Category Archives: AAW History and Affiliates

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


A day in the lives of the Fictioneers

The duplicating process used, spirit or mimeo, made it difficult to transcribe but worth the trouble, for I had found a lost record, an artifact full of insights, one which finally sheds light on the fabulous Milwaukee Fictioneers.

The find was an early science fiction fan publication, the FANTASY-NEWS. According to the masthead, Will Sykora was editor, abetted by three able associates surnamed Taurasi, Moskowitz, and Racic—any of whom might have conveyed the news within.

More likely it was a member of the Fictioneers who submitted the story, allowing its use verbatim.

Indeed, it reads Bho-Blôkian.

In which case, here is what Mr. Bloch reported:

On Wed. Jan. 17th, Ralph Milne Farley, well-known science fiction author, entertained “The Milwaukee Fictioneers”, a group of well-known pulp mag authors, at his home in South Milwaukee. Among the prominent stf personalities present were: Ray Palmer, editor of AMAZING STORIES, Robert Bloch, Jerry K. Westerfield, Leo A. Schmidt, and Arthur R. Tofte.
A novel feature of the gathering was a rebus game played by those present. The game consisted in guessing what magazine was represented by each of various groups of objects. For example, a stick of wood in the bathtub represented the SATURDAY EVENING POST, and two lead soldiers on a toy stove represented RANGE RIDERS. Earnest Brent won the first prize, a gilt food-inspection medal on a piece of Harvard Lampoon hat-band for a ribbon; and Robert Bloch won the second prize, a Junior G-Man badge. Earnest guessed 16, and Bob 15, titles out of 28. Palmer failed to guess his own magazine, represented by the letters “MA”, a picture of a man singing, and a skyscraper. None could guess MARVEL TALES, represented by a china dachshund with two cigarets where the tale should be. 
Farley’s story, “Caves of Ocean”, is running currently in THE VOICE, a South Milwaukee newspaper.

Or was it Palmer who made this submission?


Some mysteries still abound…

John D. Haefele submitted this article.

© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.

Candlelight Press: Derleth’s Vanity Imprint?

I should perhaps say a word or two about vanity publishing. Many writers have published their own work, among them some of the most eminent in the core tradition of American literature. Many more have taken part in cooperative publishing. For a writer to seek out a printer and arrange to have his work brought out is testimony of his faith in himself; he may — probably will — lose money, but at least he will not be paying some vanity publisher to lose it for him, and double the sum he will lose … Self-publication need carry no stigma; but vanity publishing certainly does.

(Derleth, “My Life in Poetry”)

August Derleth

Wisconsin writer and publisher August William Derleth (1909–71) skirted the label of vanity publishing, despite issuing hundreds of books under four owned imprints, including numerous titles of his own. Doing so successfully required not only adroit maneuvering, but frequent explaining.

Of the four publishing ventures, is there any connoisseur today who has not learned of Arkham House, Derleth’s pioneering specialty press established in 1939 to publish exclusively supernatural fiction? Its books still fervently sought and collected today — still trading at ever-climbing prices? 

Arkham’s first was the omnibus The Outsider and Others, a huge collection of tales by H. P. Lovecraft, first as well by that now-famous author. But Arkham’s second was Someone in the Dark, a Derleth title, the first to raise the specter of vanity publishing and the need for the following oft-repeated explanation:

What changed my mind about publishing more widely was the collecting of my own first book of ghost stories. My contract with Scribner’s, who had by this time published several of my historical novels and other books, called for first rejection rights on any manuscript prepared for publication. I accordingly sent them the manuscript of Someone in the Dark. In rejecting it — again on the basis of potentially too slender sales — Bill Weber suggested that, since I had an imprint specifically related to the field in Arkham House, I ought to publish the book myself. I replied that I did not look with favor on anything that smacked of vanity publishing. He in turn answered that the difference between vanity publishing and good business was the difference between throwing away money to gratify vanity and making it on a sound publishing venture. He explained that, if Scribner’s published Someone in the Dark, they could sell at best 2,000 copies at a retail price of $2.00, and thus earn for me something like $400.00 in royalties. At the most generous estimate, reprint sales might bring in another $500.00, which, by contract, must be shared with the publisher. If, however, I published the book myself, no such division of income would be necessary.        

(Derleth, “All ‘Round Bookman”)

In 1945 Derleth launched a “companion” imprint, Mycroft & Moran, to gratify fans of a small subgenre of fantasy: occult detective stories and Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Because he revered the famous Great Detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, M&M became a vehicle for the adventures of Solar Pons, Derleth’s pastiche of Sherlock Holmes — most of which had been previously published, separately, in scattered periodicals.

As a rule, for all authors, the two imprints were used to collect or anthologize stories already published. But there were occasions when Derleth composed a new short to “round out” a collection. And he did add stories to his own to The Survivor and Others that were sitting in the queue, publication pending, when Weird Tales magazine — pretty much the only surviving market for these tales — suddenly stopped publishing.

These liberties only affected this commercial vein of Derleth’s writing, the fiction he referred to collectively as “entertainments,” a small — in the author’s mind inconsequential — portion of his total output.

Also in 1945, for serious work — the novels, novelettes, short stories and poems he wrote about rural Wisconsin — Derleth christened his third imprint, Stanton & Lee. Most titles of this list were reprints of books published by other publishers. Necessary, Derleth believed, because all pieces of his “saga” were connected, and it was a way to keep the necessary titles in print and whatever else he fancied to publish, even collections of popular cartoon strips. Ostensibly, even with Stanton & Lee, Derleth managed to sidestep the vanity publishing charge.

Decades later Derleth introduced a nonfiction book to mark a landmark anniversary — Thirty Years of Arkham House: 1939-1969 — a “comprehensive bibliography of the publications of Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints throughout the [first] 30 years of its existence.” Purportedly, he was describing all of the books he had published. But in fact he omitted a fourth imprint for reasons never explained. But, in Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Overlooked Imprint,” I discerned a partial explanation, but more importantly how H&W served as a Stanton & Lee “name-change” during the period when Derleth was issuing poetry books.

And how Derleth’s precise wording in the bibliography itself revealed a likely motive — “Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints” — the use of “its” being the operative word, not Derleth and his owned imprints — by suggesting a cost in time and money that for him was prohibitive. How recording the contents of the missing books, adding pages of H&W journal and collection poem titles would for a relatively low-demand book, of limited interest to a subset of Arkham House patrons, nudge expenses up to an unacceptable level.

Besides, there was more that should have been mentioned…

Because the threads that bound Derleth’s self-publishing efforts involved yet a fifth imprint: The Candlelight Press of New York and Copenhagen. Ownership notwithstanding, Candlelight may be the gray area regarding Derleth and vanity publishing.

Candlelight Press did not exist when Peter Ruber lived in New York, 1960–62, employed as the Advertising and Public Relations Director for a major food service organization. In his spare time, he had edited The Baker Street Gasogene, a Sherlockian journal to which Derleth happened to subscribe — all that Peter Ruber knew of Derleth was a handful of Solar Pons stories he had stumbled upon in magazines.

Learning that the Gasogene was failing, Derleth, an advocate of this sort of “Little Review” publishing, offered gratis a short piece on Solar Pons, which Ruber accepted gratefully and published in the fourth issue. Although the “Sherlockian Quarterly” did fail, there began between them “a friendly correspondence for a decade, exchanging letters about mutual literary interests and business.”

Ruber had also been working on an informal “biography” of a mutual friend, journalist, bibliophile, and author, Vincent Starrett, whom he occasionally visited in Chicago.


As did Derleth, Ruber not only cherished The Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes, but also The Great Bookman, Vincent Starrett. And before long, he would also cherish That Other Great Detective, Solar Pons, and That Other Great Bookman, August Derleth! “August was as much a literary anachronism as the old bookman I was writing about….”

Derleth invited Ruber to visit nearby Sauk City, which he did May 1962. The two discussed publishing, Ruber writing later, “I have taken your advice about calling the VS work The Last Bookman — I personally think it is a grand suggestion.”

Together they planned to publish Derleth’s memoir of three acclaimed regional authors: Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters. The latter especially had impacted Derleth’s early regional work — notably the ongoing series of poems that appeared for years under the banner “Sac Prairie People,” modeled upon Masters’ singular Spoon River Anthology epitaphs about life in neighboring Illinois. Originally merely a pastiche (as Derleth did of other favorites, including Doyle, Thoreau, and Lovecraft), “Sac Prairie People” evolved into an ongoing homage.

Most importantly, Ruber and Derleth decided to launch a new publishing imprint that would hail from “New York and Copenhagen” (the latter location, presumably, relating to Ruber’s forbears). One that would provide the degrees of separation Derleth needed, a bulwark to show, as he so often groused, “it wasn’t vanity publishing if the books sold”:    

Now, there is nothing wrong in a publisher’s sharing costs with an author. It is sometimes done by reputable publishers with highly specialized books, and it is honestly done. The author should know, however, that reviewers all know the vanity press imprints; that books bearing these imprints are very seldom reviewed; and that a certain stigma attaches to an author who is unwise enough to seek publication through a vanity publishing house. At the same time it is perfectly true that many good books never find publishers, especially in this period of relatively high production costs, and the temptation to produce one’s own book is naturally perfectly understandable and wholly honest.

(Derleth, “The Author and His Public”)

In late 1963, The Candlelight Press debuted with two paperbound titles: Derleth’s Three Literary Men and Ruber’s The Last Bookman. (Also published: two small chapbooks in the mystery-detective field: Finch’s Final Fling, by J. A. Finch, and Strange Studies from Life, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.) 

