In 1862, John Burton pointed out the main traits of book collectors: ‘It is, as you will observe, the general ambition of the class to find value where there seems to be none, and this develops a certain skill and subtlety, enabling the operator, in the midst of a heap of rubbish, to put his finger on those things which have in them the latent capacity to become valuable and curious.’
He goes further to explain how this benefits society: ‘In such a manner is it that books are saved from annihilation, and that their preservers become the feeders of the great collections in which, after their value is established, they find refuge; and herein it is that the class to whom our attention is at present devoted to perform an inestimable service to literature.’
“The Loyalty of collectors draws them to each other; they are a fraternity joined by bonds stronger than their vows, the bonds of shared vanity and the ridicule of non-collectors. Collectors appear to non-collectors as selfish, rapacious, and half-mad, which is what collectors frequently are, but they may also be enlightened, generous and benefactors of society, which is the way they like to see themselves. Mad or sane, they salvage civilization.”
— Wilmarth Lewis—Lefty Lewis collector of eighteenth century writer Horace Walpole.
Small press horror collecting has evolved and changed over the last seventy-five years and will continue to do so over the next seventy-five. And we as collectors will be evolving right along with it.
The purpose of the book collector is a considerable one. Genre fiction written within the small press will one day be seen as treasures by many rather than few. And we, as collectors, are simply the caretakers of these treasures.
For example, society is just now starting to see the real influence that H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction has had on American literature, film and art nearly a half-century after his death. Only with August Derleth’s passion for Lovecraft’s work and the persistence of Lovecraft’s readers to support and collect his publications, is his work now so well respected and available to the public.
I believe the small press horror collector’s role in our world history will also prove to be a significant one. We line our walls from floor to ceiling with these dark works of fiction because they teach us about the significance of life, its frailty and the ease with which it can be taken away. It affords us the opportunity to look at life as something very precious and worthy of our reverence.
Without the small press collector’s library we would likely lose much, if not all of these worthy tomes to the minutia of media that bombards our daily lives and thereby losing its influence within our cultural mores, folkways and taboos that are now written within the pages of today’s small press horror literature. I believe that the importance of this genre will, in retrospect, prove to be a reflection of the dark side of our nature through no less than five wars, concentration camps, occult suicides and school yard rampages to mention only a few. Art reflects life and our genre explores that darkness by shining the light of promise and interpretation upon it. The genre collector is the savior of these tomes for posterity.
Larry L. Roberts