Stars in the Nebula

The last post to this blog about the William J. Heron Speculative Fiction Collection was in October 2013. As a fan of science fiction, I think thats too long to go without exploring the treasure trove of early science fiction contained in the collection. The Heron Collection includes thousands of classic science fiction magazine issues from many of the best known pulp titles. While perusing the collection, I discovered Nebula Science Fiction[PN6120.95.S33 N42], the first Scottish science fiction magazine (and, as far as I can tell, the only Scottish science fiction magazine until Spectrum SF started its short life in 2000). Nebula originally caught my eye because of its title. I thought it might be associated with the Nebula Awards but thats not the case. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to discover that an author Im currently reading, Robert Silverberg, had his first story published in Nebula: Gorgon Planet was published in issue #7 in February 1954.

Nebula Science Fiction published a total of 41 issues from Autumn 1952 to August 1959. The magazine was published by Crownpoint Publications in Glasgow, Scotland and was subsidized by its editor, Peter Hamilton. It was published in the later part of the pulp magazine era which spanned from approximately the 1890s through the early 1960s. Pulp magazines gained their name from the quality of paper used to publish them. They were printed on paper made from wood-pulp which turns yellow and brittle more quickly than other types of paper. The magazines were not intended to last and collections like the Heron Collection are special partly because they preserve the history of early fiction magazines printed in this way. In Britain, Nebula was an important publication in the genre along with New Worlds and Science Fantasy. Itincluded work from many authors who are well known today, including Robert Silverberg, John Brunner, A. Bertram Chandler, and Robert A. Heinlein.

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Nebula Science Fiction v.1:no.1 (Autumn 1952)

Robert Silverberg contributed 7 stories to Nebula beginning in 1954. Silverberg has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards, is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and was presented with the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 2004. His first published work, Gorgon Planet, appeared in Nebula Science Fiction #7 in February 1954. Other stories of his inNebula include: “Always” (March 1956), “Solitary” (March 1958), “Godling Go Home” (April 1958), “The Fires Die Down” (June 1958), “Strong Waters” (January 1959), and “The World He Left Behind” (February 1959).

Nebula_7
Nebula Science Fiction no.7 (February 1954)

John Brunner had 6 stories in Nebula beginning in Spring 1953. Brunner also has won Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. His best known works include Stand on Zanzibar, and The Sheep Look Up. His stories began appearing in Nebula with Brain Power in issue #2.His otherNebula stories are: “By the Name of Man” (July 1956), “Hope Deferred” (November 1956), “The Number of My Days” (December 1956), “Treason” (May 1957), and “The Hired Help” (February 1958).

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Nebula Science Fiction v.1:no.2 (Spring 1953)

A. Bertram Chandler was published 5 times in Nebula starting with The Window in issue #22 in July 1957. Chandler was the recipient of four Ditmar Awards from the Australian Science Fiction Foundation. In 1992, the Australian Science Fiction Foundation established the Chandler Awards, a juried award for Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction, in his honor. His four other works in Nebula are: “The Successors” (August 1957), “Artifact” (September 1957), “Motivation” (April 1958), and “Words and Music” (July 1958).

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Nebula Science Fiction no.24 (September 1957)

Robert A. Heinlein stories appeared in Nebula 3 times starting with Ordeal in Space in issue #9 in August 1954. Heinlein is a winner of the Locus award, multiple Hugo and Prometheus Hall of Fame awards, and was presented with the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 1975. He quoined the terms grok, waldo, and speculative fiction and popularized terms such as TANSTAAFL (there aint no such thing as a free lunch), pay it forward and space marine. In 2003, The Robert A. Heinlein Award was established to honor outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings to inspire the human exploration of space. It is administered by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Heinlein’s other two stories in Nebula are: “Rebellion on the Moon” (April 1955) and “Green Hills of Earth” (January 1956).