Another two were on the drawing board: Praed Street Studies (published as Praed Street Papers) and the off-trail “The Adventure of the Orient Express,” which Derleth described:

It is tongue-in-cheek … all the way through while being done straight; only aficionados of the detective story may catch it … it just isn’t the sort of story that will go over with a magazine.

Derleth to Ruber: April 9, 1963

Duly published, the two chapbooks appeared in 1965. As the introduction to Praed Street Papers, Ruber’s “A Weekend with August Derleth” dramatized the 1962 Sauk City visit. Overall, it is generally accurate, fulsome, even creative, but Derleth, after receiving his copy, in a letter dated June 17, 1965, called out two dozen little details Ruber ad-libbed:

I have no very great feeling of pain about all this, I hasten to assure you, though it comes close to making me out a sort of boor; it is only that as this sort of imaginary accounting builds up, it becomes ever more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction, and in time the legend simply outgrows the facts.

Although he understood that the slightly-larger-than-life-character Ruber shaped was only to further interest in himself, Derleth filed for posterity a carbon copy of the corrections letter — a patented tactic he did often to head-off controversies.

The relationship between Ruber and Derleth continued to flourish. In “A Portrait of August Derleth,” Ruber reveals how before visiting Derleth he had stayed awake nights “devouring his life’s literary output.” And how it pleased Derleth to learn he favored the “Sac Prairie stories better than his detective or macabre fiction….”

Peter Ruber

Having a publisher based in New York was important to Derleth — a presence in that literary mecca, on the fringe at least. Years earlier, in the mid-1940s, Derleth reached enviable heights with his books published by the prestigious firm of Charles Scribner’s Sons, and even as the Ruber years began, he was affiliated with another Big Apple publisher, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, but he was also weighing what that arrangement afforded him against other avenues more lucrative. Sales figures of Arkham House books were burgeoning, with commitments in place for many more — resources were limited, especially time. (Only one Mycroft & Moran book and one Stanton & Lee book had been published 1963–65, the latter a Scribner’s reprint — the same interval during which Derleth brought down the curtain on Hawk & Whippoorwill, ending the journal he edited and discontinuing the imprint altogether.)   

Thus with Ruber, as he suggests himself in “A Portrait of August Derleth,” Derleth saw another way forward:

Due to his instigation I put myself into hock over my ears and formed a publishing company specializing in regional and literary books, and August was the center of it, helping me to distribute certain titles through his own publishing venture, Arkham House….

The pot now boiling, Derleth visited New York City in 1965. Between face-to-face meetings, he teased Ruber with routine updates, reporting on January 3, 1966 how he had completed a “a segment of Return to Walden West” and “must soon begin my next junior novel.” Augmenting frequent letter exchanges, Ruber cited the “innumerable telephone conversations.”

At some point, seemingly, this decision: The Candlelight Press would fulfill the purpose ceded by moribund Stanton & Lee. Years later in the introduction to Country Matters, Ruber shed light on how the entire arrangement also benefitted him:  

I became his primary publisher in 1965, after Duell, Sloane & Pearce’s parent company, Meredith Press, decided to shift its editorial focus to more commercial literary properties. Having a New York publishing imprint for the Sac Prairie Saga was important to August; and having an established writer with his credentials on my list was a distinct advantage to me. It was the ideal foundation for a business arrangement. The association gave him control over what he wanted to have published, instead of being subjected to the usual editorial board scrutiny at Duell. In addition to my retail and library distribution, August distributed his books to his Arkham House patrons, and benefitted from the maximum distributor discount on top of his royalties, thus maximizing his income.

Plus, he shares an insight into the unique relationship Derleth required of publishers:

But getting his books into print was often a stormy affair. August wasn’t the easiest man to work with. He was bull-headed, opinionated ─ sometimes he was just damned pushy. Not all of his publishers understood his compulsive need to be in control. I would often infuriate him by not jumping at his advice. He was involved with all aspects of production, from cover designs to page layouts, and we frequently locked horns over these issues.

Essentially the propensities that led to the break with Scribner’s, which caused Derleth to begin his own Stanton & Lee label. This time he was moving more cautiously, but on May 11, 1966 he wrote Ruber:

I haven’t broken with Duell. They are still publishing for me, but primarily the junior novels; they have nothing major of mine coming and are not likely to have, though they continue to want to see the serious adult work I do; I don’t feel committed to them, though.

Nothing more need be said.

The New York Times hailed The Candlelight Press “interesting,” and the Chicago Tribune labeled Candlelight the “exciting … new-comer in publishing”; from 1963 on, for the remainder of Derleth’s life, new Candlelight titles (nearly all of them by Derleth) emerge to fit seamlessly the S&L / H&W legacy:

Hawk & Whippoorwill 1960-1963 (H&W 1963)

Three Literary Men (CL 1963)

Brief Argument (H&W 1964)

Restless is the River (S&L 1965)

The Adventure of the Orient Express (CL 1965)

Praed Street Papers (CL 1965)

Wisconsin Country (CL 1965)

Intent on Earth (CL 1965)

A Wisconsin Harvest (S&L 1966)

The House on the Mound (S&L 1966)

Eyes of the Mole (S&L 1967)

Collected Poems (CL 1967)

New Poetry Out of Wisconsin (S&L 1969)

A House Above Cuzco (CL 1969)

The Wind Leans West (CL 1969)

Three Straw Men (CL 1970)

Return to Walden West (CL 1970)

Corn Village: A Selection (S&L 1970)

This Undying Quest (S&L 1971)

Night Letters, S&L 1971: first edition Frances May poems [Villiers]

Love Letters to Caitlin (CL 1971)

Indeed, one book on this list proves Derleth’s behind-the-scenes Candlelight involvement — Intent on Earth by Marcia Lee Masters, which has (typical of the other four imprints) a jacket by the Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel, and this colophon:

                Five hundred copies of this book have been printed
                from Linotype Caledonia, by the Collegiate Press, The
		George Banta Company, Inc., Menasha, Wisconsin. The 
		paper is Old Style Wove, and the cloth is Bancroft Devon.

Although a poet of merit herself, how does one overlook Marcia’s father being the celebrated Spoon River poet and how, because of that fact, she met — and for a period of time had been engaged to marry — August Derleth?

In Derleth: Hawk…and Dove, Dorothy Litersky not only notes Marcia’s collection of poetry, long underway, but a relationship renewed: “In late 1962 … their romance … sparked back to life briefly.” She adds:

Marcia and August kept in touch, meeting for lunch when Derleth was in Chicago … and when Derleth initiated the establishment of a vanity publishing house to provide a New York outlet for his reprints, Marcia’s poetry volume, Intent on Earth [was] published…. 

The reference above — Derleth’s vanity publishing house — was not a slip. Nor was the following comment made by Derleth’s close friend Donald Wandrei, in a August 25, 1975 letter to the Wisconsin State Historical Society: “All of the Derleth imprints were privately owned: Stanton & Lee, Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, Arkham House Publishers, Candlelight Press, etc.”

The Candlelight Press!

These days, because of everything above, The Candlelight Press should interest not only S&L / H&W completests for the books, but also Arkham House collectors for two pieces of Derleth-related publisher’s ephemera: the first, a 1963 Candlelight brochure announcing his Three Literary Men and The Last Bookman.

Also in this brochure, a Sherlock Holmes statue sculpted by Luques Whitmore and four titles as forthcoming, though never published by Candlelight: John Jasper’s Devotion by Nathan Bengis (published elsewhere 1974–75); Fulminations of a Nocturnal Bookman by Russell Kirk (unpublished, apart from excerpts); Two Sonnet Sequences by Jacob C. Solovay (published by Luther Norris in 1969); and The Dog that Spoke French by Vincent Starrett.

Arkham House subscribers saw their first hint of Candlelight Press in 1964, items 62–64 on Don Herron’s “A Checklist of the Classic Years” ephemera; without citing Candlelight by name, Derleth’s blurb promotes “The Adventure of the Orient Express.” But in 1965 Books by August Derleth, in his typical Stock List format, with the Order Blank addressed to “Arkham House” — item 75 on Herron’s list — we find six Derleth books: one Mycroft & Moran, one Duell, Sloan & Pearce, one Prairie Press, and three, Candlelight!  

As for Candlelight’s full slate of books, the press slowed in 1967–68 to only one book by Derleth and a cloth reissue of The Last Bookman, which suggests that funding separate advertising of its own had become prohibitive. For his part, in “Other Books from Arkham House / H&W Press Books” — a brochure mailed with early issues of The Arkham Collector — Derleth called out his Collected Poems: “A Candlelight Press Book. Coming September 1967.” A year later, in the subsequent “New and Forthcoming Books by August Derleth,” he described four new Candlelight releases, including A House Above Cuzco. In 1971, there were another six, including the new Return to Walden West…

In 1970 Candlelight was on the move again. Ruber managed even to publish a handful of items of personal interest, including Letter to an American by Kenneth Paul Shorey (not seen), and a new Candlelight brochure — the second ephemera piece of note; under the category “New” books, Derleth’s Return to Walden West, Love Letters to Caitlin, and The Three Straw Men. Also Marcia Master’s Intent on Earth. And The Office — A Facility Based on Change by Robert Prost. “Recent” books, Derleth’s A House Above Cuzco and The Wind Leans West. Also, the new The Last Bookman and Pictures from Hell, a poetry book by Luke M. Grande. “Forthcoming Books” included Master’s Grandparp, “Announced previously as When the Butterflies Talked,” Starrett’s Death Watch, and Derleth’s “revised and enlarged” Literary Papers — intriguing, for whose names he may have added, probably Jesse Stuart, H. P. Lovecraft, Maxwell Perkins and possibly Farnsworth Wright, even William T. Evjue.

