Fortunately, Fans Are Also Collectors

Much of the history of fandom would have been lost long ago if many fans had not also been fanatical collectors. We see evidence of this everywhere in their writings from the 1930s. Almost every fanzine had a column for posting “wants” and offers to sell or trade for missing issues. Here are just a few examples of how fans stocked their libraries.

Forrest J Ackerman was notorious for the intensity of his collecting. Here we see a posting from Ackerman that appeared in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from November 1, 1931. Forrest was just shy of his 15th birthday and lived in San Francisco, California. How he knew about this exchange column in a small New York newspaper, we will likely never know.

It didn’t take long for Ackerman to become known as a go-to person for other fans who hoped to find scarce items. Lester Anderson wrote to Forrest on April 24, 1933 with both an offer and a request.

Lester Anderson to Forrest J Ackerman, April 24, 1933

Reading and collecting science fiction wasn’t without controversy. Apparently one female fan felt the need to seek spousal permission before pursuing her interest.

Barbara Burbank to Forrest J Ackerman, May 29, 1934

Many fans strove to assemble complete sets of the professional science fiction magazines, and to preserve them. In the first issue of Morris Scott Dollens’ The Science Fiction Collector, the editor offered advice on binding magazines for inclusion in a library.

The Science Fiction Collector, v1n1, May 1936, page 14

The Science Fiction Collector from July 22, 1936 contained a fairly typical advertising section.

The Science Fiction Collector, v1n5, June 22, 1936, page 13

The publishers of fanzines also avidly followed and collected the work of their peers. Here Richard Wilson, Jr., notable for his long-running fanzine The Science Fiction News Letter, sought to fill gaps in his collection by tapping the usual suspect.

Richard Wilson, Jr. to Forrest J Ackerman, April 11, 1938

This led later in the 1930s to the creation of ‘zines fully dedicated to trading and collecting. Some were simple listings, such as Bob Tucker’s Science and Fantasy Advertiser. The first issue (titled The Science Fiction Advertiser) appeared in October 1938.

The care and dedication of these early collectors has made it possible for today’s fans to encounter the work of the earliest fans. One notable example: Walter A. Coslet of Helena, Montana. Coslet bought, sold and traded science fiction material of all types beginning in the early 1940s. The library he amassed has become a key resource for historians through the archival work of the Coslet-Sapienza Fantasy and Science Fiction Fanzine Collection held by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. From The Kay-Mar Trader of March, 1947, we can see some of Coslet’s offerings to his fellow fans. This copy appears to be annotated by its owner to highlight their haves and wants.

The Kay-Mar Trader, v2n1, March 1947, page 9