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Nebula Science Fiction no.9 (August 1954)

TheWilliam J. Heron Speculative Fiction Collection includes 37 of the 41 published issues of Nebula Science Fiction[PN6120.95.S33 N42], including most of the issues containing the works of Silverberg, Brunner, Chandler, and Heinlein. It also includes 85 issues of New Worlds[PR1309.S3 N49] and 78 issues of Science Fantasy[PR1309.S3 S45].Allare available to view in the public reading room at Newman Library.

 

The Amazing Guy Who Smiled

Here in Special Collections we have any number of items easily recognized as rare or unique: a letter from Charles Lindbergh to Apollo XI astronaut Michael Collins; a diary written by former slave Jeffrey Wilson; a first edition of James Joyces Ulysses. These items are among those that even a casual visitor would see as exceptional treasures. We have other items, however, that might at first glance seem commonplace but are in fact surprisingly rare, and such is the case with this studio portrait of William Dabney Martin.

William Dabney Martin, The Amazing Guy Who Smiled
William Dabney Martin, The Amazing Guy Who Smiled

Who was he, this dapper young man with the unruly mustache, smiling back at us from more than a century ago? Unfortunately, we know nothing definite of Martin, whose photo is found within an elegant 19th-century album in the Price Family Collection (Ms2012-047), purchased by Special Collections at a local estate auction in 2012. Clues found within the album suggest that he was the same William D. Martin who was born in Virginia in 1873, a son of Samuel and Josephine Martin. The owner of a Rocky Mount, Virginia, jewelry store, Martin married Nora Powell, and the couple had five children. Census records indicate that William Martin died young, between 1913 and 1920; the latter year found Nora, a widow, living in Prince Edward County with four of her children.

Given that we know nothing about the subject of the portrait or the studio in which it was created, it seems that the picture deserves no more notice than any another 19th-century photograph. But it is Martins smile that makes the image remarkable.

While looking through any collection of 19th-century studio portraits, one might understandably reach the conclusion that our ancestors were a stern and humorless lot. In a collection of a hundred photos, we might find, at most, a dozen in which the subject wears any expression other than a frown or scowl. Within that dozen, we might find within the mix of faces an occasional neutral or kind expression, but a discernible upturn of the mouth is a rarity, and a grin is even more uncommon. To find a subject wearing a full-out, tooth-baring smile, like that of the Amazing Guy Who Smiled, is downright extraordinary.

Certainly the latter 19th century wasnt devoid of humor; the era gave us the wit of Mark Twain and the satire of Thomas Nast. The era’s humor, however, rarely seems to have crossed the threshold of the portrait studio. In examining the photos below, typical of the time and pulled from the same album in which Martins photo is housed, we might be forgiven for thinking that people of the late 19th century were overwhelmed by despair and dyspepsia.

One theory blames poor hygiene for the absence of smiles in old photos. The theory contends that few people had good teeth, and the frowns were a way to hide an unflattering feature from posterity. It hardly seems likely, though that self-consciousness would have motivated nearly everybody to frown at the photographer. Moreover, the hygiene theory doesnt account for the dearth of even close-mouthed smiles.

Others claim that the tendency toward frowns may be attributed to the long exposure times required by early photography. Anybody whos had to hold a smile for more than a few seconds for a camera can attest to how quickly it becomes a strain. In the earliest days of studio portraiture, long exposure times certainly contributed to stilted poses and a lack of spontaneity. By 1880, however, advances in technology had eliminated the problem of long exposure times. Still the frowns persisted.

It seems likely that social customs of the day provided the most compelling reason for portrait subjects ill-humored appearances. Though studio photography quickly grew in popularityby the late 1800s even small towns had at least one portrait studiothe process and expense of portraiture continued to make it a significant event, and it was not one to be frivolously wasted. In a letter to the Sacramento Daily Union, Twain wrote, A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever. Twains views reflected Victorian-era codes of conduct that considered open displays of emotion as unseemly and something in which only by the coarse, the drunken, and the foolish engaged. And so, because nobody wanted to be remembered by posterity as a grinning idiot, smiles were largely discouraged in the portrait studio.