Undoubtedly, it would be the final book in a Candlelight bibliography. Questions surround Love Letters to Caitlin. On November 26, 1988, in a letter to the August Derleth Society, a fan-based group, Ruber explained the sudden demise of his press:

The Caitlin book was never released. At the time of his death, all the pages had been printed, and three or four copies had been hard-bound by the Prairie Press to illustrate the finished product. Derleth’s lawyer suppressed the publication …. I recall being quite annoyed by his unilateral action, and angry words were exchanged. As a result, I closed down Candlelight Press, and a half-dozen important Derleth novels and short story collections that Derleth and I planned to bring out never saw the light of day….

To the best of my knowledge the list of titles below fully represents the six-year run of The Candlelight Press — all books plus two advertising brochures — an equal link in a chain that includes Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and Hawk & Whippoorwill.


New York & Copenhagen

Candlelight Press (1963, catalog)

Three Literary Men (1963)

The Last Bookman (1963, paperbound)

Finch’s Final Fling (1963)

Strange Studies from Life (1963)

The Adventure of the Orient Express (1965)

Praed Street Papers (1965)

Wisconsin Country (1965)

Intent on Earth (1965)

Letter to an American (1965–68?)

Collected Poems (1967)

The Last Bookman (1968, clothbound)

Pictures from Hell (1969)

A House Above Cuzco (1969)

The Wind Leans West (1969)

Candlelight Press (1969, catalog)

Three Straw Men (1970)

Return to Walden West (1970)

Love Letters to Caitlin (1971)

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2021. All rights reserved.

Christmas Card Mystery Solved?

To all my friends and acquaintances … the last card I shall send out.  


Years ago on this Allied Authors website in “A Derleth Christmas Card,” I touted an unexpected find I made in a local antique store: a series of unique Christmas cards issued by Wisconsin’s famous author — and close friend of Allied Authors — August Derleth.

Unexpected, because even in his home state, Derleth’s proverbial backyard, such finds are fewer and farther between, with his fame continuing to grow.  

Admittedly, the title of that brief notice — intimating one card only — may have misled the reader who failed to canvas the entire page, which described the distinct family of cards I found — each exhibiting a new poem by Derleth and each a new illustration by Derleth’s friend, Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel.

Reproduced from woodcuts, Utpatel’s panoramas are hallmark. Black and white country views, shadowy, textured, stamped onto white paper backgrounds — each delineating the “silent nights” of a typical Wisconsin winter.

Regarding the expressive poems, I hazarded how for a period of years…

Derleth chose one he newly favored for inspiration, composed a new Christmas/New Year poem, and then stamped these onto heavy stock paper to give as a holiday greeting. Derleth personalized each by signing them individually and adding a few warm patches of yellow [or orange] moonlight.

To be accurate, not every card has a crayon or marker highlight on Utpatel’s illustration. It is missing from two that I found, but the other three, it always seemed to me, were made more seasonally appropriate because of this added touch of warmth.

Above the illustration, Derleth’s personal year-end greeting. Below, the holiday stanzas, suited to both premise and scene. “Cabinet”-sized for stand-up display, approximately 5-3/8″ x 4-1/4″, printed one-sided only. The two lacking Derleth’s highlight were landscape oriented; the others, portrait.

And near the bottom, added to every card, Derleth’s carefully executed signature.

I knew immediately that the Derleth-Utpatel cards were rare — components of some little-known subset of the many item-categories associated with August Derleth, all assiduously collected. And only discovered because I had been searching for the author’s publishing ephemera, including the professionally printed catalogs, brochures, and stock lists Derleth distributed free to the patrons of Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and Hawk & Whippoorwill.

Knowledgeable fans of Derleth believed the cards were products of the ’60s, even as I stubbornly insisted the signatures looked more like those from early in his career, as in the older books on my shelves. No one knew how many years he did these, but I was sure that one day we would discover the number of different cards there were (not something a recipient would be apt to casually toss out), as well as how many of each had been printed, the true indicator of how rare one or another of the cards might be.  

Recently, a new card did turn up, though printed on thin paper and measuring 6-5/8″ x 10-5/8.” And yet, in its important aspects, it was the same ilk, from the same series, a remarkable card that provided, circumstantially, what I needed to piece together their history.

Six cards, I deduced, comprise the entire series — a safe conclusion, despite similar cards Derleth created, especially during the heady early days of his career. The author’s Christmas card for 1935, as example (pictured occasionally in the August Derleth Society Newsletter, the official organ of the fanbase today), featured the frontispiece from Place of Hawks, Derleth’s newest book that year. 

Derleth’s plan for the new card I found — and the reason for the thin paper — allowed him to mail them all folded, in a separate envelope. The heavier paper used for the other five, a blank side available for address and postage, made them suitable for traveling the U.S. Mail system, as a postcard for only a 1-cent stamp. 

Why, then, would Derleth pay 3 cents apiece to envelope all of No. 6? Because he used the blank side for the personal message that began ominously, “To all My Friends … the last card I shall send out.”

Four paragraphs to explain: “From one hundred cards a few years ago to many hundreds this year … at this rate, ten years from now, the Christmas card problem, would occupy all my time from early November to the end of the year.” And, in conclusion, to offer friends and acquaintances “good wishes not only for this annual holiday season, but for all the year ’round, and for every year of their lives.”

Obviously, card No. 6 was the last in the series (the reason I have always referred to it as No. 6, even though the order of the other five had yet to be decided), which also intimated that Derleth himself viewed the group as distinct.  

From card No. 6, we also learn this important fact: there were 100 copies of card No 1.

Unfortunately, as with the others, I had nothing that gave up the year card No. 6 went out.    

But, like the card itself, the answer to that key question popped up unexpectedly, serendipitously, in an old booklet I was glancing through: Catalog 6, Modern Literature, issued ca. 1972 by bookseller Roy A. Squires.

For sale, a copy of Derleth’s poetry collection, Rind of the Earth, with an added bonus:

Laid in is a folded leaflet, Derleth’s Christmas card, with an Utpatel illustration, a poem (which appears in the book), and a message including the statement that this “…is the last card I shall send out.” Signed in ink; in original envelope, postmarked Dec. 16, 1941.

Card No. 6, Christmas 1941!

A recent collection of Derleth’s verse, a poem selected for the greeting, another of the author’s early signatures; all fell sensibly into place. Comparing Derleth’s earlier poetry collections to the other five cards confirmed how each had heralded a recent, or forthcoming, volume of his poetry. With 1935 out of the running, the 1936–41 span fit perfectly — six cards over six years — listed here for the first time, poem and collection, numbered in order:

  1. December 1936 introduced the poem titled “Time Being Winter,” collected in Hawk on the Wind (1938).
  2. December 1937 introduced “Lonely Place,” collected in Man Track Here (1939).
  3. December 1938 introduced “Winter Moon,” collected in Man Track Here (1939).
  4. December 1939 introduced “Roofs,” collected in Here on a Darkling Plain (1940).
  5. December 1940 introduced “Two Variations on a Theme” but included only the first of these studies subtitled “Christmas,” collected in Rind of Earth (1942).
  6. December 1941 introduced “Tree in the Window,” the second variation from the same collection

Odd clues I had previously logged now fit the pattern like pieces in a puzzle. A 1937 reference in Derleth’s correspondence to cards printed at the News, where the author routinely purchased stationery items, the latest American Mercury, and the local newspaper by proprietor Bert Giegerich. Back then his ad ran:

Founded in 1876 — “Eight Big Pages Every Week” — The Sauk County News in Prairie du Sac

Besides the News, Bert promoted “quality job printing and new or used office equipment.”

Another clue I found in a 1993 August Derleth Society Newsletter back-issue, a prepublication announcement for a six-card set of Derleth Christmas card reprints, for $5.00 plus $2.00 shipping & handling.


An offer never repeated, the set probably never printed.

Still, new evidence could turn up to alter my conclusions above. Dating of the woodcuts, for example, might throw off the timeline. Although it is logical to assume Derleth fashioned a different card for each of the six years, it is possible he issued two in the Christmas seasons where the same collection was sourced; however, the more logical explanation is that happened only when a newer collection had not been published.

There is also a letter dated December 17, 1942, a correspondent telling Derleth: “I picked up one of your Utpatel-Derleth cards at Moseley’s to send to a friend.” What does it mean, I wonder, if the cards had also been sold at a bookstore located at 10 East Mifflin Street in Madison? Did Derleth have a commercial angle? And if he printed extras to sell locally that never caught on, never became lucrative, was that the reason he pulled the plug?

Or did Derleth simply change his writing emphasis? Other than homages to Thoreau, 1943 and 1944 came and went without new poetry collections.

Even with the mystery solved, these niggling questions remain…

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.

Who knows Solar Pons?

