“That Gap on the Second Shelf”

Vincent Starrett works that I want, but can't afford or can't find.

You might not think there are gaps to be filled, but there are, my friends, there are.

Here at the International Headquarters of Studies in Starrett, the bookshelves are the most important asset. Stuffed on a couple of bookcases in what used to be the family dining room (now the office) are books of all sorts, magazines, journals, and ephemera that make up this grown man's equivalent of a treasure box. My humble Starrett collection takes up about two-thirds of the shelf space.

Visitors will occasionally look up from the shelves and ask, "Is there anything Starrett wrote that you don't have?"

Yes, yes there is.

Here are the gaps on my Starrett shelf that I still want to fill:

I can't afford it

The title page to the very rare first printing of "The Unique Hamlet" from 1920.

If there's one item that I wish I owned, it would be "The Unique Hamlet," Starrett's 1920 story that is the most sought after Holmes pastiche in all of Sherlockdom. The pamphlet was published in a limited edition for Starrett's friends at Christmas, 1920. How limited? That's hard to say. According to the bibliography Charlie Honce put together (with Starrett's cooperation) back in 1941, Starrett said there were 110 copies, with 100 printed for Hill and 10 printed with Starrett’s names of them for his use. But rumors persist of additional copies.

To help sort things out, Randall Stock has started a census of known copies here. As of now, he has identified 51 copies, with about half—24—in libraries.

In addition to Randall’s work, Dr. Richard Sveum has spent many happy hours on a history of this little story. One hopes the world will one day be prepared to see his efforts in print.

Copies of “The Unique Hamlet” rarely come onto the market, but there are two available for sale that I'm aware of, with the price set at Argosy Books for $7,500 and Peter L. Stern & Company for $6,500.

Based on its rarity, I’m sure those prices are not out of line. But as Grandmother Betzner used to say, “That’s too dear for my blood.”

While I can't afford the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales, I do have a couple of others that feature works by Starrett. This one has an unearthly poem of his called "Cordelia's Tale."

There's a second item for this category, far less well known.

As you'll read in a few weeks (in a posting called "Vincent Starrett gets weird."), Starrett had several items published in that magazine of the macabre, that periodical of the peculiar, that monthly of the monstrous: Weird Tales. His contributions were not numerous—a few short stories and a haunted poem or two—and copies are neither hard to find or break-the-piggy-bank expensive.

The sole exception is the Weird Tales for December 1932. A few months ago, a copy went up for bid on eBay for $2,000. No one bid was received, and it was re-listed for a mere $999.99.

It remains unsold.

Why the high price?

It's not for "The Quick and the Dead," a short story by Starrett. No, the attraction here is (as the description on eBay reads) “ ‘The Phoenix On The Sword’ which is the VERY FIRST CONAN THE BARBARIAN STORY BY ROBERT E. HOWARD!!” (A double exclamation point is always more expensive.)

Alas, that's one periodical that won't grace my shelves.

I can't find it

This is a reprint of the Saturday Evening Post article. Starrett included it in his bookish anthology, Persons from Porlock.

There are two items that I've been hunting for a while that I can't find, let alone afford.

The first is the copy of the Saturday Evening Post for June 27, 1925. I've been in touch with book and paper dealers, hunted through the various online resources and spent more hours getting my hands filthy with paper dust than I care to recall. But no luck.

Why do I bother?

Because that particular issue contains one of Starrett's best known essays, "Have you a Tamerlane in Your Attic?" It was all part of Starrett's quest to own a rare copy of Edgar Alan Poe's anonymously published and extremely rare first book of poetry.

His scheme was brilliant and almost worked. You can read more about his quest in a previous post.

Starrett's tale has become widely known in the book-dealing world and is also often recounted by Poe collectors.

Perhaps that’s why copies of the Saturday Evening Post for that date are so hard to come by.

There’s one other item I would like to run down. It’s an obscure publication called “Reedy’s Mirror,” and the copy I want is from Feb. 22, 1918.

While it is little known today, “Reedy’s Mirror” was a very popular publication in the mid-West at the turn of the previous century and through the second world war. The reason I want this issue is that it contains Starrett’s first sustained bit of Sherlockian discourse: “In Praise of Sherlock Holmes.” Anyone familiar with his 1933 book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, will recognize this as an early version of one of that book’s chapters.

Starrett used the publication of “His Last Bow” as a reason to look back on the Holmes stories with a smile, and write wistfully about the trifling monographs whose titles dot the Sherlockian canon.

“As a book-lover and collector, I am eager to posses the collected works of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. In my library, beside the delux “Manon Lescaut” and the historical writings of George Alfred Henty, I want to place those little brochures on crime to which Holmes refers — carelessly, yet so often.”

It’s good to know that Starrett also had little gaps on his shelves that he wished to fill.

By the way, any of you should free to use this as a shopping list. My birthday is coming up, you know.