Societal changes and the advent of personal cameras, particularly Kodaks Brownie, greatly loosened strictures on photographic conventions, and spontaneity became much more the norm. Some decades later, as film gave way to digital cameras and smartphones, the values of the Victorian era vis–vis photography were completely reversed. If the novelty and expense of 19th-century studio portraiture led to frozen frowns, then the ubiquity and negligible expense of digital photography naturally led to such 21st-century phenomena as the duckface, a trend that would certainly have had most Victorians sternly spinning in their graves. But William Dabney Martin–non-conformist, iconoclast, rebel, smiler–may have understood.

An Uneasy Birth

Marking the 100th Anniversary of D. W. Griffiths Controversial Landmark Film, The Birth of a Nation

While recently pulling materials for an exhibit on silent films, I happened upon a small promotional flyer, probably from Blacksburgs Lyric Theatre, for D. W. Griffiths Birth of a Nation, which saw its initial theatrical release on March 3, 1915.

Though Griffith’s work is considered a watershed in cinematic history, few today can claim to have watched it in its entirety. The films relegation to a remote corner of public consciousness can be attributed to its silent film format (considered quaint or boring by most modern viewers) and to its treatment of a subject matter that is today widely seen as repugnant.

The Birth of a Nation purports to tell the story of Americas Civil War and the origin of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. In doing so, the film portrays the Klan as a noble organization devoted to protecting Southern society from marauding bands of brutish, lecherous Freedmen and their manipulative, hypocritical carpetbagger allies.

The Birth of a Nation flyer cover, depicting a cross-wielding Klan member in full regalia sitting astride a rearing horse, hints strongly at the films content and point of view.
The Birth of a Nation flyer cover, depicting a cross-wielding Klan member in full regalia sitting astride a rearing horse, hints strongly at the films content and point of view.

 

The plot for The Birth of a Nation was based on Thomas F. Dixon Jr.s novel The Clansman, the second volume in a trilogy about the Reconstruction South. A North Carolina Baptist minister, attorney, and state legislator, Dixon became a popular author around the turn of the 20th century, publishing more than 20 novels. The Clansman

The Clansman is among five of Dixons novels held by Special Collections. The librarys main collection holds several more titles.
The Clansman is among five of Dixons novels held by Special Collections. The librarys main collection holds several more titles.

is today remembered as his most famous (or infamous) work, and from it was drawn the films Southern apologist version of the Klans origins.

In bringing Dixons tale to the screen, Griffith spared no expense and pioneered a number of moviemaking techniques and technologies: The Birth of a Nation is said to have been the first film to employ night photography, panning motion shots, the iris effect, the intercutting of parallel action sequences, and many more advances that would become mainstays of cinematic narrative. Griffith also employed hundreds of extras in staging epic Civil War battle scenes and interspersed his story with accurate tableaux of scenes from American history. The film was unlike anything that movie-going audiences had seen to that time.

 

Inside, the flyer lists some of the innovations and enormous costs associated with the films production.
Inside, the flyer lists some of the innovations and enormous costs associated with the films production.

Griffiths accuracy and attention to detail exploited the publics willingness to take its history lessons from fictionalized accounts. An uninformed audience, seeing accurately portrayed historical scenes presented side-by-side with Dixons skewed view of events, might be partially forgiven for accepting all as fact. Even supposedly knowledgeable viewers, however, were enthralled by Griffiths prowess as a storyteller. The film is said to have been the first to be screened in the White House. After seeing it, President Wilson, himself a historian, reportedly said, It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true. The films widespread popularity and its audience’s impressionability are credited with being partially responsible for the KKKs resurgence and rise to political prominence during the 1910s and 1920s.

CAPTION: A page from the flyer illustrates how The Birth of a Nation mixed historic events with a subjective, fanciful view of the Klans origins.
A page from the flyer illustrates how The Birth of a Nation mixed accurate historical depictions of the Civil War with with a subjective, fanciful interpretation of events.