In 1953—with tongue firmly in cheek—editor Anthony Boucher provided readers of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction the lowdown on August Derleth:

Mr. August Derleth is the literary agent in this country for such writers as Stephen Grendon, H. Russell Wakefield and Lyndon Parker, M. D. Dr. Parker is the Boswell of that modern master of the science of deduction, Mr. Solar Pons, the famed consulting detective of 7B Praed Street, London. Mr. Derleth has marketed three volumes of the Doctor’s accounts of his friend’s triumphs: In Re: Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Solar Pons and Three Problems for Solar Pons (all published by Mycroft & Moran)—a criminously delightful trio that any reader will, as Vincent Starrett say, “accept with enthusiasm.”

Boucher was himself a well-known critic and mystery writer. Starrett had become a leading authority on the world-famous literary detective, Sherlock Holmes. And Derleth was Wisconsin’s most prolific regional writer and publisher.

What resonated with readers, however, was the inference here—and in the new story “The Adventure of the Snitch in Time” (recalled with the help of science fiction writer Mack Reynolds)—that Solar Pons is Sherlock Holmes, just as Dr. Parker is Sherlock’s sidekick Dr. Watson . . .

Adding nuanced meaning to a question Derleth asked when publishing the Pons collections of stories under his own M&M imprint:

“Do You Know Solar Pons?”


Do You Know


If this doesn’t ring the bell, go back and read my earlier post on this site: The Mystery of the Milwaukee – Chicago – Sauk City Connection

Then you will know why Solar Pons—as does Sherlock Holmes—has his own legion of fans who seek out the Derleth detective’s earliest appearances in the American wood-pulp magazines of the 1920s and 30s . . .




And collect Derleth’s M&M books, known as the Pontine canon—collect even the publishing ephemera associated with those books.

Literary people know all about ephemera—in this case, almost anything related to a press, or imprint, items with a limited lifespan not offered for sale to the public. Advertising. Giveaways. Those that do the collecting are the diehard fans, and usually it is the paper items they collect.

As for Pontine ephemera, check out what my partner Don Herron posted only a few years ago:  Don concluded his blog by noticing, “Yeah, I guess the ephemera collecting game is once more afoot…”

And so it was.

In fact, it had been afoot for a long time.

Way back in 1985, Mycroft & Moran and Arkham House collector—the House being Derleth’s more famous publishing imprint specializing in supernatural fiction—Phillip T. Mays and bookseller-publisher Roy A. Squires issued a little chapbook bibliography, The Phil Mays Collection of Arkham House Ephemerae: A Descriptive Listing.

Combining the two imprints made sense, because Derleth usually included M&M within Arkham’s more famous Stock Lists and bulletins. Almost immediately the little items listed in Squires-Mays began to sky-rocket in price, a large contingent of Arkham or Derleth collectors wanting to find and add each and every one to their collections.

A difficult task to complete with so many of the pieces genuinely rare—with little or no knowledge of the quantities originally printed, or how many now survive.

Mays included two advertising pieces Derleth used to promote only M&M titles: the first a postcard that announced “— a new Mycroft & Moran book, coming December 12, 1952 . . . Three Problems for Solar Pons”; and then a brochure that blared, “Coming Late in 1955! The Return of Solar Pons.”

At this point you might ask why these ephemera pieces are important . . .

To which I would respond by asking, “How well do you know Solar Pons?

That’s because I’ve sampled the little treasures of interesting information one can find buried in the ephemera. For example, from—and only from—the Mays find could I deduce the true story behind the small and unusual Three Problems book—unusually small compared to earlier collections in that it contained only three of the detective’s adventures.


3 Problems


Yes, a little digging turns up the fact that Derleth published this book in the 50’s when small publishers were struggling for sales against changing tastes and the rising costs of doing business following World War II—who wouldn’t think Derleth wasn’t merely responding to these operational realities?

The ephemera pieces suggest otherwise—a motive perhaps historically significant . . .

The very moment Derleth decided he would mirror in pastiche the entire Sherlock Holmes canon produced by Arthur Conan Doyle, who had once brought the Holmes canon to a temporary end, interrupting it after chronicling twenty-six adventures.

Derleth introduces Three Problems sadly, proclaiming that “These are quite possibly the last Solar Pons pastiches I shall write,” for reasons he blamed on new activity within the Doyle estate…

Three brought the total of Pons adventures in print to exactly 26.

Coincidence? Perhaps there was a coded message in the utterance Derleth is known to have begun making: “I think Doyle had, and so Derleth must also have”. . .

A message of intent which explains how the meaningful title for the next volume of Pons chronicles series was decided; mimicking that of Doyle’s third Holmes collection, it would be The Return of Solar Pons.

None of this is to say that Derleth, a cagey publisher with excellent business sense, didn’t make at least one adjustment to cope with a softened market: he trimmed his initial order of Three Problems, estimated (if we believe the colophon) to have been 2,000 books, down to 990—probably the exact number of patrons who had routinely purchased the earlier collections.

We learn as well from the M&M ephemera Mays listed another tantalizing, behind-the-scenes, bit of data. How otherwise would we know that the collection Derleth planned to follow The Return had, for a short while, The Problems of Solar Pons as its working title? Only from the ephemera do we learn this, a “lost title” apparently undreamed of by Sheldon Jeffery–or else it would’ve been with the others he included under that heading in The Arkham House Companion (1989), a reference book covering every AH and M&M title published, or merely considered.

Perhaps so that it wouldn’t be confused with Three Problems, the already announced Problems of Solar Pons was retitled The Reminiscences of Solar Pons prior to publication.

The Mays listing of Derleth’s AH and M&M ephemera gave completists a great start for finding the game, but new finds made it evident almost immediately that his collection had not been complete.

Finally, about sixteen or seventeen years later, my friend Don Herron jumped in. He wanted to refine the Mays list—compile a new one that would be up-to-date, definitive, and otherwise as useful as it possibly could be.

On the sidelines, I agreed to help.

It would be Don’s list, but I supplied every new item I could reasonably, authoritatively, corroborate the existence of, even if not all of the needed information was at my disposal.

One of these was another strictly M&M piece, which the reputable New York bookseller Lloyd Currey listed in an old catalog—it was a variation of the Mays “Do You Know Solar Pons.”

All I had for the description was an excerpt from the actual piece, a quotation used in the piece that Currey used to promote it:

“If you liked Sherlock Holmes, you will not want to miss Solar Pons, The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street. . . .” In Re: Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Solar Pons, The Memoirs of Solar Pons, The Return of Solar Pons, The Reminiscences of Solar Pons. Includes two pages devoted to offset reviews of the Pons saga from various sources – Starrett in his Books Alive column, Time, San Francisco Chronicle, etc. “Under the imprint of Mycroft & Moran. Order without delay from your bookseller or Arkham House: Publishers. . . .”

It was enough for us to include it in the new list. And today, validating our decision, I located one, and now own the actual piece.

“Arkham House Ephemera: The Classic Years” by Don Herron was published in 2002, in Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine.

Since then, however, Don & I both are aware there is game still afoot. But not even he knows about the two additional brochures I found, which raise the “Do You Know Solar Pons” series to a total of four.

For Derlethians and Sherlockians—especially for Arkham House completists—here is my updated list of the ephemera Derleth devoted exclusively to Mycroft & Moran:

Arkham House Announces.
“— a new Mycroft & Moran book, coming December 12, 1952. . . Three Problems for Solar Pons. . . .”

“The Memoirs of Solar Pons: A Unicorn Selection—Coming Next Month.” Unicorn Mystery News V3n12 (c. 1953): 10-11.

1954: LETTER w/M&M letterhead.
“Solar Pons joins me in wishing all friends of his as well as the Master, his best on the occasion of the Master’s Centenary!”
Signed by August Derleth, “Sebastian Moran” and “Mycroft Holmes.”

Do You Know Solar Pons?
“Coming Late in 1955! The Return of Solar Pons.”

1961-63: BROCHURE.
Do You Know Solar Pons?
“If you liked Sherlock Holmes, you will not want to miss … The Reminiscences of Solar Pons.”

1965: LETTER w/Deerstalker (M&M) letterhead.
Dear Reviewer:
The Casebook of Solar Pons brings to 56 the total number of Pontine tales in print — the precise number of the Sherlock Holmes stories in short length.”

Do You Know Solar Pons?
“If you liked Sherlock Holmes, you will not want to miss … The Casebook of Solar Pons.”

c. 1966: BROCHURE.
About Solar Pons.
A 57th story, The Adventure of the Orient Express, was published (1965) in chapbook form … The Candlelight Press also published in 1965 Praed Street Papers.”

1971: CABINET CARD w/Roy Hunt illustration of Solar Pons & Dr. Lyndon Parker.
“All thanks for your order … We expect to publish [Chronicles] in October.”

Is the foregoing all the game there is to find that is exclusively Mycroft & Moran ephemera?

Maybe, if we recall that announcements for the first two books in the Pons series—In Re: Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Solar Pons—were adequately covered in Arkham House pieces, and that those published after 1967—Mr. Fairlie’s Final Journey, The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians and A Praed Street Dossier—were announced in Derleth’s house-magazine, The Arkham Collector.

Maybe, but the likelihood is there’s more game afoot . . .

John D. Haefele submitted this article.

© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.

The Branding of Sac Prairie

1939 Cinderella Stamps

Mr. Derleth did it differently. This month he had 20,000 stamps, the same size as a postage stamp, printed each with his own picture on it. Above the picture it says: SAC PRAIRIE SAGA … and below it, it says, with simple eloquence: AUGUST DERLETH. These stamps Mr. Derleth is affixing to letters which he sends out and he has given sheets of them to Sauk City merchants with the request that they affix them to whatever mail they happen to be sending out during the holidays. Just like the Tuberculosis seals, you know. (Betty Case, Capital Times, November 28, 1939)

More than a decade ago, I wrote the short article “The Branding of Arkham House” to explain the reason behind the never-duplicated cachet surrounding Wisconsin author August Derleth’s publishing venture Arkham House: Publisher, which has lasted longer than three quarters of a century and is present yet today.

