Collection Spotlight: One man’s passion for pulp

My passion for collecting started in the mid 1980s although I did enjoy collecting stamps, coins and reading comics as a child. I started to collect comic books again with my 9-year-old son who loved Spider-Man. This was my introduction to popular fiction.

I became intrigued with pulp magazines. In time, I became more interested, not only in the artwork, but also the history of how and where it all began in America. This led me eventually to what I collect now – especially the dime novels, the illustrated periodical, and in particular the story papers from the second half of the 19th century.

This is an area of popular fiction collecting of which only the most ardent collector would be aware. Story papers in particular often have spectacular, large wood cut illustrations on the front page to lure the prospective reader. This was a time before photos were utilized. Although all topics were covered, such as romance, adventure, mystery and so on, the most interesting period for me is from about 1870-1890, often called the Blood and Thunder period.

There were many writers who turned out stories, usually in weekly parts, every week for years. Lost world stories, boy adventures, early science fiction, Western heroes and outlaws were consistently written about and accompanied by great illustrations. Of course, not all are as prolific, yet all are part of American popular fiction history. 

Dime novels had smaller illustrations but most generally had the entire story per issue. Names like Buffalo Bill, Old King Brady, Jesse James, Nick Carter, Frank Merriwell and others, for the most part forgotten today were the foundation from which Americans built their heroes and role models.

I have too many favorites but, I am particularly proud of my “Jesse James Weekly” set in near mint condition, all 139 issues! In story papers I have a long run (735 issues of the 1,000) of “The Boys of New York.” I also have what was the introduction of science fiction – Frank Reade and his “Steam Man of the Plains” based on a real invention from 1868.

Now, I do not only collect dime novels and story papers, although they are the bulk of my collection; I have more than 30,000 issues. Other parts of my collection consist of about 2,000 pulp magazines (down from more than 10,000) with complete sets of The Shadow, Doc Savage, Amazing and Astounding Stories. The key issue I have is the first Tarzan in All Story Magazine from 1912.

 I also collect comic almanacs and have perhaps 60 of these rarities of which 25 are Davy Crockett Almanacs from 1835-1856. In April, I gave a presentation for the PCA (Popular Culture Association) in New Orleans on those Davy Crockett Almanacs, which are probably the most important in regard to popular culture. I am proud to say I have the largest collection of these in the world.

Along with these, I collect popular culture items, of both domestic and foreign sources, as long as they have had a direct impact on American popular fiction. Such rarities include a complete set of the French villain Fantomas, and Ned Kelly, the Australian outlaw. I go back to the gothic novel and have the only known, complete, first printing of the “Vampyre” story by Polidori from 1819.

I also collect periodicals that illustrate and contain humor, crime, scandal and sports often found in the early Police Gazette during and before the time of Richard K. Fox, the publisher. I have perhaps, in total, 1,000 Police Gazettes, Police Illustrated News and even rarer crime and scandal papers along with related pamphlets. There are too many good ones to mention, but a few of my favorites are: Buntline’s Own, The Satirist, Under the Gas Light, Champagne, and Comic Monthly. Others include a bound volume of rare 1883 New York Illustrated Times, which includes John L. Sullivan, etc. I collect handbooks and related booklets and pamphlets as well, which include such rarities as Outlaw Brothers by Richard K. Fox, the soft cover booklet that tells of Wild Bill the scout, the death of Jesse James and Abe Lincoln, and more.

I also collect related broadsides to some extent. One of the most colorful and rare is from “Munro’s Ten Cent Novels” from 1877. I do not collect only fiction; for example, I have the first Courier Extra announcing Lincoln’s assassination on the morning of his death. Also, I do have a few select World War I posters, like the original “Uncle Sam” and “Wake Up, America!”

Most of my working years were in the U.S. Postal Service. Collecting provided me with the stimulus and gratification I never got in my job. All along the way, I have enjoyed collecting and still do.


Spotlight your collection in Antique Trader

Does your collection have a family connection? Does your collection cross the generation gap?

E-mail your story, with captioned photos to or mail to Antique Trader Collecting Spotlight, 700 E State St., Iola, WI 54990, attn: Sandra Sparks.

Photos should be well-focused and clear. Remove items from any protective covering that may cause glare. Include a photo of yourself. If sending your story and photos via e-mail (preferred), see directions below.

Format: Save as jpeg or tiff

Resolution: 200 dpi or higher

Size: Original image must be a minimum of 4 inches wide/deep

Compressing files: If needed, files can be “zipped” and we can unzip them here.

Posting files: Large files also can be posted to our ftp site at; select Inbound folder, then Antique Trader folder. Either drag image or copy and paste it into the folder.

Questions? Call Sandra Sparks at 800-726-9966 x 13233