Even in 1915, however, the film spurred controversy. The NAACP staged protests in several major cities and made repeated efforts to have the film banned from theaters. Letter-writing campaigns sought to educate the public on the facts of Reconstruction and to warn of the films inflammatory nature, while boycotts attempted to provide economic deterrents against the film’s release. Such efforts were in fact successful in having the film banned from the theatres of a handful of large cities but could not prevent its nationwide release.

Testimony to its immense popularity at the time, The Birth of a Nation continued to enjoy periodic revivals for years, and it is said to have remained Americas highest-grossing film until being toppled by another Civil War / Reconstruction epic, Gone with the Wind, more than twenty years later.

Despite his films overwhelming commercial success, Griffith was not immune to criticism. Partially in response to negative comments on his films racially intolerant themes, Griffith released his magnum opus, Intolerance, the following year. The three-and-a-half hour epic tells four parallel stories from different time periods of human history, each illustrating the catastrophic consequences of intolerance. Griffith would continue to make films throughout the silent era with varying degrees of success, but he never again matched the achievements of The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.

Should The Birth of a Nation be considered an early cinematic masterpiece that is marred by its skewed interpretation of history and its outdated, hateful view of racial relations, or should any film (or other work of art) be considered a masterpiece when it advocates a point of view that is later almost universally abhorred as destructive and wrongheaded? In answering this question in his 2003 review of the film in 2003, critic Roger Ebert wrote: The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil… [I]t is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil.

The Hairy, Scary Things That Time Forgot!

So you think archival work is boring and routine, that nothing could be so harmless and mundane as arranging papers and then writing summary descriptions of them? Maybe you think the most frightening thing an archivist encounters in a typical workday is a misfiled folder or a paper cut. Well, let me tell you: a misfiled folder can be a pretty ominous thing, and as for paper cuts, hey, those things can get infected. And if you were to delve deep into the dark, quiet recesses of Special Collections, you might be shocked to find archivists with hands stained crimson (with red rot), their clothing torn (by sharp, rusty paperclips), and their minds shattered by a blinding stench (from decaying film negatives).

If none of these prospects strike you as particularly sinister, then also consider this: Archivists often spend a great part of their workday hanging out with dead people (no, Im not referring to other archivists). In arranging the personal papers of long-deceased individuals, we often come to know them pretty well, not only the bare facts of their lives, but their habits, their successes and failures, and their oddities. Truth be told, dead people can be pretty creepy sometimes, and when it comes to creepy, the Victorians, preoccupied as they were with mortality and the macabre, take the cake. These are the people, after all, who popularized the gothic novel, sances, so-called freak shows, and post-mortem photography. Several of our collections from that time period contain another creepy artifact of Victorian culture: the dreaded lock of hair keepsake.

Now of course a lock of hair seems a fairly innocuous thing and wouldnt normally be associated with creepiness, but when youre thumbing through the century-old account ledgers of a long-defunct livery stable, the lastwell, perhaps near to the lastthing you expect is for a big clump of hair to pop out at you. Thats exactly the shock we recently got, however, when reviewing the Warm Springs, Virginia Ledgers (Ms2014-003), a collection purchased earlier this year.

Though locks of hair continue to be clipped and kept as mementos, usually by parents who want a keepsake of their infant children, the sharing of a lock of hair between lovers as a symbol of devotion is a tradition that has largely fallen out of favor. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, it was a very common thing for a lover to request a lock of hair as a keepsake. Within the Frank C. Kitts Jr. Scrapbook (Ms2010-20), in fact, may be found small ringlets that Kitts, a native of Tazewell, Virginia, obtained from three different women, seemingly as a chronicle of his romantic conquests.

The scrapbook of Frank C. Kitts Jr., who perhaps considered himself something of a Lothario, contains locks of hair from three different women.
The scrapbook of Frank C. Kitts Jr., who perhaps considered himself something of a Lothario, contains locks of hair from three different women.

Locks of hair were also often kept as mementos of deceased loved ones. Such would seem to be the case with a small, loose bundle of reddish-blonde hair in the Vivian Coleman Bear Papers (Ms2009-086). The lock is accompanied by a poem titled “Despair,” clipped from a newspaper, which concludes, [I]n this world-weary bosom / is buried a sleepless pain.