Primarily a marketing concept, branding is the continuous process of imbuing a specific company’s products or services with unique meaning in the minds of customers and reviewers. Derleth did exactly that remarkably well with Arkham House, as any aficionado of the imprint knows already, for which even the least among the company’s published ephemerae are sought and collected, commanding high prices.

Without this understanding about the dynamics of branding, Derleth’s unexplained subtleties—he was a personality known more for his lack of this quality, especially as a younger man—have come across as self-aggrandizing or self-promoting, rather than his sincere effort to make indelible and desirable the things he believed and was willing to stand up for.

In Derleth’s view, his entire world was connected—his writing (fictional, historical, political, pastiche, verse, nonfictional, reviews), his publishing (Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee), his literary venues (Scribner’s, Prairie Press, Candlelight Press), even his milieu (Sauk City-Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin River, Place of Hawks)—which he represented and which represented him.

Perhaps instinctually, Derleth made even the most common elements in his life a part of this effort. I’ve already described, for example, the mystique of the Christmas cards he sent to neighbors and correspondents early in his career:

A Derleth Christmas card

Derleth conducted his business on papers featuring the imprints of his publishing ventures, but he adorned letters written to friends and other associates with carefully selected illustrations, usually made from woodcuts fashioned by J. J. Lankes, Frank Utpatel, and other artists: “I wonder whether you could do for me a spring woodcut … an evening scene, new moon, with perhaps a plowman coming from his field or in the field—something   that is the essence of the country of past time, rather than the mechanized country of today” (Derleth to Lankes: 8 Oct. 1958). Here’s a different example:



Derleth unfailingly represented the Wisconsin prairie landscape and lifestyle during the season in which he was writing, much to the amusement of his close epistolary friend H. P. Lovecraft—the now-famous writer of cosmic weird tales—whose personal thrift required that he use every inch of available space for written content only, despite having developed a microscopic script. Since then other Lovecraftian fans have guffawed at Derleth’s odd consistency in this regard.

The curious thing is how many of these letters are extant, perhaps a majority. They were treasured and saved, and today they are sought and collected. Indeed, there is an active market for all Derleth’s correspondence, with the letters having artistic headers trading for $50, $100, even more apiece—well above those without, despite having equivalent content.

Indeed, there was synergy that developed between all that was Derleth and everything that comprised Sauk City-Prairie du Sac. Together, August Derleth and his towns became greater and were something of a Wisconsin brand. Derleth strove hard to put both on the map.

Which brings me to Derleth’s infamous Cinderella stamp pictured above, about which Case concluded, “Anyway, other men have blasted their way to fame when other means failed, so why not August?”

Cinderellas are privately produced labels that are the standard size and shape of United States postage stamps. They range from Christmas and Easter Seals to exhibition labels, even the once ubiquitous S&H green stamps.

Cinderellas were common during the halcyon days of the U. S. Post Office. Book club stamps were not unusual. While many are common, those which were privately produced in limited numbers can be little-known and very rare.

Did Derleth purchase his Cinderella stamps? Perhaps they arrived as adjunct to his Guggenheim Fellowship of 1938, finalized sometime in 1939, awarded with the intent and purpose he should continue writing his Sac Prairie Saga.

Guggenheim envelope

Derleth’s Cinderella commemorates, unmistakably, his long-range “plan to tell the story of Sauk City and its twin village, Prairie du Sac, in a sequence of approximately fifty books, combining novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, journal extracts, and miscellaneous prose under the collective title of the Sac Prairie Saga” (Derleth).

Or perhaps he just felt the need to celebrate and so put to use a small amount of his Guggenheim funds, which he also used to stock his library and to bind newspaper comic strips. One description of the stamp reads:

The “stamp” is brown in color, printed on yellowish paper. The design is 24mm high by 18½mm wide. It is gummed, and to satisfy the curiosity of the philatelists among us, it is perforated 12½ . (“August Derleth Stamp”)

It is likely that other of the town residents who had grown up with Derleth, after they saw the stamp, responded much like Betty Case.

So much for mutually beneficial synergy…

I first became acquainted with the stamp many years later, as I searched for any Arkham ephemera. A fellow collector I knew well boasted he found a postcard with an unusual stamp and sent me a scan. The card read:

                        Dear Mr. ——–,

                        This note will acknowledge your payment for one
                        copy of H. P. Lovecraft’s THE OUTSIDER AND OTHERS,
                        which we will ship to you within a week or ten


                                                                                     August Derleth

And here’s what it physically looks like:

1939 (enhanced)

Card with top (recipient) cropped off

Featured on the left, without the slightest explanation, was the first Derleth Cinderella stamp I had ever seen—but not the last.

The second Cinderella appeared to me only in an online image (but does prove that at least one Wisconsin business had circulated the stamps Derleth provided, if only wryly on communication addressed to Derleth himself).

1939 Cinderella Stamp (Dec. 16)

Not until this year, 2018, did I finally discover a great example I could procure—the best I could hope for—for which I paid dearly, though eagerly and without buyer’s remorse. My “Outsider postcard” is not only in crisp, perfect condition, but it is addressed to the famous artist Hannes Bok (both to be subjects of a later post).

These “Outsider postcards” should raise questions among Arkham House collectors. Should this item be on the official list of Arkham’s publishing ephemera, which is heartily collected? It commemorates the first issue of the publisher’s most famous book. There were no more than 300 of these created, probably fewer (but not much fewer) based on pre-publication sales, all worded similarly but addressed individually and essentially meeting the same criteria as the pre-publication announcements in the Mays or Herron lists.

Don Herron will know…

On a more basic level, are they desirable? That is the litmus test, and here is how I know they are:

After years of never sighting, or seeing for sale, a Derleth Cinderella stamp, an individual stamp finally popped up for bidding on eBay in 2004. I put in a healthy bid but lost.

Another turned up in 2007. I placed a large bid this time but lost again.

August Derleth died in 1971. His daughter April, who had been living in Place of Hawks and managing the publishing business, passed in 2011. Not surprisingly, some interesting items became available, including what appeared to be a full sheet of the stamps that turned up for auction on eBay in 2010. Guns blazing, I was outbid nonetheless.

1939 Cinderella Stamps ()full sheet)

In 2012, a block of four still in one piece went up. (I wondered if the previous winner was now selling his loot in lots.)

Yup, I lost yet again!

No doubt at all that Derleth’s stamp is a desired collectible. If you think I’m crazy, put in your own bid the next time, should you have the opportunity.

John D. Haefele contributed this article.

Works Cited

“The August Derleth Stamp.” Unattributed. August Derleth Society Newsletter Vol. 10, no. 4 (1981)

Case, Betty. “Day by Day.” [Madison] Capital Times (November 28, 1939)

Derleth, August. “August Derleth.” Book of Catholic Authors. Walter Romig, 1960.


Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Overlooked Imprint

(Part 3)

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

(Hawk & Whippoorwill: Poems of Man and Nature) is a new little magazine devoted to the subjects suggested in its subtitle. It will be published irregularly, which is to say whenever the editor feels that enough good material has been accepted to fill an issue … the editor will read all work submitted, short or long, and he hopes in time to have a sufficiently large subscription list to enable him to pay for poems.

August Derleth


A short essay in Oak Leaves, “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” was the first indication August Derleth would edit and publish Hawk & Whippoorwill.

Derleth treasured a large fund he had saved of similar magazines, stating, “I find myself dipping into these slender issues from time to time very much in the same way that I refresh myself by looking into Frost and Thoreau and Emerson” in “The Editor’s Post” (Hawk & Whippoorwill, Spring 1960)—to which he would add a title of his own. The announcement at the top, excerpted from a 1960 broadside printed on separate stock, likely shared the same mailing envelope with Oak Leaves.

Derleth would produce Hawk & Whippoorwill for three years. But then he stopped abruptly, admitting later that “the overwhelming mass of poetry submitted was so very bad that editing the magazine soon became a depressing chore, and I was not unhappy to suspend it finally” (“My Life in Poetry”).

At his core Derleth was a businessman, and it was actually the economics that doomed the magazine. Hawk & Whippoorwill failed to attain a semi-pro status, yet Derleth would “pay” contributors two or three copies based on submission length and never required they become subscribers, as was common practice.

I had not, in any event, visualized extended publication, and the economic facts really permitted of no other solution. True, I had 170 sets bound and priced them at $10 the copy—of these perhaps half sold; the other half remain to be sold. The entire venture, exclusive of book publication, lost me a total of $1,706.50, or roughly $170 an issue. (“My Life in Poetry”)

In fact, Derleth’s venture had been beset with economic—not poetic—woes from the get-go:

Of poetry there was no dearth—there never is. The cost of production, however,  proved to be another matter entirely. It is always so with publishing, and particularly when the product makes its appeal to a relatively small if informed audience. It was obvious to me, through my work at Arkham House, that union printing for such a magazine was absolutely out of the question if I meant to hold to a per copy cost of [$]500. But I found that even a non-union printer asked a dollar an issue for a 500-copy magazine. Manifestly, this too, was impossible. So I went to England and paid $200 for the first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill. Since the first year of the magazine, a twice-yearly publication, had a subscription list of 200, it must be apparent that I lost money from the beginning. Moreover, that loss was compounded by the fact that I seldom found it possible, after the first four issues to hold the magazine to 20 pages. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth indeed “went to England” (though never in person), contracting with Villiers Publications, Ltd., of London. Villiers printed all ten issues of the magazine during its three-year run—the final double-sized—as well as several books under a Hawk & Whippoorwill imprint.


