Taken from the Kansas City Star, December 4, 1931
A Farm Hand and His Dime Novel Collection
The Hobby of Ralph Cummings Has Resulted in one of the largest “Paper Back” Libraries in America
Many Follow Same Pursuit.
Ralph Cummings, farm hand, believes that he owns the largest collection of dime and half-dime novels in New England. He is one of the most active collectors of these old books in America, editing, as he does, a monthly journal devoted to the adventures of the old-time crooks of the days long before Capone and publishing, as he also does, an annual equally devoted to what to him is a fascinating pastime.
The greater part of Cummings’s life, writes Karl Schriftgiesser in the Boston Transcript has been built around the adventures of those strange people who filled the pages of the Wide Awake Library, the New York Detective Library, Beadle’s Dime and Half-Dime Libraries, and the Boys of New York in the days when many a person thought the end of civilisation was at hand because the youth of the nation fattened their Imaginations on the lurid doings of Old Keen or Old Cap Collier.
SHELVES LOADED WITH NOVELS
The rest of his life has been devoted to working on a milk route and tending the stock and gardens of his father’s farm on the highway between Grafton and Farnumsville up Worcester way. He is a young man in his early 30s; he has been reading and collecting dime novels for at least thirteen years. He admits that his collection is far from the finest in the world; his life’s ambition is to spend a week in New York at the public library where the world’s finest collection of what may be called luridiana is housed.
It was a task to locate the Cummings farm. Reckless Ralph, as he calls himself among the brotherhood of novel collectors, was busily engaged at the moment of arrival in driving a small herd of cattle across the road from one pasture to another. He said we could see his books and talk with him but that we would have to wait until he had let the two horses out to be watered. One of the horses turned out to be a mule.
Then he took us up into his sanctum, a farmhouse bedroom on the second floor of the Cummings home. In this room, where the ghosts of Diamond Dick, Jesse James, Messrs. Merriwell and Fearnot and all the rest of those early American leading citizens have found sanctuary, was a broad bed, a chair, several cheats and bureaus, a cabinet or two, and shelves cram-jammed with sheaves of the literary brain children of 100 or so dead and done-for writers.
HIS HOBBY KEEPS HIM BUSY
The story of Reckless Ralph’s career was one in which blood and gore were strangely lacking. He told it in about three minutes.
“I was going to school,” he said “when I was taken sick. I had St. Vitus’s dance. So the doctor told me to leave school and go to work out of doors. I went to work on my father’s milk route, got interested in reading and swapping dime novels. I’ve been swapping and trading and collecting them ever since.”
We had met his mother a few minutes before “It’s his hobby.” She told us just before she called to him across the field to come and meet his visitors. It’s a good thing, too. It keeps him from drinking.” Not that Ralph does drink, you know, but he might if he didn’t have his books.
Reckless Ralph is a mild-mannered man who talks in a low, monotonous voice. He doesn’t get excited about anything. We asked him to tell us about his books and about his fellow collectors. He pointed to a table by the bed. On it were a dozen or so letters, from as many states. He corresponds with people everywhere, and dime novels are always the subject of the letters. Scattered throughout the land are other people who like Reckless Ralph hold the dime novel in the same reverence that Dr. Rosenbach would hold a complete unsoiled and genuine copy of the Gutenberg Bible.
A CLUB OF COLLECTORS
These people are banded together in what they call the Happy Hours Brotherhood, and their object is collecting any and all of those lurid old papers and magazines. They know all the points about the New Buffalo Bill Library, the Union Jack Library, the James Boys Weekly, Tip Top, Young Rover, Young Klondike, Pluck and Luck, Beadles, the Five-Cent Wide Awake Library, and the works of such sterling masters of English prose as E. Burke Collins, Tom Henshaw, Laura Jean Libbey, Richard Marsh, St. John Rathbone, Fergus Hume and Edward L. Wheeler. This last was author of the Deadwood Dick series, and in The Novel Hunters, the annual which Reckless Ralph gels out, we read that he was arrested in Philadelphia for non-support of his wife and big family of children. He later moved West.”
Surrounded by the leering villains, the death-defying heroes and the wasp-waisted innocent ladies of the past, Ralph edits his monthly magazine and his yearbook. The former is entitled Reckless Ralph’s Dime Novel Round-Up and is a neat little folder, with the front page generally devoted to the reproduction of an illustration from some old-time dime novel. The rest of the paper goes to chatter among the collectors, with the wants of them made known, and the chances for trading and swapping.
Reckless Ralph has read many of the old books in his collection, but he reads very few of them for pleasure now. Although when he first became interested he read all that he could lay his hands upon.
BETTER THAN “PULP” MAGAZINES
“I think they were better stories than what they are printing today.” He said, looking towards one of the popular wood pulp detective magazines of the present day. “They didn’t swear and there was- nothing dirty in them, then.”
All told, Reckless Ralph has about 5,000 assorted copies stacked and filed in his room. All are catalogued. He knows their contents intimately. Their points are not mysterious to him. He and some hundred or so other collectors all over the country take their hobby seriously. They write back and forth; others contribute bits to Reckless Ralph’s magazine and yearbook. They have a great time. And when Reckless Ralph isn’t lost in dreams of the days of Deadwood Dick he milks his cows and waters his horse and mule on his father’s farm at Grafton.