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Indexing the SF fanzines of the 1930s

By indexing, I mean here both a subject index and a ‘story’ index of the fanzines.  From Pavlat & Evans, and other sources, we have an index of what zines were published when by whom, in how many issues, including the paper page size, the reproduction method, the number of pages, and often notes of oddities (like skipped numbers/lost issues, etc.) for a given title.  For me, the index I am trying to create will support the work of a historian.  The intent being that if you were going to write about the PSFS and one of things you wanted was to read all the pages in which say, Bob Madle, wrote, or was mentioned, you could easily do so by referring to the index (getting legible copies would be the next problem).

So, people as subjects terms are easy, club names are easy, and most bits of fiction and poems are easy to index.  The news columns that name drop 3 dozen people are tedious, but easy.  What I am now finding harder, since I am getting wiser so very slowly, is that making sub-subject terms that are useful is harder and will now require me to go back over and read everything again.  Why do I think I need sub-terms? Well, because looking at series of 7 dozen page numbers after, say the name of someone like Wollheim or Ackerman, means you might be looking for quite a while unless you have it broken down by a sub-term.

So, an example, from The Science Fiction News Letter. Volume 1, Number 2 (December 11, 1937), page 1.


      We are not, as we thought, pioneers. At a meeting of the New York Fantasy Association last Sunday, Donald A. Wollheim, took great delight in informing us that the first weekly science fiction publication was concocted by George Gordon Clark, of BROOKLYN REPORTER fame (or infamy, whichever). This unnamed whatnot ran for eight weeks or thereabouts.

So, my terms for this are New York Fantasy Association; Wollheim, Donald A.; Clark, George Gordon; and The Brooklyn Reporter.  I’m not sure how I would sub-term this for DAW, and now that I look at this specifically, I’m not sure it really matters, but I think if I was going to, I would now sub-term DAW with “New York Fantasy Association” (maybe with December 5, 1937).

Note: DAW was incorrect. There were 5 issues of The Brooklyn Reporter and the first 4 were close to been published a month apart with the final fifth issue showing up 5 months late.r (I have recently seen all 5 issues).

So, other than perhaps overthinking things, the other things that make this a bit harder than a usual indexing project is

  1. The texts are not in a digital, textual form.  Often when one is indexing something for a book you can merely use a fancy tool and select the text and index it.  The texts I am working from are generally scans of very old hecto’d fanzines that were perhaps hardly readable when they were printed (they did the best they could with what they had). If I didn’t have ‘zoom’, and as needed, the ability to fiddle with contrast etc., I wouldn’t be able to read them at all (and we are so not doing to be trying to transcribe over 10,000 pages of material).
  2. How do I say this nicely. These are not professional magazines. They were done, quite often, by teenagers, doing the best they can. So, the structure, and often the content, is kind of juvenile. Quite a few of the initial issues of a title are little more than a hi guys, I hope you like my effort, please send stuff in, I’m so happy to be here!, is it to early to try to sell ad space? So, not necessarily a whole lot there. It is the attempt and artifact that is important, as the content isn’t necessarily very notable.
  3. Pseudonyms.  How SF loves its pseudonyms!  In fanzines, as in prozines, many stories/articles could be by the same pen, but they made up pseudonyms to make it seem as if they were not.  I index them all. I’ll figure out some sort of notation to mark them as such…if I know they are a pseudonym.
  4. What do I care about, subject-wise? Well, I think I have decided I do not care about itemized listing of recent or upcoming prozines. All this info is available via ISFDB, FictionMags, or Galactic Central: Science Fiction. If the author said something beyond whether they liked it or not (even if was just a brief review) I would index it. I think I also decided I was not interested in indexing articles that are one paragraph long about ‘lava’. I’ll index the author, so we know they were active in the issue, but not ‘lava’.  I would of course index articles on ‘technocracy’ etc. Otherwise, I am trying to make as useful of an index as I can. I vaguely have a use case of, (but not by me), if someone wanted to update every relevant entry in the Fancyclopedia using the index and facsimiles of all the known-to-still-exist SF fanzines of the 1930s.

So what form will this index eventually take?  Not sure yet.  Certainly, it will help us write up bits of history. It will likely be used for bits of back-of-the book indexing. Perhaps we’ll consider printing a stand-alone index or putting it online for searching. Too early to tell yet (there are a lot a fanzines, a lot of history, and many interesting project to get side-tracked into!)