Which raises the question that has troubled this scholar for years: Why didn’t Derleth include the Hawk & Whippoorwill books in Thirty Years of Arkham House, the bibliography compiled in 1969, purportedly to list every title issued under all of his name-plates? In addition to Arkham House (AH), this did include Mycroft & Moran (M&M) and Stanton & Lee (S&L).

Derleth prepared the bibliography to help mark his “Thirtieth Anniversary!” as publisher, offering it for sale in the 1969 Stock List of Books from Arkham House / Mycroft & Moran. He promoted it as “a comprehensive bibliography of the publications of Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints throughout the 30 years of its existence, together with a brief history.”

Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran are both genre-imprints, but Derleth routinely included Stanton & Lee with both in combined catalogs and bulletins. That’s how he launched the imprint in 1945: “Stanton & Lee will be publishers of general books … books of comic panels, strips … will on occasion reprint books” (Books /Arkham House / Mycroft & Moran / Stanton & Lee / Books). These “reprints” would be comprised of out-of-print Sac Prairie and Wisconsin Saga books, a subtle indicator of Derleth’s high hopes at the time.

Initial success was short-lived, however. Sales for even the best titles were moderate, and Derleth allowed Stanton & Lee to grow especially moribund between 1960 and 1965, the same period he was publishing using the H&W imprint.

Is there a connection? S&L is in the bibliography, H&W is not.

Derleth’s introduction to Thirty Years is no help; catering to his largest category of clients, Derleth speaks mainly of Arkham House, writes little about Mycroft & Moran, inserts two lines about Stanton & Lee—and says not a peep about Hawk & Whippoorwill.

But in 1971, in the “My Life in Poetry” lecture, Derleth does refer to the H&W books, doing so with obvious pride:

Moreover, the magazine won rather speedy recognition. Some of the poems from its pages—by James Weil, William D. Barney, Dodi Schultz, Leah Bodine Drake, and Company—appeared in anthologies and textbooks—and I may add, some of the most excitingly different textbooks of poetry to have been offered to schools in the past decade, like Some Haystacks Don’t Have Needles, and A Gift of Watermelon Pickles & Other Poems, both of which have had wide circulation in hard and paperback. Many more appeared in collections—among them five under my own Stanton & Lee imprint—Jane Stuart’s Eyes of the Mole, Joseph Payne Brennan’s The Wind of Time, Mary Weeden Stiver’s Brief Argument, Grant Code’s This Undying Quest, and Frances May’s Night Letters. (“My Life in Poetry”)

However, by referring to The Wind of Time as a Stanton & Lee title, Derleth conflates the history of the imprints. And yet, what appears to be confusion may actually be warranted for what it reveals about the S&L-H&W relationship—the fact that a definite relationship does exist. Looking at other “cross-over” connections, among all of Derleth’s name-plates, helps uncover this bigger picture.

The first relevant cross-over—Hawk & Whippoorwill with Arkham House—appears in the Autumn 1961 issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill:

Our readers may like to know that Arkham House is publishing in November Fire and Sleet and Candlelight: New Poems of the Macabre ($4.00).

Among the contributors were these H&W poets: Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Joseph Payne Brennan, Grant Code, Leah Bodine Drake, Francis Angevine Gray, Joseph Joel Keith, Anne Marx, Edna Meudt, Jocelyn Macy Sloan, and James Weil.

(Francis May, a poet with a poem in the Autumn issue, apparently entered the scene too late to be included in Fire and Sleet and Candlelight, but she would have a short story published in Dark Things, the 1971 anthology of weird tales Derleth edited for Arkham House.)


Also in the Autumn issue, this pertinent announcement:

We are inaugurating this year, in November, a book publishing program. Our first book will be The Wind of Time, by Joseph Payne Brennan. It will be priced at $3.50 … we will publish one collection each year until we decide to end our publishing venture.


This title was not the first Brennan book Derleth published. As recently as 1958, Arkham House issued Nine Horrors and a Dream, a collection of Brennan’s weird tales. The Wind of Time, however, would garner the distinction of being the first book Villiers printed and bound for Derleth—all previous Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee titles having been made in the United States by George Banta Company, Inc., of Menasha, Wisconsin.  

When Derleth retired Hawk & Whippoorwill magazine, he had the second H&W book already in progress. “Though this is the final number of Hawk & Whippoorwill, the imprint of the H&W Press will appear sometime within the next year on one other book—Brief Argument, by Mary Weeden Stiver.” Brief Argument duly appeared in 1964, printed by Villiers.

In 1966, Derleth resurrected the Stanton & Lee imprint, going local again with Banta, for Wisconsin Harvest, a book of short stories he agreed to edit for the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association, the first of what he hoped might become a series of Wisconsin authored books. Not only did S&L’s history with Wisconsin themes make sense of this, but “Stanton & Lee” must’ve sounded more appropriate to Derleth for this series than poetry-light “Hawk & Whippoorwill.”

However, the next Stanton & Lee offering would be another H&W-styled poetry book: Eyes of the Mole, a 1967 collection of verse by Jane Stuart, the daughter of Derleth’s close friend and fellow writer Jesse Stuart. It became the first S&L book Derleth used Villiers to print and bind.

Derleth turned to Banta again for the next S&L, New Poetry Out of Wisconsin, a 1969 follow-up to Poetry Out of Wisconsin, the anthology Derleth co-edited in 1937 for a different publisher. Of course, this was a collection of Wisconsin writers, not H&W poets.

But then came Le Sueur’s Corn Village: A Selection in 1970 (Villiers), Code’s This Undying Quest in 1971 (Banta), and May’s Night Letters in 1971 (Villiers).

Which all conspire to deepen our little mystery. Not only are three H&W books missing from Derleth’s bibliography, so are the Villiers-printed S&L’s. Fortunately, we now are able to reconstruct—with educated guesswork—much of what happened.

In 1960, Derleth deemed the name Stanton & Lee inappropriate for a Little Review filled with poems about man and nature. Moreover, he banked on Hawk & Whippoorwill quickly becoming self-funded—all the more reason to keep separate the new imprint from the old.

Three years later Derleth retired the magazine, but not the imprint—not the idea of abetting a line of books. As late as 1968, a couple of years after using S&L for Wisconsin Harvest, H&W (according to a Prairie Press blurb) was still in the mix:

[Derleth] lives in his home, Place of Hawks … where he also conducts the affairs of Arkham House: Publishers, with its associated imprints—Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and the Hawk & Whippoorwill Press.” (Walden Pond: Homage to Thoreau)

Only then, during the next year, did something change. Perhaps Derleth simply deduced he would no longer need four imprints, but sometime before finalizing Thirty Years of Arkham House, in which he states unequivocally, “All Arkham House books—together with those under the Mycroft & Moran and Stanton & Lee imprints—have been printed by the George Banta Company, with the exception of The Arkham Sampler….”

The simple explanation for this statement would have Derleth unwittingly reusing the original passage on which it is based, which appears word-for-word in the Thirty Years of Arkham House predecessor, Arkham House: The First Twenty Years.

Otherwise the Banta-assertion is troubling, not just in light of the H&W omissions or even the missing Villiers-S&L books, but for two Arkham House books Derleth does include: Nightmare Need, a new 1964 collection of Brennan’s supernatural verse, and Something Breathing, a 1965 collection of macabre verse by Stanley McNail.

What’s possible is that both of these books were originally conceived as H&W books.

What’s undeniably true is that both were printed by Villiers in London.

But, here again, the big picture manifests only after studying the cross-over aspects. Whereas Arkham House would seem the logical imprint for two supernatural poetry volumes (and that’s ultimately what happened), the connection to H&W (and therefore Villiers) was stronger. Despite Derleth’s earliest H&W objectives, it was only natural, given his abiding interest in macabre fiction and poetry, that as the little review began to fade he would gravitate especially to Brennan and McNail.

Besides writing verse, both poets were publishing “little reviews” of their own. Brennan had two, Essence and Macabre, and McNail had The Galley Sail Review. Derleth himself was a catalyst for rejuvenating interest in supernatural poetry, the result of editing (with the help of his friend Donald Wandrei) and publishing in 1947 the massive anthology Dark of the Moon. Thus, in “August Derleth: Friend of Fantasy Poetry” (August Harvest, Magico, 1994), Steve Eng writes:

 A mainstream poet and horror-story writer, Brennan edited the verse magazine Essence (1950-1977), and Macabre (1957-1973) which used poetry. Brennan’s own modern style mostly escapes the perils of free verse due to its severe brevity and the poet’s genuine ear. Pessimism of the blackest hue is omnipresent, with refreshingly little melodrama. Much lighter was Stanley McNail’s … terse poems merging humor and horror. Craftsmanship in the verses perhaps reflects McNail’s studies under Lawrence Hart, mentor of the “Activist” school of imagist poetry in San Francisco in the fifties. McNail also edited The Galley Sail Review (1958-1971) and the macabre poetry journal Night Shade (1966-1968).


