John Hertz: Fanzines at the Eaton Collection

Flyer for John Hertz talk at Eaton Collection 

By John Hertz: Last month I gave a talk at the Eaton Collection on fanzines. Eaton is one of the Special Collections in the Rivera Library, Riverside campus, University of California; the largest publicly accessible holding of s-f in the world.

At the 2004 Worldcon, Fan Guest of Honor Jack Speer in presenting a Hugo Award said the fanzine remained the most distinctive product of the science fiction community. He knew; he’d been with us seventy years. It still is.

When Bruce Pelz died in 2002, Eaton already had Terry Carr’s and Rick Sneary’s fanzines. The Carr zines, thanks particularly to Robert Lichtman, were fairly well indexed. The Sneary zines were indexed. The Pelz zines had been beyond Bruce’s powers during his life. Early in 2009 Eaton finished a preliminary indexing. I had put in time – it’s only two hours’ travel by freeway or rail – bearing a hand.

To the uncivilized mind there are no interests but personal interests. If it doesn’t gore my ox I don’t care. If the book isn’t about me I won’t buy. The civilized mind is broader. My question for the day was, what good are fanzines to people who are not part of the s-f community, who may not read science fiction? Dr. Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections, had long been alert to it. What if drinking companions of King James’ translators had published amateur journals about the work, and the apple crop, and the latest songs? Kipling’s imagined glimpse in “Proofs of Holy Writ” is delightful, but its focus is close on the topic – as many people mistakenly think of fanzines. And, besides the resonating note of s-f, fanzines are a voluntary world of letters, where people write, and read, for love.

I had no trouble overflowing a display table with fanzines that come in my mail. Mike Glyer had kindly sent with me a few dozen of the latest File 770, which I gave everybody. In my audience were students, librarians and staff, and people who didn’t speak. Except the library folk, most had evidently never dreamed of such things. Those who knew s-f knew books, films, prozines. Why wasn’t there fiction? Why on paper? – as they wrote in paper notebooks. Why wasn’t there pay? – as they thought ahead to basketball. The usual. I didn’t mind at all. Two plus two made four last year too. We adjourned to fruit and cookies. None of File 770 was left behind.

Eaton had kindly made a flier which spoke of 50,000 Pelz fanzines. Was this a typo? We had long heard of 250,000. Actually there are about 70,000 – someone rounded down – but indeed something happened. Space. Pelz had a lot of fanzines, like many collectors had acquired others’ collections, and had never gone all through to organize the lot. A judicious retention of duplicates, the ideal policy, calls for comprehensive knowledge, beyond the powers of Eaton’s staff – I said Space, but it’s related to Time. Joe Siclari had always told Pelz he’d take anything Eaton didn’t. He and Dr. Conway confirmed this disposition. I asked Siclari “Have you provided for them in your will?” He changed the subject.

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6 thoughts on “John Hertz: Fanzines at the Eaton Collection

  1. Excellent points.

    The Eaton still needs plenty more fmz. Those who have should donate.

  2. I’m surprised to read statements like “The Pelz zines had been beyond Bruce’s powers during his life.” And “Pelz had a lot of fanzines, like many collectors had acquired others’ collections, and had never gone all through to organize the lot.” I remember when Bruce first started cataloging his ‘zines in 1977, originally on a university computer with punch cards he kept in a shoebox and bar-graph paper printouts of data entered thus far. As personal computer technology advanced, I had assumed that he had every couple of years converted his data to a new format as he upgraded his computer, even while continuing his data entry. I had always observed Bruce so well organized that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Was I that wrong?

  3. Bruce did, indeed, spend many hours keypunching data about his fanzines onto hollerith cards in the Seventies. He had a huge list of his holdings. Did he continually update it? I don’t know. Could he keep up with the volume of incoming zines? We do know it took the Eaton Collection (with whatever resources it put into the job) from 2002-2009 to get things sorted and databased.

  4. I could tell from context what you meant by “hollerith cards” but I couldn’t recall hearing the term before, so I looked it up.

    I had never heard of Herman Hollerith even though his work has played a large part in my life: my late maternal grandmother, just four years gone, was lead keypunch operator at Service Bureau Corporation here in St. Louis, a subsidiary of first of IBM, then later of Control Data Corporation. The employment created by Herman Hollerith’s invention bought me Christmas toys (including company Christmas parties), birthday presents, school clothes, trips to the local Dairy Queen and to the Lake of the Ozarks, and pocket money as a child in the ’60s, and I never knew of him — Gramma Sue just called them “keypunch cards”, and so did we.

    You just taught me something about my childhood I didn’t know. Thank you, Mike.

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