What are the SF fanzines of the 1930s?

To take this project forward, we needed to make a list of the fanzines and other fannish publications and ephemera of the 1930s, find out if it still exists in a library or private collection, gather it all in for digitization, AND then read it, categorize it, etcetera.

So, Step 1, make a list.  To do this we start by using the fine work by those fan historians who came before us.  I will, at this time, only consider indexes and resources that cover the 1930s.

  1. Science Fiction Bibliography by the Science Fiction Syndicate (D. R. Welch and William Crawford)
  2. SF Check-List by Robert and Frances Swisher
  3. Fanzine Index from Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans
  4. British Fanzine Bibliography by Rob Hansen
  5. Various fan indexes
  6. Library Finding aids and catalog holdings
  7. Auction listings and ads in fanzines and other sources
  8. FAPA fanzines

I’ll take each of those above, in turn:

1) Science Fiction Bibliography by the Science Fiction Syndicate

This was published in 1935 and is generally attributed to have been done by D. R. Welch and William Crawford(1). It is 12 pages, printed, 8.5 x 5.25.   Reputedly, this is the first bibliography ever published in the field of science fiction and fantasy literature.    In brief, it has 3 pages on pamphlets & booklets, 5 on fan magazines (not yet called fanzines)(2) (including Marvel Tales and Unusual Stories)(3), and 1 and a bit on ‘minor publications’(4), and 2 pages of items for sale.  From the tone describing these ‘minor publications’, such as ‘There is absolutely no reason why anyone should waste time collecting this item’ (RE: The Planetoid), I am not surprised that we hear little of D. R. Welch, as who would then order from him? One item that was more interesting to me, since I knew almost nothing of it, regarding the single issue of Radiagram,was this sentence ‘No stranger collection of scientific fallacies and misinformation has ever been put into print – an unbelievable revelation of callow thinking and juvenile misunderstandings.’ So, this was the first science fiction bibliography, though not very useful or interesting. Noted in the Pavlat & Evans’ Fanzine Index on p. 97.

Science Fiction Bibliography cover

2) SF Check-List by Robert and Frances Swisher

This SF Checklist is an 8 volume, hecto’d index of fanzines through about Fall 1942. It appears to me that although the first volume was published (to FAPA) in October 1938 and the final volume was published in November 1942, they did not catalog up the first volume, but included any-and-all information they had up to the time they typed it up. For the most part I don’t think that the index was made up issues ‘cataloged in hand’ but was made up of notes submitted or noted from fanzines. Thus, the Checklist reads more like a series of notes rather than a firm catalogue.  I don’t think that this Checklist has been studied all that much because, 1) it is hecto’d and very hard to read. Some pages very nearly too faded to read. I think one might have to have at least 2-3 copies to successfully parse all pages of the 8 volumes. (though scanning at hi-res and zooming and fiddling with the contrast does help overcome these issues) 2) It seems to me to be rather rare. I’m not sure if it was distributed outside of FAPA with its 50-copy minimum. 3) We presume that Pavlat & Evans mined it, and included, from it, all notes of value. The Swisher SF Checklist is very important and useful because it formed the foundation of the next index.
The SF Check-List is noted in the Pavlat & Evans Fanzine Index on p. 105. 

SF Checklist. No. 3

3) Fanzine Index from Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans

The most useful index we have is the Fanzine Index from Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans (which I will now call Pavlat & Evans or P&E), for the period of the 1930’s.   This is a core a resource because not only does it build upon Robert D. Swisher’s SF Checklist (acknowledged very clearly in the introduction of the P&E index) , it is also now conveniently very accessible because Peggy Rae (Pavlat) Sapienza has granted permission to Ron Brown to scan it and those scans are made available at   as a 13MB PDF: Pavlat & Evans Fanzine Index.   This index was done in five volumes, published from December 1952-November 1959 and covers fanzines through December 1952 (generally including those marked ‘Winter 1952-53’). This index, other than now being online, was made more readily available because it was reprinted by Harold Palmer Piser.  I believe the copy at eFanzines is the Piser version because it looks like his ‘a’ was bent a bit low (and Pavlat’s was not). If you compare them, except for doing typewriter forensics, they might be exactly the same excepting the different paper. (and also, I think most Piser versions were drilled or punched for putting into a 3-ring binder).  These, being mimeo, are much more readable, than the hecto’d Swisher SF Check-List.  The second volume notes that they were now being printed by Charles F. Derry (aka Chick).  We know that this index too lacks some information (P&E note as such in the first paragraph of the introduction to the first volume) , which is understandable, since many of those 1-2 page newszines came out weekly. P&E also have notes of reference giving clues to fanzines not seen or reasonably confirmed directly by them. These notes tend to cover issues that were likely hand-copied, carbon copied, or were issued in very low numbers (<10).

