Contact Without Friction!

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted at rehtwogunraconteur.com on September 4, 2012. This version slightly expanded.]

In 1928, Robert E. Howard was looking for contacts outside of the small town he was living in. A reader of the E. Haldeman-Julius publications, it seems likely that he encountered an ad for a correspondence club in an issue of The Debunker or Haldeman-Julius Weekly.

At least as early as the mid-1920s, a Pennsylvania chemist named Merlin Wand had started a list of “intellectually marooned” pen-pals. By 1927, he had acquired enough names to start a “one-man operation called ‘Contacts’ [which] was a clearinghouse for isolated book-lovers and neophyte writers.” (*) He began placing ads in various publications—The Survey, Haldeman-Julius Weekly, etc.—where, for the cost of a stamp, interested individuals would receive the “Contacts Listing Form.” Once the form was completed, applicants sent it and one dollar back to Wand to be listed in Contacts, “the only correspondence club for the mentally marooned.” (**) A typical ad appears below:

Contact Without Friction!

Are you mentally isolated? “Contacts,” literary correspondence club, introduces you to versatile, unconventional minds. No Formalities. Books loaned free to members. Registration fee $1.00. Particulars, stamp: Merlin Wand, Manorville, Pa.

Thanks to the Glenn Lord Collection, we now know that in the spring of 1928, Robert E. Howard mailed in a stamp and was sent the “Contacts Listing Form” on May 26 (see The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard: Index and Addenda). He filled out the personal information, indicating that his general attitude was “Liberal,” that he was “young” and “single” and that his occupation was “Magazine writer, prose and rhyme.”

Based on how Howard filled out his Contacts Listing Form, it appears that he was more interested in gathering information than in obtaining pen-pals. Under a list of 28 subjects including Mysticism, Sexology, Art, Literature, etc., Howard chose only three: Poetry, Anthropology, and Psychology (he typed “Abnormal” after the last). Then, in the “subjects not mentioned” area, he added Criminology and “Obsessional dementia.” In the additional information slot, Howard wrote the following:

Especially would like to hear from anyone having had experiences with cases of compulsory and criminal insanity; information will be treated as confidential. Also interested in devil worship, human sacrifice, anything unusual, grisly or strange.

The fact that this form remained with Howard’s papers shows that he didn’t send it in with the dollar membership fee. One wonders what type of pen-pal he’d have met if he had sent it in.

*Wixson, Douglas. Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1990. University of Illinois Press: 1998.
**Sears, James Thomas. Behind the Mask of the Mattachine. Psychology Press: 2006.

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