Everything fits when we overlay Derleth’s abiding H&W rationale, which was to publish contemporary poetry written by poets he could appreciate, whatever the genre. Whereas deceased or long-moribund poets—H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei—would always be Arkham poets, it’s a safe bet the new Brennan and McNail collections were conceived as H&W books, and would’ve been had the imprint lasted. Rather than give these up, Derleth adhered to the tried-and-true (and less expensive) H&W formula, using Villiers to print the books but issuing them to his remaining (and much larger) base of clients as Arkham House books.

The theory pans out with a post-bibliography Arkham House verse collection published in 1970, L. Sprague de Camp’s Demons and Dinosaurs—though this fact is not found in the book itself, Arkham historian Sheldon Jaffery is on record (in Horrors and Unpleasantries) alleging Villiers did this one, too.

All minor points in the big picture—but nothing Derleth wished to call out.

Could there have been a simpler explanation?

I’ve never been convinced the meticulous Derleth would mistakenly or deliberately exclude titles that properly belonged in any of his bibliographies—not after studying once more the proper names of these imprints:

Arkham House: Publisher

Stanton & Lee: Publisher

Hawk & Whippoorwill Press

There in plain sight (my italics) is what I now believe to be the answer. The omissions hinge on how Derleth viewed his books. Those in the bibliography are the books he published—those he actively commissioned, edited, copyrighted, and promoted.

The Villiers titles, on the other hand, were merely passed to the London press for printing (some subsidized). In this regard, the non-Arkham Villiers books in his mind differed little, or not at all, from poetry collections of his own, those issued by Ritten House, James A. Decker, Prairie, or other small presses.

Everything now adds up, assuming Derleth did more with the Arkham-Villiers titles and, therefore, included them (though, as with the other Villiers books, they were not copyrighted).

Except for the curve Derleth threw in 1963: Arkham’s Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity by H. P. Lovecraft was printed by Villiers. Certainly cost was a factor, but I continue to search, believing there’s more to be said. In 1963, Derleth was in the early stages of reissuing all of Lovecraft’s fiction. Perhaps he used Villiers because he originally meant to issue these unadorned booklets unofficially, at no cost, to promote Lovecraft…

And now there is the problem these titles present for imprint completists, for whom they reside irrevocably among the books they need to ferret out.

For their sake, here is the first complete list of the non-magazine titles printed in London by Villiers for each imprint:


Hawk & Whippoorwill Press

The Wind of Time, Joseph Payne Brennan (1961)

Hawk & Whippoorwill 1960-1963 (1963), bound, ten-issue run.

Brief Argument, Mary Stiver Welder (1964)


Arkham House: Publishers

Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity, H. P. Lovecraft (1963)

Nightmare Need, Joseph Payne Brennan (1964)

Something Breathing, by Stanley McNail (1965)

Demons and Dinosaurs, by L. Sprague de Camp (1970)


Stanton & Lee: Publishers

Eyes of the Mole, Jane Stuart (1967)

Corn Village: A Selection, Meridel Le Sueur (1970)

Night Letters, Frances May (1971)


John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.

Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review

(Part 2)

[Read Part 1 here.]

Perhaps it was natural that I should eventually gravitate to editing a little review of poetry. I had been reading such little reviews from the 1920’s onward, and I wanted to learn for myself what editing and publishing such a little review entailed. I began
Hawk & Whippoorwill in 1960 and ended it in 1963 after 10 issues. At the outset I hoped to publish a little magazine, limited to verse—“of man and nature,” as I announced it—along similar lines to Fred Lape’s Trails, one of the best such magazines of the 1930’s.

(1971: Lecture, “My Life in Poetry”)

The first hint that publishing a review was on August Derleth’s mind appeared in the January-February 1960 issue of Oak Leaves: A Magazine of Poetry. In the short essay “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” Derleth reminded readers that the “principal function of the little magazine for the writer is to afford him an audience—very often his first audience.”

Portentously he adds: “not to be overlooked” are the publishers, “who are usually the editors,” and are “as much in the service of literature as the writer, and often at considerably more cost.”

Derleth was himself an editor and publisher, with three imprints of his own: Arkham House: Publisher, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee. Personal experience had taught him that small publishers fill an important role by offering “encouragement or advice” to aspiring writers. He also knew the “mortality rate” among small publishers to be “very high.”

I had previously been associated with a rather costly little review, The Midwestern, published by a university student who had money enough to support it for two or three issues, really rather more a dilettante venture than a bona fide little magazine. And I had edited and published The Arkham Sampler, a trade quarterly specifically for the patrons of Arkham House, with the circulation of which I had no particular problem. Hawk & Whippoorwill, however, had no waiting audience, and, in contrast to the Sampler, which had no competition whatsoever, Hawk & Whippoorwill was but one of many such little reviews in the field. I planned a magazine of 20 pages, chiefly poems, with a modicum of reviews, and for the first issue I had poems from poets like Fred Lape, Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Edna Meudt, Joseph Payne Brennan, Joseph Joel Keith and others—all bylines familiar to readers of contemporary poetry. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth produced The Arkham Sampler only two years, 1948 and 1949, but for many years he edited the Arkham House advertising bulletins as if they themselves were Little Reviews, including prose, poems, appraisals and publishing news of interest to his customers. In an unpublished essay, “American Regional Poetry,” Derleth makes this observation: “Regional poets in the first forty years of this century had many outlets in scores of regional little reviews and in the national literary quarterlies. Today there are very few regional little magazines left.”

Cover of Hawk & Whippoorwill, Volume 1, Issue 1

Derleth decided to set an example.

That the contents of Hawk & Whippoorwill were on the whole appreciably superior to those of most of its contemporaries was not, of course, an accident. Most of the best poems were solicited from poets who had been friends for years. Jesse Stuart was a friend of almost 25 years’ standing; I had been the judge in the Kaleidograph book publication contest in the year that Edsel Ford’s initial book placed first; I had published Joseph Payne Brennan under my Arkham House imprint; I had shared programs with Helga Sandburg; some of the poets had contributed to Poetry Out of Wisconsin a quarter of a century before; and so on. Occasional excellent poems came in unsolicited, and in two cases my admiration for their work overcame a natural reluctance to approach poets I did not personally know and ask for work—and these were Gene Baro and William Stafford. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth’s high standards extended behind the scenes:

I did have offers of funding; those same generous patrons whose names had appeared on the roster of patrons for many another little review offered support. I felt I could not accept such support; I wanted the magazine to make its own way or to cease publication. I intended to keep up a relatively high average in its contents, and to that end subsequent issues featured poems by, in addition to the poets already mentioned, Wendell Anderson, Felix Pollak, William D. Barney, Gene Baro, John Beecher, Lorna Beers, Grant Code, Carleton Drewry, John Engels, James T. Farrell, Edsel Ford, James Hearst, John Judson, Raymond E. F. Larsson, David Lytle, Barriss Mills, Sydney King Russell, Arthur Sampley, Helga Sandburg, Daniel Smythe, William Stafford, Felix Stefanile, Jane Stuart, James L. Weil, Norma Farber—whose long Frostian takeoff, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” was, I think, the most memorable poem to appear in the magazine—and by many other poets, whose names would be almost as well known to this audience, as these.

Though Derleth wrote verse prolifically throughout his career, only four of his poems appeared in the ten issues of Hawk & Whippoorwill—each issue 35 to 40 pages long, with the final issue twice that length. But he did contribute eight brief reviews of other writers’ books, prepare detailed notes for all ten installments of “The Editor’s Post,” and compile for the final issue a complete index of all ten.

In the Autumn 1963 issue, Derleth bid farewell to Hawk & Whippoorwill, in the short essay “On Publishing a Little Magazine,” which begins: “I undertook the publication of Hawk & Whippoorwill, determined to bring out at least ten issues….” He goes on to explain: “Four years of Hawk & Whippoorwill have persuaded me to conclude that there is very little room for such a magazine on a self-sustaining basis, for there is not a sufficiently large or interested public devoted.” To illustrate his point, he adds:

Subscribers to the first year of Hawk & Whippoorwill numbered approximately two hundred; subscribers to the last numbered less than half that number … It should be made clear at once, however, that no very great effort was ever expended to gain subscribers for the magazine; the press of my many obligations forbade it and left me no time in which to do more than assemble the magazine, proof it, and mail it to subscribers when it came from the printer….

But this scheduled, separate appearance of Hawk & Whippoorwill was not quite the end. After its mailing, Derleth calculated the number of complete sets of all issues that could be assembled from his file of unsold copies—and bound in cloth. Later that same year, he offered 170 of these in pale green.

Spine of the Hawk & Whippoorwill Anthology

Nor was that monument the end.

In 1973, two years after Derleth died, a new Little Review appeared, “edited, published and presented by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.” This first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled was entirely “devoted to the memory of August Derleth” and the “high literary standards of the original magazine” it emulated.

Cover of "Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled"

The cost of this project was “jointly supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.”

[Read Part 3.]

John D. Haefele submitted this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.

Hawk & Whippoorwill: The Little Reviews

(Part 1)

In Writing Fiction (The Writer, 1946), August Derleth — Wisconsin’s famous writer, teacher, and bookman — described a pivotal experience in his career, contributing to the small press magazines known as “little reviews”:

Within the first year of my initial publication in such little reviews … I had letters of inquiry about book-length work from the editors of such well-known houses as Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, Charles Scribner’s Sons, and Harper’s. Within the same period I had inquiries about short stories from magazines of national circulation which included Collier’s and McCall’s.

