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Arkham House Books: A Collector's Guide
Leon Nielsen
McFarland & Company, 204 pages

Arkham House Books:  A Collector's Guide
Leon Nielsen
Retired wildlife biologist Leon Nielsen has collected Arkham House books, along with the works of authors such as Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, for the last 30 years. He is a seller and appraiser of books, and lives in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Arkham House is one of the finest publishers of collected short fiction in the field. Its beginnings were humble as friends of H.P. Lovecraft founded the house in order to publish Lovecraft in book form as a memorial. Later, they began publishing others of that weird fiction clan: the first collections of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Fritz Leiber, Lord Dunsany, August Dereleth (photos in the book show him a bulky strapping kind of man who might have played running back for the Wisconsin Badgers), Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, William Hope Hodgson, Seabury Quinn, and Donald Wandrei.

During the first few formative years, Arkham appeared to be a major risk-taker, chancing on some of the major classics in the genre, publishing one of the early (if not the first) SF novels in hardcover, A.E. Van Vogt's Slan, and Ray Bradbury's Dark Carnival as well as the first collections of aforementioned major writers of the weird tale. But then Arkham House seemed entirely retrospective for the thirty years between 1950 and 1980, with little risk taking unless you count publishing the first collections of Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley, but their stories were inspired by the 30s golden age of the weird tale, so does that count as a risk?

In 1981, they began publishing the first collections of Michael Bishop, Greg Bear, Lucius Shepard, Michael Shea, Michael Swanwick, John Kessel, Alexander Jablokov, Mary Rosenblum, and Ian R. MacLeod, not to mention important new collections of Joanna Russ, Tanith Lee, J.G. Ballard, James Tiptree, Nancy Kress and Barry Malzberg. The most stunning combination of art and fiction was, for me, Lucius Shepard's The Jaguar Hunter and The Ends of Earth alongside stunning illustrations by Jeffrey K. Potter. These may be the first hardcovers I fell in love with and bought -- despite already having read them in the library. S.T. Joshi, preeminent critic of the weird tale, joined James Turner as editors of Arkham House in 1980 and helped usher in an important and revivifying change in their publications.

Not to mention being the foremost publishers of weird fiction for sixty years, for Arkham House to be on the cutting edge of genre (cutting edge, meaning specifically important works of their time, not necessarily the experimental works of their time) for two and a half decades out of six is an impressive accomplishment.

Leon Nielsen tackles cataloging the bibliography of this publisher and its sister imprints. Nielsen provides short biographies of H.P. Lovecraft and August Dereleth. Listening to Book Guys on NPR does not give as much insight into book-collecting as Nielsen's blow by blow account on how to assess the value of these novels and collections and their value based on scarcity and condition.

Later sections describe the contents of each collection and a brief description including publication dates, prices, and illustrators. Other sections include the most valuable books (#1 is the bound 1961 edition of Lovecraft's The Shunned House, worth $5000, only 100 were printed -- Nielsen warns buyers against counterfeit versions) and the most scarce (the least scarce is Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, weighing in at 7015 copies). It appears even the Arkham House catalogues are worth money: $75 for the first copy that came out in 1945.

For the serious collector of good works of fiction, Nielsen's Arkham House Books: A Collector's Guide may be an excellent resource.

Copyright © 2005 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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