Collecting Edgar Rice Burroughs

By Tom Billings
   Tarzan, John Carter, Pellucidar! From books to movies and beyond, the fantastic characters and exotic places created by this master storyteller offer the collector many unique items.
   Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) introduced the world to his most famous creation, Tarzan, via the pages of All-Story Magazine in 1912. After piling failure upon failure, Burroughs (often referred to by his initials, ERB) at age 36 took pen in hand, applying the imagination he developed as a boy riding the Western ranges, and soon became one of the most popular writers in history!
   His novels have been printed in over 40 languages, with artwork by the greatest illustrators. Dozens of movies have been made from his Tarzan stories alone. Comics, toys, games, literally any object that could carry the ERB copyright has been sold over the last 80 years…and is now waiting for the collector!
   Even before Tarzan appeared in print, Burroughs established himself as a writer of the fantastic with the introduction of his first hero, John Carter, “Warlord of Mars.” This series follows the adventures of an Earthman translated to Mars, where he meets and marries a princess. ERB has been credited with coining the term “science fiction,” and many later writers give him the nod for stimulating their own careers.
   Pulp magazines are some of the more prized examples of Burroughsiana, since many of his works first appeared between their often lurid covers. Depending upon age, contents, condition and scarcity, these fragile magazines can still be found at a good used bookstore starting at a modest $20, to well over $7,000 for the most prized, Tarzan of the Apes.
   McClurg Publishing of Chicago (Burroughs’ hometown) brought out ERB’s first hardbound editions, many of them with dust jackets and illustrations by J. Allen St. John, who would become the first famous artist associated with ERB. A McClurg first of At the Earth’s Core can go for over $1,500; while a later reprint by Grosset & Dunlap or A.L. Burt, offering practically the same artwork, is readily available for a mere $40.
   If you’re interested in a good investment, many of the Ace paperback editions with art by Frank Frazetta that came out in the early 1960s would only set you back $5 or $6. Frazetta is considered the ultimate science fiction and fantasy artist of his generation, and these covers are some of his best work.
   The comic format lent itself quite admirably to both John Carter and Tarzan; in fact, Tarzan was the first syndicated newspaper comic. Both Hal Foster (originator of Prince Valiant) and Burne Hogarth represent perhaps the best of the earliest artists to do the Tarzan strip. A nice Sunday Tarzan from the late ’30s, done by Hogarth, with bright, crisp colors and uncontained action within its panels, should cost only $10. These wonderful remnants of an American artform make great conversation pieces when framed and hung on a wall.
   Dell, Marvel, DC, Sparkler and Jeep are some of the comic book companies that have featured Tarzan and his son, Korak, “The Killer” (not Boy!). Dell used photo covers with the film Tarzan of the moment, Lex Barker or Gordon Scott. Don’t be surprised if you find a nice 1951 Dell at a yardsale for a few bucks! But then again, don’t be surprised if you see the same issue at a store specializing in old comics, wearing a price tag of one or two hundred dollars! Remember, it’s condition that often determines the value of an object. The better the condition, the greater the value. The newer DC and Marvel comics dating from the 1970s (John Carter, Korak, Tarzan, and even some Pellucidar titles) may only cost a dollar or two and have marvelous painted covers, but they are pretty ubiquitous; any comic store has a set or two of these.
   Foreign comic books (many of them reprints of American issues, but some with original art) with exotic lettering can make a fun addition to a collection for a few dollars a book. Don’t forget the movie memorabilia also produced in those countries. Posters, lobby card sets, stills; practically all the items associated with the movies, at a price less than those produced in Hollywood!
   A high end Tarzan one-sheet (27×41) poster can cost several thousand (especially rare are those from the silent movie era), with the record being around $30,000! But many other movie related items go for much less. Greystoke (1984) lobby cards and posters still only cost about $15-$20, while the British-produced The People That Time Forgot and The Land That Time Forgot, both from the 1970s, require even less of an investment. Many of the actors who portrayed Tarzan, from Gordon Scott in the late 1950s to Greystoke’s Christopher Lambert, are still around to autograph memorabilia. Not only does this add value to your poster or movie still, but it adds a new and different slant to your collection.
   Autographs of either ERB or one of the many actors and actresses from the equally as many Tarzan films are highly collectible. A signed photo of Johnny Weissmuller posed as Tarzan can be valued at around $150, and Maureen O’Sullivan (Mia Farrow’s mom and the most memorable screen Jane), dressed in her costume, sells for $50. During his lifetime, Burroughs often answered some of the many letters that he received each day from fans. His signature commands one of the highest prices for an American author, with $200 to $400 the average. If it’s on a first edition or beneath one of his drawings (an amateur artist, he often sketched some of his many alien creatures for fans), then the value is sometimes doubled or even tripled!
   There has been an increase in the number of trading cards picturing either Tarzan or another of Burroughs’ characters. Done by Richard Hescox, David Burroughs Mattingly (his parents named him after ERB), Barclay Shaw and Joe Jusko, to name a few, the art on these cards is among some of the finest from today’s illustrators. Earlier card sets (Topps, Banner) sell for $3-$6 per card and although the art is not as realized as it is on the current cards, they still make for a nice, colorful collection.
   Toys were among some of the first collectibles that were spun off from ERB’s books. Games, dolls, puzzles, radio (again, Tarzan was the first program to be syndicated) and cereal premiums were introduced on an almost weekly basis from the ’30s to the ’60s. An original 1950 Tarzan flasher ring is a bargain at $25, or one of the newer “Princess of Mars” picture puzzles by Frazetta, should cost the same.
   Finally, don’t forget today’s books, toys, etc. are tomorrows collectibles…at half the price! The 2-1/2 dollars spent on the latest Dark Horse Tarzan comic may be worth twice as much in the near future, or a Joe Jusko ERB card set bought last year for $15 can inflate to a greater amount…given enough time! There’s no guarantee that values always go up, but there is no price placed on the enjoyment and fascination a varied and interesting collection brings to the collector.

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