Cover of "Writing Fiction" by August Derleth

Britannica defines a “little review” as “any of various small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings, usually avant-garde and noncommercial.” They flourished after 1880 and throughout most of the 20th century, having much in common with contemporary journals distributed through amateur press associations and the burgeoning phenomenon of (especially science fiction-oriented) fanzines.

Today the bulk of this activity has moved to the Internet in the form of informal blogging and the posting of electronic reviews — for example, here at the Allied Authors website and at Amazon or Goodreads.

Derleth had shared his experiences years earlier in “A Salute to the Little Reviews,” appearing in the August 1941 edition of American Author. There he recalls that he once shocked a budding author with the advice that “he must expect to give a great deal of his work away.” He also emphasizes that avant-garde or other seemingly unsalable material “commercial outlets would not dare publish” is often “cheerfully printed by the little magazines.”

Derleth’s larger point is as follows: “Editors of all the best publishing houses watch the little reviews with care, and I do not think that there exists a first-rate beginner who has not received a letter from at least one publishing house after his appearance in a little magazine.”

He concludes with this prediction: “Contributions to the little reviews are like bread cast upon the waters; postulating only talent, and the ability to work and take criticism, they are certain to come back in loaves.”


Many years later, in the lecture-essay “On Being an All-Round Bookman” (1971), Derleth validates all he had been saying with this recollection of his own earliest experiences as a professional editor:

Editing at Fawcett Publications involved considerably more than simply passing on manuscripts and conducting a column; it meant working with writers, revising manuscripts, writing something publishable when not enough material was at hand … I discovered that editing a little review — The Midwestern, published here in Madison in 1931, for all the difference between the professional and the amateur, involved pretty much the same kind of work, with the added task of improving circulation and helping to meet expenses.

Coming next: “Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review” (Part 2)

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.

The Mystery of the Milwaukee – Chicago – Sauk City Connection

Anything in Latin sounds imposing. For example, let’s take the name ‘Solar Pons’ itself. That’s Latin, you know. I looked it up. ‘Solar,’ meaning of, or pertaining to, the sun. And ‘Pons,’ meaning bridge. See what I mean? Doesn’t ‘Solar Pons’ sound a lot better than just calling someone a sun of a bridge?

—Robert Bloch, speaking on the occasion of the first annual Praed Street Irregulars Awards

Ray Palmer, a founding member of the Milwaukee Fictioneers (an antecedent of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin), was also a literary editor for Fantasy Magazine. Palmer wrote an article about the Sauk City Wisconsin writer August Derleth, which appeared in the March 1936 issue.

What exactly led to this event, I haven’t been able to determine. Even though both men made their careers writing, editing, and publishing (with especial interest in fantasy and science fiction), there is no record of correspondence in the “August Derleth Papers” housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

But Palmer’s article raises another topic of mutual interest: mystery fiction. Titled “August Derleth” (which already was a broad topic), Palmer covers primarily Judge Peck, a detective character Derleth features in a series of early novels—and mixed in is the hint of something else:

Late in 1936 will appear a book of [Derleth’s] poems, Hawk on the Wind. This will be followed by Still Is the Summer Night, a long serious novel, and Solar Pons of Praed Street, a book of short detective tales.

Praed Street’s Solar Pons and Dr. Parker are also detectives, Derleth’s version of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson team. His earliest stories with Pons and Parker are juvenilia—Derleth was a teenager in 1928 when he began—but he sold them to Dragnet Magazine and then to Detective Trails, Gangster Stories, and others. After this early spate, Derleth moved on to other types of writing.

And yet in 1934, he began to casually mention two Solar Pons novels he believed Loring & Mussey (who did issue three Peck novels) would publish. And perhaps one of these by 1936 had become the “book of detective tales” Palmer wrote; only L&M went out of business that year.

Derleth, unlike the unlucky publisher, was just starting; whenever the mood hit, he added stories to the Solar Pons series. Jack Chalker, in the “Fellow Travelers” section of The Science-Fantasy Publishers, nails what he did with:

Good fun if you like Holmes. Derleth was adamant these were pastiches, not parodies; a detective who took up when Holmes retired and imitated him precisely.

Many readers heard about Solar Pons for the first time in 1945 in Books from Arkham House, Derleth’s catalog of the Arkham House books he was publishing. That’s where Derleth first announced a new imprint:

The House of Mycroft & Moran has been organized to produce one book per year in a field in itself as unique as that of Arkham House—the genre of the off-trail detective story.

M&M’s first title would be In Re: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Solar Pons.

August Derleth's "In re: Sherlock Holmes"

As author, editor and publisher, Derleth joyfully set the stage. He intimated that procuring these stories somehow involved Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Doyle’s own Great Detective, and Colonel Sebastian Moran, “the second most dangerous man [after Moriarty] in London”: thus, Mycroft & Moran.

Mycroft and Moran colophonPerhaps they were who approved the deerstalker colophon that artist Ronald Clyne provided.

And the “Baskerville” linotype used throughout…

The M&M books would be sturdy and cloth-bound—each to be introduced by reputable mystery-experts, drawing-room bookmen, including Vincent Starrett, Ellery Queen, Anthony Boucher, and Edgar W. Smith.

Year-after-year, it was all great fun!

Mycroft and Moran letter

What the Pontine canon would mean was revealed in publisher’s ephemerae I doubt that even maestro Don Herron has seen: The centennial Best Wishes from Pons to Holmes, notarized by Derleth himself as well as Mr. Mycroft and Mr. Moran–we can only guess at the number of copies sent out to amuse fans and friends.

But more was going on than could (at first) meet the eye. It was easy to miss how Derleth did more than pastiche Holmes precisely; he was also copying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—precisely!

All was owned up to when announcing (in yet another undocumented piece of the publisher’s elusive ephemerae) the fifth collection of Pons stories:

Publication June 17 of August Derleth’s The Casebook of Solar Pons will round out what is perhaps the most ambitious venture in pastiche in the history of literature. For almost four decades the dean of Wisconsin writers … has amused himself writing fond imitations of the Sherlock Holmes tales, pastiching not only the tales, but the collections. The Casebook of Solar Pons brings to 56 the number of Pontine tales in print—the precise number of the Sherlock Holmes stories in short length.

More would follow. Watson hinted about Holmes adventures that Doyle never wrote. Derleth, on the other hand, completed more Pons stories that Parker knew of.

Derleth published his first Pons novel in 1968, the well-received Mr. Fairlie’s Final Journey. Doyle wrote four of his own about Holmes, so Derleth promised four. And we might’ve gotten all of them, had the world’s most prolific pastiche-writer not also been writing versions of Thoreau…

And Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson…

Also Edgar Lee Masters…

Robert Frost…

Plus little-known H. P. Lovecraft. (Aficionados were delighted when they learned Pons’ résumé includes this treatise: An Examination of the Cthulhu Cult and Others.)

In addition, Derleth did “serious” writing (even while publishing)—carrying on the Sac Prairie Saga and chronicling the history of Wisconsin. He passed away July 4, 1971, but posthumous publication of The Chronicles of Solar Pons raised his short-story total to 68.

Solar Pons acquired his own “Baker Street Irregulars,” fans based in California who organized as the “Praed Street Irregulars” (PSI), held meetings, and published newsletters. When the PSI held its first annual dinner award ceremony in 1968, Milwaukee Fictioneers alumnus Robert Bloch delivered the address. Bloch had moved to Hollywood from Wisconsin, the same year his famous novel Psycho was published.

Luther Norris and the group’s inner-sanctum “pontifical council” produced eight issues of The Pontine Dossier during the 1960s and more throughout the 1970s. In 1969 membership hit 600. In 1970 Derleth reported on a London, England branch of the PSI.

Derleth continued stoking interest. Besides the official Pontine canon (six collections and the 1968 novel), he published ancillary materials including A Praed Street Dossier in 1968—containing a brief essay “The Beginnings of Solar Pons.”

Working on behalf of the estate in the 1990s, Peter Ruber discovered unpublished Pons material, including what is most likely the early L&M novel! George Vanderburgh published these in 1998 as The Final Adventures of Solar Pons.    

So where does Ray Palmer fit in?

Though they worked in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Sauk City, Palmer, Derleth, and the other Fictioneers would stay in touch. Palmer especially had reason to: in 1938 he landed a job in Chicago as the editor of a handful of pulp magazines, including Amazing Stories and Mammoth Detective.

Derleth wrote a new Pons story, “The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle,” which was accepted by Ellery Queen’s Frederic Dannay, who was compiling The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, published by Little, Brown & Company in 1944.

Just the little things that few people ever know about, that change history…

Aspects of the deal involved the Chicago connection. Derleth’s “The Beginnings of Solar Pons” reveals the key role Ray Palmer played:    

Yet Solar Pons might have been forgotten, had it not been for another fortuitous circumstance … while discussing with Ray Palmer, then with Ziff-Davis in Chicago, the idea of a horror story anthology (later successfully published by Rinehart as Sleep No More!), I mentioned the possibility of a Solar Pons collection. Palmer urged me to put it together and, without committing Ziff-Davis to it, asked to see such a book with a view to publication.

With that added incentive and the promise from Vincent Starrett to write an introduction to the book, I went home and got to work to assemble a collection to be titled “In Re: Sherlock Holmes”: The Adventures of Solar Pons … I got to work and wrote new stories, while revising the old.

By this time, however … I was no longer so willing to trust any publisher with Solar Pons and, since I already had a publishing venture of my own … Solar Pons made his bow….

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.

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