Collecting Clark Ashton Smith
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
posted by Jeffrey Shanks
In this article I’ll be giving a brief overview of the works of Clark Ashton Smith from the perspective of the collector. As the longest lived of the Weird Tales “Big Three,” Smith produced a great number of poems and stories throughout his life in a career that spanned a half a century. The primary online resource for all things CAS-related is the exhaustive EldritchDark.com website, which gives thorough information on all of Smith’s publications. The most useful print reference is Don Herron’s article “Collecting Clark Ashton Smith” in the October 2000 issue of Firsts magazine.
One notable difference between Clark Aston Smith and his Weird Tales counterparts Lovecraft and Howard is that he had his work published in book form a number of times while he was still alive. He also signed quite a few books and his signature is fairly easy to obtain. As general rule of thumb, signed copies of Smith’s works usually sell for around two to three times what an unsigned copy in similar condition would sell for.
In the early years of his career, Smith was known primarily for his verse rather than his prose. His first published poem appeared in an issue of Munsey’s magazine in 1910 when Smith was seventeen years old. He would have numerous poems published over the next two decades in wide assortment of magazines, newspapers, and literary journals. Many of these vary in scarcity and value. For a complete listing of all of these publications see the Eldritch Dark site.
For the CAS collector, the earliest items that are fairly accessible are his books of collected poetry. Smith’s first book, The Star Treader and Other Poems was published in 1912. It had an initial print of 2000 copies, but 1000 of those, still in the form of unbound sheets, were destroyed in a fire. This first edition exists in three states or impressions. The first state has tan boards and a tan dust jacket with gold lettering. The second state is like the first, but has a black spine. The third state has blue boards. This book is not as hard to find as one might think given the early date, even in jacket, and sells for a relatively modest $400-800 depending on condition.
Smith’s second book, Odes and Sonnets was published in 1918 in an edition of 300 numbered copies. It sells for $300-400. This was followed in 1922 by Ebony and Crystal with a print run of 535 signed and numbered copies and Sandlewood in 1925 with 200 numbered copies. Smith’s first short story collection, The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies was published in 1933. This perfect-bound soft cover book had a print run of 1000 copies and sells for $200-300. Another poetry collection, Nero and Other Poems was published in 1937 in a hardback edition of 200 copies – it sells for $300-400.
Smith also broke into the pulps at an early age, appearing in the August 1911 issue of the The Black Cat, a supernatural themed publication that in many ways was a precursor to Weird Tales. His poems and stories would continue to grace the pages of the pulps until the last days of the medium, though his output of new material dropped off considerably after the deaths of Howard and Lovecraft, as Smith turned instead to sculpture as a means of creative expression. A full accounting of his pulp appearances is beyond the scope of this essay (see again the Eldritch Dark site), but I will touch upon a few of the more significant issues.
Smith first appeared in Weird Tales with two poems, “Moon-Dawn” and “Duality” in the August 1923 issue. As with all of the early issues of Weird Tales it is very scarce and very expensive, listed in Bookery’s Guide to the Pulps at $2000 in Very Good. Smith’s verse was published in numerous issues of Weird Tales throughout the 1920s, but it was not until the May 1930 issue that his first prose piece, “The End of the Story,” would appear in the magazine. This was followed by “The Uncharted Isle” in the November 1930 issue. Smith’s story “The Monster of Prophecy” made the cover of the January 1932 issue. The May 1930 and January 1932 issues both guide at $100 in Very Good, while the Novemeber 1930 issue guides for $175 (due to the Kull story in that issue).
Many of Smith’s best known stories would appear in Weird Tales over the next few years, including “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” in May 1932, “The Empire of the Necromancers” in September 1932, “The Beast of Averoigne” in May 1933, and “The Seven Geases” in October 1934. All of these issues guide for between $75 and $125 in Very Good.
Smith had several works published in the short-lived Weird Tales competitor Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. This included one of his most famous stories, “The Return of the Sorceror,” in the September 1931 debut issue. Somewhat uncommon, it guides for $350 in Very Good.
Hugo Gernsback’s science fiction pulps were also a successful market for Smith. He made the covers of the October 1930 issue of Wonder Stories with “Marooned in Andromeda” and the Summer 1931 issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly with “The Amazing Planet.” Another of his best-known stories, “The City of the Singing Flame” made the cover of the July 1931 issue of Wonder Stories and its sequel, “Beyond the Singing Flame,” appeared in the November 1931 issue. All of these issues of Wonder Stories are fairly common and list for $35 in Very Good. Gernsback also published a compilation of Smith’s science fiction stories, The Immortals of Mercury in a chapbook format in 1933. It sells for around $150-200.
By the 1940s Smith was no longer producing much new material. August Derleth, meanwhile had founded a new publishing company, Arkham House, with the purpose of ensuring H.P. Lovecraft’s works would stay in print. He soon he began reprinting Smith’s stories as well. This series of Arkham House collections are probably some of the most desirable and sought after CAS collectibles. The first volume, Out of Space and Time was published in 1942 in an edition of 1054 copies. The black dust jacket, illustrated by Hannes Bok, is very susceptible to fading and the white lettering on the spine has a tendency to yellow, thus it is a difficult book to acquire in high grade. Decent copies tend to sell in the $1000-2000 range, depending on condition.
The second Arkham House volume, Lost Worlds was published in 1944 with a print run of 2043 copies. The jacket design incorporates images of some of Smith’s sculptures. It sells for $500-1500, again depending on condition. This was followed by Genius Loci (3047 copies) in 1948, The Dark Chateau and Other Poems (563 copies) in 1951, and Spells and Philtres (519 copies) in 1958. These three volumes generally sell in the $400-800 range. The Abominations of Yondo, published in 1960, with a print run of 2005 copies, was Smith’s last book published within his lifetime – it sells for $200-300.
Arkham House would continue to publish Smith’s works posthumously for the next several decades, though the volumes put out in the 60’s and early ’70s are the most collectible. These are Tales of Science and Sorcery (1964), Poems in Prose (1965), Other Dimensions (1970), and Selected Poems (1971). They sell in the $100-200 range.
A number of fanzines and limited chapbooks with Smith’s work, particularly poetry, have been published over the years. One of the earliest was The White Sybil, a prozine put out in 1935 by William Crawford containing the eponymous work by Smith, as well as “The Men of Avalon” by D.H. Keller. It sells for $150-200. The Ghoul and the Seraph with a print run of 85 copies was published by Gargoyle Press in 1950 and rarely comes up for sale. Roy Squires, longtime fan and friend of Smith and also literary executor of Smith’s estate after the writer’s death, published a series of small poetry chapbooks in the 1960s and ’70s, beginning with The Hill of Dionysus in 1961. These had very small print runs, some with as few as 15 or 16 copies, and they sell in the $50-100 range.
Smith’s works were reprinted in paperback form throughout the ’70s and ’80s by publishers such as Ballantine, Panther, and Timescape. Spearman produced four volumes in the 1970s reprinting the Arkham House short story collections. Necronomicon Press put out a number of Smith’s stories in booklet form during the ’90s. More recently Smith’s works have been reprinted by Wildside Press, Hippocampus Press, and Night Shade Books.
Smith, was perhaps the least known of the great Weird Tales triumvirate, but his published works are a treasure trove of limited edition hardback volumes, very early books, signed copies, rare pulps and fanzines, and numerous other scarce items that can keep even the most diligent collector searching for years. And as all collectors know at heart, the fun is all in the hunt.