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The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft — an update

31 Mar

When I visited Bob Weinberg at his home in Chicago in 2007 while I was travelling to Sauk City to attend the Walden West Fetival there. We talked about many things, but one of the items he mentioned was that he had recently returned to April Derleth an incomplete set with some duplicates of the original uncut signatures for “The Shunned House.” He lamented that it would have indeed been a rare and valuable item if the set had been complete. I saw April later that weekend and she gave me the handful, that is, 17 individual signatures to be exact, of folded uncut sheets of eight pages each.

My friend Dan Boulden and I gazed at the sheets back at Kay Price’s home and thought an Arkham House facsimile edition was in order, and I asked April’s permission to proceed. I gave the sheets to Dan, and subsequently he personally prepared a numbered edition of 50, with the idea that we would print another 50 if interest warranted, but no more than 100. He also prepared a lettered edition of 17. Each volume in this contained a pocket, for a single uncut signature.

The two editions have now appeared and the numbered edition has been now issued in a limited edition numbered 1- 100. The reader can check at http://www.batteredbox.com/ArkhamHouse/ShunnedHouse.htm for further details.

I include below the article that Bob Weinberg wrote about the background to the edition, which is also very interesting.

The Truth About The Shunned House Hardcover

by Robert Weinberg

Perhaps the oddest book ever published by Arkham House was the 100 copy hardcover edition of The Shunned House. While the basic facts regarding the book are common knowledge, the actual inspiration for its hardcover publication have never been known. This short article hopefully will serve as an answer to that question which has plagued collectors for nearly 50 fifty years.

“The Shunned House,” a long horror novelette, was written by H.P. Lovecraft during the week of October 16-19, 1924. The house of the story was based in part on a real house in Providence, R.I. located at 135 Benefit Street. Lovecraft’s aunt lived in the house in 1919-1920. The inspiration for the story was another house, one located in Elizabeth, New Jersey (not far from where Bob grew up, which may explain many things!) at the northeast corner of Bridge Street and Elizabeth Avenue.1Of that house, Lovecraft wrote that it was a “hellish place where night-black deeds must have been done in the early seventeen-hundreds.” In the same letter, he further explained “its image came up again with renewed vividness, finally causing me to write a new horror story with its scene in Providence and with the Babbit House as its basis.”2

In 1928, Lovecraft’s friend, and fellow small-press enthusiast, W. Paul Cook, proposed publishing “The Shunned House,” as a 250 copy Recluse Press hardcover book. Lovecraft was agreeable and Cook printed the sheets of the book. It was poorly typeset and contained a short introduction by Frank Belknap Long. However, according to August Derleth, Cook was always out of funds to pay to bind the book, and he totally abandoned the project when he moved from Massachusetts to Vermont several years later.3 Cook gave the unbound sheets to Lovecraft. In 1936, eighteen year old Robert Barlow took it on himself to hand bind around a dozen sets of the sheets. One of the books was of course for Lovecraft. The others he sent out to some of Lovecraft’s closest friends. The rest of the sheets remained unbound for the duration of Lovecraft’s life. Lovecraft died on March 15, 1937. Submitted by his friends after his death, “The Shunned House” was finally published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales.

Robert Barlow took possession of the unbound sheets after Lovecraft’s death. He did nothing with them. On January 2, 1951, Barlow committed suicide in Azcapotzalco, Mexico, where he had been studying early Mexican history. According to Derleth, Barlow’s friends in Mexico City sent the sheets to Derleth based on the two men’s correspondence about Lovecraft. Derleth received approximately 150 sets of the unbound sheets.

Derleth did nothing with the unbound sheets for the next few years. Then, in 1959, he began offering sets of the sheets for sale at $15.00 each. Despite the reasonable price, (most Arkham House books from the period were price at $3.50–$4.00 each), not many of the sheets sold. In the 1960 catalog, Derleth advertised the sheets again. The ad read “THE SHUNNED HOUSE. Unbound sheets of the rare first, never published edition, done by Cook in 1928. Only a few sets remain for sale. For collectors only. $15.00.”4

It was in late 1961 that long-time fantasy book collector, Sam Peeples wrote to his friend Derleth about buying a copy of The Shunned House. Peeples, however, didn’t want unbound sheets which would need some sort of special box or slipcase for storage. Instead, he proposed to Derleth that when the next Arkham House book was bound, Derleth would have a set of the pages of the unpublished book trimmed and bound with the press’s usual binding.5 Derleth agreed, telling Peeples by return mail, that the cost of the binding, complete with lettering on the spine of the volume, would cost an additional $10.6

Peeples’ idea of binding the unbound sheets of The Shunned House in Arkham House binding obviously appealed to Derleth. In a letter to Peeples written later that year, he wrote:

“I’m glad to know that the bound copy of The Shunned House reached you in good order. I had it bound uniformly with other Arkham House books, and, since I had a few other copies, I had them all done at once.”8

In the new books announcement for 1962 Arkham House, Derleth listed the volume thusly:

“Lovecraft collectors may like to know that we have bound the last remaining sets of the sheets of The Shunned House in a binding uniform with the binding of most of our books, under the Arkham House imprint, sans jacket of course, and these last copies will be sold at $17.50 a copy.”9

According to Derleth, approximately 100 sets of the sheets were bound in hardcover. Within a year, the bound hardcover copies of The Shunned House were gone. By late 1962, the book was listed out of print. What hadn’t sold as unbound sheets, sold fairly quickly (for an Arkham House book), in hardcover book format. Thus, it was an unusual request from a dedicated Arkham House collector that brought into existence the rarest of all Arkham House hardcovers.

1 H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. I, p. 357 (as quoted in Wikipedia, The Shunned House, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shunned_House#_note-1

2 Ibid

3 Derleth, August, “Letter to Sam Peeples,” November 2, 1961

4 Ibid

5 New Books from Arkham House: Coming in 1961

6 Peeples, Sam, “Letter to August Derleth,” August 1961

7 Derleth, August, “Letter to Sam Peeples,” August 16, 1961

8 Derleth, August, “Letter to Sam Peeples,” November 2, 1961

9 New Books from Arkham House: Coming in 1962

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