Fanzine Index, Volume 1. P&E edition. 1938.
Fanzine Index, Piser edition. 1965
Ad for the Piser edition of the Fanzine Index

4) British Fanzine Bibliography by Rob Hansen

Hansen’s, bibliography, online at, is useful to confirm and add information for early British fanzines that was not known to P&E. Also, very useful if one is interested in just UK fanzines and you don’t want to parse through all of P&E).

5) Various fan indexes

A convenient list of various fanzine listing can be found from the not yet mentioned excellent website,  The FANAC: Fan History Project: (FANAC = Florida Association for Nucleation and Conventions). Their page FANAC Bibliographies & Collections ( lists most of the useful ones available on the Internet.  The two, other than the aforementioned, British Fanzine Bibliography, that were the most useful for investigations the 1930s, were Greg Pickergill’s Memory Hole (, and Joe Siclari’s checklist of his collection (, these two in particular  were more useful than the others because they include more of the early zines form the 1930s;

6) Library Finding aids and catalog holdings

The primary library fanzine holdings for 1930’s fanzines are also noted on the FANAC bibliography page. These being the M. Horvat Collection of Science Fiction Fanzines (at University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections) (

(Note that Iowa also has the Hevelin collection and although there is no finding aid yet, you can see some that they have scanned and put into the Iowa Digital library (, their DIY History for the Hevelin fanzines at, and their not-very-active Tumblr blog at

The holdings of the University of California Riverside Libraries Fanzine Collections (having the collections of Bruce Pelz , Terry Carr, and Rick Sneary).  Se their description page at

(To find listings you will need to see the library catalog from Hint: use advanced search and set the  “Subject (is exact)” to be  “Fan magazines” AND set the ‘Any field’ to be “From the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy”. You can then change the date ranges and sort by title etc.)One last one, is the Coslet-Sapienza Fantasy and Science Fiction Fanzine Collection  at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County ( I think they have the most issues of fanzines from the 1930s of any of the University collections mentioned above.  I prefer to use the  PDF finding aid. I search for ‘193’ and that, barring a few false hits, lets one step through it finding all the issues from the 1930’s.

7) Auction listings and ads in fanzines and other sources

I have slowly, over about 20 years, gained some valuable information from browsing auction listings and ads found in the various fanzines.  For auction listings they mostly help to confirm data, but sometimes also, if they include images, let one see the dates for a kind of catalog-in-hand. Some auction listings on ebay, done by knowledgeable fans can even give you helpful information not found in the fanzine on for sale, such as what other fanzines they did, maybe things about pseudonyms, variations on a given issues etc.

Another item used to find very esoteric and low run fanzines from New Zealand is the book Timeless Sands: A History of Science Fiction Fandom in New Zealand (compiled by Nigel W. Rowe).

8) FAPA fanzines

The fanzines, and other ephemera, like FAPA business (elections, members, dues etc.), in FAPA mailings have their own special problems. The 2 issues are: there were generally only, at most, 50 copies, and 2) the mailings were bundles, and individual items could easily become lost.

Two items especially useful for noting these early FAPA fanzines are: Larry Shaw’s FAPA Index, which overs those items included in FAPA mailings through #28 (June 1944). And Bob Pavlat’s FAPA Book: The Mailings. 6 volumes, covering mailings #1-96.

Shaw’s FAPA Index (1944)
Pavlat’s FAPA Book (cover, volume 1)


(1) See:  Fancyclopedia 3:

Science Fiction Bibliography

                 D. R. Welch

(2) See:  Fancyclopedia 3:  Fanzine

“Louis Russell Chauvenet coined “fanzine” in the October 1940 issue of his own fanzine, Detours, …”

(3) Marvel Tales and Unusual Stories I consider to be more prozines, or at east attempts at being a prozine.