H.C. Koenig. Claude Degler
Most of us collect fantasy books, in a big or little way. But I don’t think that anyone active in the field today collects them as H. C. Koenig of New York used to do. He hunted the best editions or the oldest editions of the fantasy classics. Then he proceeded to tell about these books in THE READER AND COLLECTOR, a publication which he issued through FAPA. Koenig has dropped out of sight lately, and never was really active in fandom, being twice and three times the age of most fans. Here are some of the things that made a lot of collectors drool, excerpted from the December, 1941, issue of his publication:
“No collector of books on the weird and fantastic could lay claim to a complete library if he did not possess at least one copy of “Frankenstein”. My special bookcase holds a very nice copy of this book, issued some years ago by the Limited Editions Club. The book is printed in a new typeface, cut by Goudy. The side of the book is covered with linen, the back binding is a rich red morocco. The illustrations are unique and unusual, in that the illustrator, Everett Henry, attempts to capture all the horror of the story, without ever showing the monster.
“We come to a copy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. One of the best-known and best loved nonsense books, it nevertheless belongs in every fantasy collection. My copy is small size, 5 by 8 inches and runs a little over 200 pages. The book is completely bound in full French levant morocco, stained deep wine in colour. Stamped on the front and back covers and on the backbone are designs made from type ornaments. The one on the backbone is made up of intertwinings of drawings of Alice, The Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit. The designs, incidentally, are stamped in genuine gold. My copy bears the signature of Mrs. Hargreaves, the original Alice.
“That brings me to an interesting book made in Japan, Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn.. This book is completely Japanese; the paper is Japanese linen; the binding is Japanese brocade; the illustrations are by a Japanese, Yoshimura Fouljita, and the book was printed by Shimbi Shoin in Tokyo. The book contains about twenty illustrations in colour. I understand that the opening illustration required fifty-one impressions. The outer case for this edition is a wrap-case. It is made of heavy Japanese silk and is wrapped around the book itself and fastened by two ivory tabs. The book is not bound the way we do it in this country. The front and back boards (covered with a golden brocade) are laid on the top and bottom of the stack of sheets and the whole sewed together with blue silk.”
Incidentally, Koenig was the only person to my knowledge ever to produce fanzines as most of us dream of producing them. He wrote the stuff, then turned it over to his secretary for stencilling, duplicating, and assembling.
The days of the costume ball at science fiction conventions seem to be dying away. Here’s how Milt Rothman described in the December, 1941, issue of the Southern Star, the getup worn at the Convention that night:
“Mr. Heinlein, Adam Stink, the world’s most lifelike robot. In other words, no costume at all. Mrs. Heinlein, Queen Niphar from “Figures of Earth”, by Cabel. She wore a sort of semi-oriental dress with much costume jewellery. Walt Daugherty: A Galactic Roamer. His costume was put together out of plastic material which he obtained as remnants from the aeroplane factory in which he works. The stuff actually cost $500 to make, counting the experimental work involved in obtaining the particular shape.
“E. Everett Evans: Bug-Eyed Monster from Rhea. Completely hand made. A blue and yellow suit with a helmet made of dozens of feathers pasted on one by one. Horribly hot to wear.
“Art Widner: He obtained a frightful rubber mask and came as Granny from “Slan” with speech and all.
“damon knight: A sloppy looking sort of John Star complete with Junior G Man Medal.
“Ackerman: A most horrible looking rubber mask. Indescribable. The same for Morojo.
“William Deutch of New York put on a little beard and a French accent and handed out Life Line prophecies.
“Chet Chosen grew a Christ-like beard and cane as a prophet; Cyril Kornbluth looked natural and came as a mad scientist; and Doc Lowndes put a mercurochrome cut around his neck, powder on his face, and eyebrow pencil on his eyes and was a lovely zombie. The three of then did not put on the act which they were supposed to.
“Elmer Meukel , of Washington (state of) appeared in fancy blue shirt end orange bathing trunks to represent the Probable Man.”
The Southern Star was the official organ of the Dixie Fantasy Federation. The people who were back of it have vanished completely. I think a virus must have gotten them, although the draft was blamed for a while. Joseph Gilbert, Harry Jenkins, Lee Eastman, Fred Fischer, Art Sennert, and others — where are they now?
Claude Degler and his Cosmic Circle were going strong in 1943, with plans for starting a colony of fans in the Ozarks, mimeographed publications in incredible profusion, and Degler himself hitchhiking from coast to coast on a “good will tour of fandom” that caused a spectacular set of fusses and feuds. He even planned a competitor for the PAPA as one of the minor facets or the Cosmic Circle, and issued a bunch of stuff reprinting one mailing of the Cosmic Amateur Publishers Alliance. Much of this mailing was devoted to Degler’s complaints against T. Bruce Yerke, who had gone so far as to suggest that the Cosmic Circle might not be all that it was cracked up to be. Typical of Degler’s pacification methods is the following excerpt from Cosmic Circle Commentator #4:
“War of Nerves. For several days all manner of furious activity, intended speeches, heated debates and arguments, which at times reach alarming proportions, have been taking place.
“A circular was sent out by Bruce Yerke, and the articles in the Analyzer & Raym’s “Bulletin” by the other side. Various factions took sides, one way or the other. Many persons and things having no connection with the original argument or matter however, came to be involved & dragged into the melee; Should this matter have continued even one very small, little step further, no one, and nothing on earth could have kept this Society & all Fandom from having become involved in fanwide controversy that would have certainly resulted in the most gosh-awful mess any of us can possibly imagine. HOW NEAR this actually came to happening, no one but the few key persons directly concerned will EVER KNOW. After much controversy, heated discussions, “Strategy of terror”, by “measures & counter-measures” - & long and serious discussions with everyone involved…. the so-called “War of Nerves” has now been relieved.”
I make no effort to reproduce the more mysterious aspects of Degler’s punctuation, and I resist the temptation to quote about eight pages of this magazine that sound suspiciously like a war of nerves in themselves. Instead, here are a few “Headlines” quoted from the same issue:
“J. MICHAEL ROSENBLUM ENGLISH REPRESENTATIVE OF THE COSMIC CIRCLE PLANET FANTASY FEDERATION, if this is acceptable to him. Word has not yet had time to be received from him.
“MISS HELEN BRADLEIGH MADE ‘PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER’, a position higher than that of the Psychological Ministry. The new position is connected with the ‘OFFICE COSMIC EDUCATION (OCE)………..’
“HELEN CONDUCTS SUMMER SCHOOL FOR THE ‘COSMIC’ CHILDREN WORLDS 1st STF. COSMIC SCHOOL. Sometime we will have our own schools for Cosmen. We of the COUNCIL PLEDGE that we will never give up the 4 year-long WAR we have fought with the ‘Powers of Darkness’ (Unenlightenment & Ignorance) until this is so.”