Mysterious Early Fan Art

This recently encountered work of art has spurred a new adventure in the archeology of early fandom.

A mysterious work of 1930s science fiction art

Here’s what we know:

  • The work is in ink, pencil and colored pencil on board. The board has pin-holes indicating that it was mounted at some point. It’s fairly large — 18″ x 13″.
  • There’s no signature, date or annotation on the piece, front or back
  • It appeared on eBay some time ago. The person who acquired it from there doesn’t recall from whom it was bought. So, no provenance is available.

Who did it, and when? For what purpose, if not for its own sake?

To attempt to date the piece, we observe the following clues:

  • “Trainor’s Tower” is a reference to “The Prince of Space” by Jack Williamson, first published in the January 1931 issue of Amazing Stories
  • “Septama” refers to Aladra Septama, a pseudonym of Judson W. Reeves. Stories under this moniker appeared in Amazing Stories in 1929 and 1930.
  • “Flagg” evokes Francis Flagg, a name used by author Henry George Weiss. Stories with this attribution were published primarily from 1928 – 1934, mostly in Amazing Stories.
  • “LESTONE” seems to point to the author Leslie F. Stone (legal name Leslie Francis Silberberg). Stories by Stone appeared in the early- to mid-1930s, mainly in Amazing Stories.
  • The designations on the airships (“G-6,” “S-6,” “II-0”) could be significant, but we haven’t been able to track down a specific origin.

Regarding the style of the piece, we believe it’s directly inspired by the work of Frank R. Paul — most specifically, this piece from Amazing Stories Quarterly, v1n1, Winter 1928, illustrating “The Moon of Doom” by Earl L. Bell.

Amazing Stories Quarterly, v1n1, Winter 1928

The FFE team has kicked this around and we’re stumped.

If we take the content as dating the piece to the early 1930s (reasonable but not definitive), here are the possibilities that seem most credible:

  • It’s fan art by the only fan artist prior to 1935 who demonstrated the level of skill necessary to create such a detailed piece — Clay Ferguson, Jr. That said, we haven’t seen other examples of Ferguson’s work that are similar in style.
  • It’s a preliminary or test piece by Frank R. Paul. However, we feel the variable quality of the rendering doesn’t seem consistent with Paul, even his preliminaries.

If we’re willing to allow that the piece is from the late 1930s, another candidate fan artist comes into focus — John V. Baltadonis. Born in 1921, it doesn’t seem credible that he could have produced this prior to the age of 16. His skill increased rapidly in the late 1930s and 1940s.

For example, we have this cover from The Science Fiction Collector, v4n3, August 1938. Notable here is the flyer designation, “K-24.” Same origin as the similar insignias on our mystery art?

The Science Fiction Collector, v4n3, August 1938

We also have this oil-on-canvas work from 1939, with another similar flyer designation, “D-7.”

Oil on canvas by John V. Baltadonis, c1939. Courtesy of Steve Baltadonis

We ran this puzzle by Baltadonis’ son, Steven. Could this be by his father? His take:

“I would say yes. Paul style and my father thought he was the greatest. Probable area of initials missing in lower left. I had a similar black and white from Paul that I unfortunately sold prior to my reading of father’s admiration for his style and work. But, I believe you are on target with this. It has his hand in it. Not just the detail, but the unnoticed to most pencil line up top.”

All of our guesses may be wrong. We’ll continue to dig for answers. Any insight from our readers would be greatly appreciated!

One thought on “Mysterious Early Fan Art”

Comments are closed.