New Clues about August Derleth’s most elusive book!

60 copies?

25—or less?

More than 5. . . ?

In 2014, here on our AAW website, I summarized all of the bibliographic evidence I could muster regarding August Derleth’s final book, LOVE LETTERS TO CAITLIN—reporting irreconcilable estimates found in various published statements—which dramatically changed in the years following the alleged publication.

Love Letters was listed as “Coming spring 1971” in a 1970 advertising packet from Derleth’s own Arkham House—as well as in a brochure from Peter Ruber’s The Candlelight Press in New York, the ostensible publisher of the item.

Indeed, it made a limited 1971 appearance; but a full decade passed before Derleth fans learned the plan was for 750 copies.

High, compared to the author’s many other fine press collections that typically came in runs of 300–500. But only 100 copies reached Derleth in his hometown of Sauk City. 

How many finished books were there, then: 750, or merely 100?

In the initial blog post, I supplied fans one shocking answer that later evidence put forth: all pages for all copies had been printed, but only 3–4 books were bound for Derleth.

Then contrary evidence surfaced alluding to a larger quantity completed, of which Derleth may have given out up to 12 copies before he died on July 4, 1971.

Settled? A plausible new estimate appeared in 2010, with a bookseller claiming that 200 Love Letters were bound, and that one way or another 20 of these escaped the fate of the rest–—which I interpret as those sent to Derleth.

Leaving what I presented for readers to sift through—hoping one of them might volunteer something that could decide the matter—there was nothing more I could add in 2014.

Since then, however, more bits of information turned up! In particular, I stumbled upon a 1983 listing for Love Letters to Caitlin by recognized authority Roy Squires, the noted bookseller: Item 56 in Catalog No. 8, below which he included the following paragraph under the heading, “August Derleth’s Most Elusive Book”:

Item 56 is the only copy of the book I have ever seen or known to have been offered. Although it had been announced and orders solicited by Arkham House, Peter Ruber, the proprietor of The Candlelight Press, told me in correspondence (1972) that “…we cannot supply Love Letters to Caitlin…the lawyers of the Estate are suppressing the book indefinitely.” And “I have only one autographed copy; August had received about 60 advance copies before Coleman’s heart attack [ and ] the remaining 670 copies remain unbound.” Later a friend of Caroll Coleman’s told me that even he, the printer, had no completed copy. That Derleth did not live to send a copy to Coleman (nor the copy I had ordered in advance) suggests that very few indeed could have escaped from Sauk City before the book was suppressed. That decision by the attorneys is explained by this quote from a letter to me from Derleth (17 January 1970)” “I’m just finishing Love Letters to Caitlin…some of the letters are almost raunchy.” Peter Ruber thought that “…lawyers…are hardly qualified to act as literary critics….” As yet, though, no one at Arkham House has been in effective disagreement with them.

Squires underscored how rare the book already seemed to be, only a dozen years following whatever the quantity produced.

His account, I realized, squared with an April 6, 1970 letter Coleman had sent to Derleth, which, in passing, mentioned, “Ruber has just sent me payment in full for A House Above Cuzco,” another title Derleth offered via The Candlelight Press. Both Ruber and Derleth received from Coleman the copies each would distribute.  

Reconciling these bits, any Love Letters Coleman bound all went directly—and only—to Derleth, which may explain Ruber’s story changing over the years—nothing paid, nothing due, no paperwork—having nothing concrete in his own files, he was himself attempting to piece together the facts…

Suggesting, also, why Ruber’s earlier, nearly real-time explanation in 1972, was likely closest to being correct.

We also can glean from Squires’ remarks that Coleman’s page-sets, if he kept them, probably ended up no more than a line item in his estate, that they no longer exist, and that he was never paid for his trouble.

As for 60 copies bound, I can add that Derleth’s daughter April, in a letter to me, explained that the family attorney, Forrest Hartmann, handling her Dad’s estate—“supposedly”—“‘put away’ for safekeeping” undocumented valuable literary items never recovered after the family broke from his representation.

The newest supporting bit just came in from David Rajchel, how a portion of the lost bound books, 20 copies, were discovered in Derleth’s home, from which he bought and has been reselling 10.

Which brings me to this newest trilogy of estimates: I submit up to 60 Love Letters bound, 25 or fewer accounted for, the rest destroyed or hidden. By strict definition, Love Letters to Caitlin is authentically rare.

Until something new turns up, I leave off except to add that Roy Squires’ item 56 described a fine copy, signed “Cordially, August Derleth”…

None of the copies Rajchel viewed are signed.

Using the last best estimates, the few apart from these Derleth may have handed out remains 12 copies or fewer. The subset of known signed copies—in my long years of sleuthing—stands at five.

If as many as 60 copies, highly sought, the book is nearly fabulous.

How desirable are these signed few?

John D. Haefele submitted this article © 2022, all rights reserved


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