, aka The Rhythm of the Spheres, was included in an interesting piece called The Cosmos Project.  Unfortunately, I've not been able to run down a hard copy of this little gem (the last chapter of which was written by another favorite author I collect – Edmond Hamilton).

Despite his having fallen into relative obscurity in the last few years, publishing houses still pursue worthy releases of Merritt's works.  The most recent new prints I've obtained made serious efforts to restore expurgated text; a gold mine of restored Merritt awaits!  Pictured are the Altus Press restored edition of Moon Pool, the Paizo release of Ship of Ishtar, and the Hippocampus Press release of Metal Monster.  I'm so glad to have picked these up!

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One might ask – are we done yet?  You have the pulps, the digests, the paperbacks and hardbacks; you've picked up The Challenge from Beyond and other goodies.  Are you done?  Never!  There's always something else around the corner.  I leave you with this neat example:  a homemade hardback binding of the early Avon pocketbook edition of The Fox Woman and Others.  There's always something else.  Happy collecting, my friends.

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