The poem accompanying a lock of hair in the Bear Papers seems to have been written from the point of view of a woman mourning the loss of her fianc.
The poem accompanying a lock of hair in the Bear Papers seems to have been written from the point of view of a woman mourning the loss of her fianc.

The symbolic associations and physical qualities of hair gave rise to its use as a medium for artistic expression during the 19th century, and hairwork became a fashionable handicraft, with jewelry, accessories, and wall ornaments being meticulously fashioned from human hair. Unfortunately (well, fortunately, as far as Im concerned), we have no examples of hairwork in our collections. Most of the locks in our collections are simple affairs, either kept loose or bound with a small ribbon. Within the back of a Civil War-era diary found in the John D. Wagg Papers (Ms1992-048), however, may be found a rather fancily braided ringlet.

The intricate braid of this lock of hair found in the back pocket of a diary in the John D. Wagg Papers (Ms1992-048) suggests that it may have been intended for ornamental use.
The intricate braid of this lock of hair found in the back pocket of a diary maintained by John D. Wagg suggests that it may have been intended for ornamental use.

Within our collections from the Victorian era are many other locks of hair. The owners of these tresses are sometimes identified, but more often theyre not. And so were left today to wonder just who they were, these dead people with their clipped hair, and to be terrifiedokay, not terrified, but at least vaguely and mildly repulsedby the little pieces of themselves that they left behind.

Summer of the White City

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A view of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (from Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed).

During the summer of 1893, the hottest ticket in the United States was a trip to the Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago (also known as the Chicago Worlds Fair). Ostensibly created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbuss landing in the New World, the fair provided a showcase for American products and innovations and embodied the maturing nations sense of confidence and optimism. Indeed, during the fairs planning stages, the United States was in the midst of an economic boom driven by manufacture, fossil fuels, railroads, and agriculture. Ironically, by the time the fair opened, on May 1, the Panic of 1893 had initiated a widespread economic crisis that would require several years to overcome. Economic realities did little to diminish the exuberant spirit of fairgoers, however. On opening day, the exposition drew more than 129,000 visitors; by the time it closed, on October 30, more than 27 million people had visited the fairgrounds.

Among the fairs Virginia attendees was Smyth Countys Dr. John S. Apperson, who served as the commonwealths Worlds Fair executive business commissioner. (Appersons wife, Lizzie Black Apperson, would serve as a hostess in the fairs Virginia Building.) Among Appersons other duties as commissioner, he was charged with overseeing the shipment of Virginias exhibit materials to Chicago. Within the Black-Kent-Apperson Family Papers (Ms1974-003) may be found a letter conveying Appersons commission and a photographic portrait of the doctor, made by J. J. Gibson, the expositions official photographer.

Also found in the collection is a bronze medal, issued by the fair. Housed in its original aluminum case, the medal depicts on its obverse a romanticized version of Columbuss landing. On the reverse, a torch-flanked cartouche tells us that the medal was awarded to the Marion Marble & Mining Company. The company, to which Apperson likely had a connection, had contributed samples of marble and onyx to the fairs exhibits. Apperson had also contributed zinc and manganese ore samples, which would later be donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

Nicknamed the White City for its central complex of white faux-marble neoclassical buildings, the Columbian Exposition represented a seminal social and cultural event as the United States neared the 20th century. Despite a temporary economic downturn, the nation was strong, confident, and optimistic about the future. The overwhelming significance of the fair was not lost on publishers of the era, a fact reflected by the many contemporary printed materials commemorating the event. In our Rare Books Collection, Special Collections holds several books providing descriptions and photographs of various aspects of the fair, its grounds, and exhibits.

Though the Chicago Worlds Fair was not the first of its kind, having as its antecedents numerous municipal and provincial fairs, as well as previous national expositions in London, Philadelphia, and Paris, the Columbian Exposition was perhaps the most significant fair to that time, and few of its successors have so completely captured the publics attention and imagination. In terms of design concepts and themes, future Worlds Fairs (not to mention certain amusement mega-parks) would owe considerable debts to the White City.

