New Finds from Paul Herman, the Neverending Hunter

Paul Herman, is a renowned Howard scholar, researcher and the author of The Neverending Hunt, the comprehensive bibliography of Howard’s prose and poetry. He is also a board member of the Robert E. Howard Foundation and just completed his editing duties on the ten volume Weird Works of Robert E. Howard collection from Wildside Press.

From the git-go Paul was one of those who toiled in the background to bring Howard’s works to generations of Howard fans starving for in-print Howard material. Several years back, he did a significant amount of research on the Public Domain and current copyright status of Howard’s writings and published what he discovered online. 

Paul recently recounted some significant finds he made at Texas A&M University over at the Conan.com Forums and has granted me permission to re-post the narrative of the discoveries here:

There are three great collections of original Howard typescripts: Glenn Lord’s massive collection, the 1000+ pages at the Cross Plains Public Library, and the Tevis Clyde Smith letters. Howard corresponded with all sorts of folks, but most of them didn’t save the letters. Smith, on the other hand, saved a lot of letters, over 130 of them – 330 pages. Smith was a long time friend, so letters to him start as early as 1923, and go through most of Howard’s life. Smith was also big into school papers and publishing, and so he got Howard’s youthful works printed in various school papers, and together they published various odds and ends. Smith also had dreams of being a poet, and wasn’t shy about saying he was great, but that never really panned out. Smith did write a couple history books on the region and that was about it.

The Howard portion of the Smith papers has had an interesting history. Glenn in the 1960s had asked Smith if he had any Howard material, and Smith had said no. When Smith died in 1984, he left his collection to a relative, Roy Barkley. Roy tried to sell the big stack of Howard material, via Christie’s, and indeed the collection was a featured item in the December 19, 1986 catalog. But the reserve was not met. Also apparently around that time, he had a professional appraiser go through it, and likely had, at the same time, a proper preparation and packaging of the papers (i.e., lots of good Mylar). He also shot a strip of microfilm of everything. Much to his surprise, a copy of that microfilm arrived unannounced on Glenn’s doorstep in 1985 or 1986. The arrival of this stash of letters had a big influence on the attempts to publish a book of Howard letters, first with Grant, which didn’t work out and finally via Necronomicon Press, in 1989 and 1991as Selected Letters, 1923-1930 and 1931-1936. In these publications, Glenn was restricted on word count, and so he stripped out the goofy stuff (and there is a lot of goofy stuff that Howard wrote to Smith), and tried to focus in the historically and biographically interesting. The missing chunks of those letters were finally restored with Howard Foundation Press’ Collected Letters series.

The Smith collection was eventually passed on to Tom Munnerlyn. I contacted Tom maybe a decade ago, asking if I could come shoot copies of his collection. He said no, that I’d just have to wait until the collection moved on, as he was planning to donate it to the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University. Cushing Library is the rare book library at TAMU, and they have a pretty serious SF/Fantasy collection. I had met and worked with the boss there, Hal Hall, years ago.

Recently, someone was looking for stuff and realized the Smith papers had indeed been donated to TAMU, and mentioned it to me. So, I went to have a look, and through the graciousness of the Library folks and with the permission of Paradox, I went down and spent a couple days scanning pages. The microfilm strip Glenn had been working from all these years was in B&W, I was going to shoot in color. Also, no one had any idea if the strip really was complete or not. So, time for a hunt!

The library has twenty boxes of Smith material, though only one with the Howard letters. Most of the remaining boxes were taken up by a massive collection of Howard publications. Pulps, chapbooks, magazines. And some pretty hard to find stuff in there as well, things like The Fantasy Fan. Smith had books as well, but those were off on shelves. All the letters had been stored in nice quality Mylar – Hal told me they came that way, and for the most part they were in very good shape. Some letters were typed on very cheap paper, a few were typed on onion skin (and those were burning up regardless of the Mylar’s protection), a few on legal length (from when Bob worked for the lawyer), but most were on his standard typing paper. Some letters we’d seen in the past, from Glenn’s strip, we’d assumed they’d just missed a little on making the copy, cutting off the right edge or the bottom. No, Bob just typed right off the edge of the page.

All the letters we were expecting to find were there. No new letters were found. We did come across one new handwritten poem, clearly in Howard’s hand. We also found a Howard drawing of a boxer on the back of one letter. Those items will be included in some forthcoming publications, most likely the Robert E. Howard Foundation Newsletters (join now!). We were also able to figure out which separated drawings and poems went with which letters, and we’ll actually be rewriting some details in our bibliographic notes, and over at the Howard Works website. When Glenn had received the microfilm strip, there was no indication where one letter ended and another began, what went together and what didn’t.

One interesting item, when Howard first went to work for the lawyer, the first thing he did was get some of the lawyer’s letterhead legal length paper, and typed up a pretend “summons” for Smith, accusing him of rape. Smith did not find it amusing. I’d previously seen the photo of that page, and it had several curious marks around the top and right side. With the letter in hand, the mystery was solved. Those were old style staples. Howard had attached a second page underneath the first one, and had stapled it top and side so that it wouldn’t easily be noticed or read. That second page starts “HAW! HAW!” and goes on to have some fun and mention he’s now working for a lawyer. I believe this is the first time we knew about that. Indeed, there was no way it could have been shot for Glenn’s microfilm without pulling the staples, and there were still there. I showed it to the staff at the library, and they just said “No problem” and proceeded to pull the staples. So, I got to shoot the front page with staples, then without staples, then the second page.

Smith also saved the school papers. There were several copies of The Tattler, as well as a few of the Daniel Baker Collegian. Some of these contained Howard material, and those got scanned as well. Indeed, in the case of one story, “The Sheik,” we only had Howard’s personal clipping from the paper (now in Glenn’s collection), and one word had been cut off, so we weren’t sure what it was supposed to be. Now we know. The newspapers, mostly from the early to mid 1920s, were incredibly fragile, and it was a bit nerve-wracking trying to very carefully get sections of them on the scanner.

There were also letters from other folks to Smith, mostly members of The Junto, a little writing circle that Howard belonged to. A couple good Howard comments in there, and we’ll be getting those published at some point soon. We also found a photo I had not seen before, and the note with it said it was Smith and Howard, but Rusty Burke and Patrice Louinet both looked at it in detail and agreed it is Truett Vinson and Smith. Also found some printing blocks based off of Howard photos, acid-etched copper on wooden blocks, that Smith used in a couple of his books.

I also went through the Otto Binder papers looking for anything interesting. Otto worked for a while with Otis Adelbert Kline, Howard’s literary agent, and some folks have suggested that he wrote the conclusion to Almuric. Four large boxes, with a mountain of correspondence. That chewed up a lot of time, just reading through it all. I found just a couple mentions of Howard – nothing about Almuric. But worth the dig.

I’m heading back down this week for one more visit, to double check some details, rescan just a couple items. It’s good to have a hobby.