Happy Hallowe’en

In honor of tonight’s ghoulish festivitieshere are some Special Collections selections featuring ghosts, witches, mysteries, the occult and paranormal. Take a look if you dare. Who knows you may find a last minute costume idea or a recipe for your haunted house.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12

Coincidentally, I found mention of “the first SF I ever read” in a few places this year. The authors all happened to be about the same age, and all reading Gernsback publications with memorable Frank Paul covers. Paul, the primary illustrator of the first dedicated American SF magazine, is well known for hisarchetypal depiction of the alien machines from War of the Worlds. But the monolithic impression he made on Arthur C. Clarke is not so widely appreciated!

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Arthur C. Clarke – Amazing Stories, November 1928

“The very first science-fiction magazine I ever saw had a cover by Frank Paul – and it is one of the most remarkable illustrations in the history of science fiction, as it appears to be a clear example of precognition on the part of the artist! I must have seen Amazing Stories for November 1928 about a year after it had been shipped across to England- so rumor has it, as ship’s “ballast”- and sold at Woolworth’s for 3p. How I used to haunt that once-famous store during my lunch hour, in search of issues of Amazing, Wonder, and Astounding, buried like jewels in the junk-pile of detective and western pulps! – Korshak, ed. From the Pen of Paul (Orlando: Shasta-Phoenix, 2009): 9.

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Frederik Pohl – Amazing Stories Annual, 1927

“The name of the game that year was the Great Depression, but I didn’t know I was playing it. And at some point in that year of 1930 I came across a magazine named Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, with a picture of a scaly green monster on the cover[unfortunately not in our collection; how did that happen?!].I opened it up. The irremediable virus entered my veins . . . That first issue of Science Wonder was heaven, but I didn’t realize that the fact that it was a magazine implied that there would be other issues for me to find. When another science fiction magazine came my way, a few months later, it was like Christmas. That was an old copy of the Amazing Stories Annual, provenance unknown. Given two examples, I was at last able to deduce the probability of more, and the general concept of “science-fiction magazines” became part of my life.” –Pohl, The Way the Future Was (New York: Del Rey, 1978): 2, 6.

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Lester Del Rey – Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929

“The Fall 1929 Science Wonder Quarterly has an unusually effective cover by Paul, showing three men in spacesuits, tethered by air lines to a rocket…This, incidentally, was the first science fiction magazine I ever read.” –Del Rey, The World of Science Fiction (New York: Garland, 1980): 50-51.

 

Pop Culture Artifacts from the Heron Collection of Speculative Fiction

Over the course of a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Virginia Tech Special Collections acquired the William J. Heron Collection of Speculative Fiction. The Heron collection includes approximately 5,000 issues of American, British, and Australian science fiction magazines. These magazines are notable not just for their content, but also have enduring appeal as cultural objects. Many early science fiction stories, especially magazine material from the 1940s and 1950s, have been variously reprinted, anthologized, expanded into book length, or otherwise modified for commercial re-use. So, seeing the original published setting of a story, or knowing that a given setting is not the first, provides a context for understanding its readership. And the cover art, which was usually original work, is always different and interesting in one way or another. As this is likely the first in an ongoing series of installments on science fiction magazines and their art and artists, the following images are all “firsts” from the great magazines, and all are from our collection. Of the four magazines represented here, both Astounding (which was retitled Analog in 1960) and Magazine of Fantasy (now know as Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) are still in publication. Astounding/Analog has been in continuous publication for almost 100 years!

Amazing Stories April 1926

Amazing #1, April 1926, Experimenter Publishing (cover by Frank Paul)

Astounding Stories

Astounding #1, January 1930, Clayton Magazines (cover by H.W. Wessolowski, aka Wesso)

Magazine of Fantasy

Magazine of Fantasy #1, Fall 1949, Mystery House (cover by Bill Stone)

Galaxy Science Fiction

Galaxy #1, October 1950, World Editions (cover by David Stone)