This extremely Gothic bookplate appears on the front pastedown of Armine von Tempski’s 1929 novel Fire in the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. It was designed in 1933 by the American medical illustrator, Atlantean scholar, and First Fandom member Henry M. Eichner (1909-1971), whose career is as fascinating as his ex-libris.
Henry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the second of three children of Nathan Jack Eichner (1880-1951) and his wife Dora (née Guren; 1880-1956). Both were Jewish immigrants, Nathan from Hungary and Dora from Minsk in Russia (now Belarus), brought to the United States as children in the 1880s. Nathan had no fixed career, working variously as a cigar maker, barber, clerk, inspector for McKinney Steel Co., confectioner, and salesman. His son, by contrast, made art his sole profession. Henry graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1929, then traveled to Baltimore for a year to study medical illustration under Max Brödel at Johns Hopkins University. He hung out his shingle in Cleveland as an artist from 1932 until 1937, when he moved with his wife Gertrude (née Seidman; 1910-1985) and daughter Barbara (later Levitt; 1937-1998) to Detroit. Sometime either during or immediately after World War II the Eichners migrated to Los Angeles where Henry continued to work as a medical artist until his death.
Eichner became an aficionado of science fiction during its pulp era. His friend Forrest Ackerman claimed he was “[f]ifty years a fan” at the time of his death (Ackerman) and he was a member of First Fandom when it was a club for those who had engaged in “fanac” (fannish activity) prior to 1938. After arriving in California Eichner joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (on whose membership roll he remains because, as the Society notes, “Death Will Not Release You”). There he rubbed elbows with fans and authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, becoming friends with A.E. van Vogt and Ray Bradbury as well as Ackerman and others. Bradbury remembered him as
… the Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang. For well over twenty years we sniped and carped and yawped at each other when we met. We were like brothers pinching and hitting behind our parents’ backs. Not so long ago I called him a Hedgehog with a marshmallow interior … In the last year I had to warn him that our friendship was becoming such that our fights were losing their pepper. He promised to go off with a Bang next time he saw me, which he did. Our last meeting was superb; his insults met me coming in the door. (“Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971” [vii])
Eichner exercised his artistic talents in fannish as well as professional venues. He provided cover and interior illustrations for the LASFS newsletter, Shangri L’Affaires, and for Los Cuentos Fantasticos, a Mexican science fiction magazine. He also illustrated Food for Demons, a memorial volume of short stories by fellow LASFS member E. Everett Evans. A.E. van Vogt noted after Eichner’s death that they had “occasionally tried to figure out how he might illustrate one of my books. It is my deep regret that this never happened …” (“Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971” [vii]). Eichner was also a regular congoer, attending various Westercons (founded in 1948 by his friend Walt Daugherty), Worldcons and other SF conventions and sometimes illustrating their programs. He presented the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award to Virgil Finlay at the 1970 Worldcon in Heidelberg and attended the 1971 Worldcon in Boston only a few months before his death (Ackerman).
In addition to LASFS, Eichner was a stalwart of the Count Dracula Society (precursor to the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films), enjoying a close friendship with its founder and president, Donald A. Reed. “It was one of the great joys of my life to have Henry Eichner as a dear friend,” Reed wrote in 1971.
It was also fortunate that the Count Dracula Society … had Henry as an active member, a member of its Board of Governors, recipient of its President’s Award, Scribe and Knight Grand Star of its Nobel [sic] Order of Count Dracula, and as one of its Honorary National Chairmen. (“Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971” [viii])
The Society posthumously honored Eichner with an award in his name, the Henry M. Eichner Medal for Service.
But it was for his Atlantean scholarship that Eichner was most recognized: his obituary in the Los Angeles Times called him “the world’s foremost authority on the lore and myth of Atlantis” (“Henry Eichner, Writer of Fantasy, Dies”) and both Forrest Ackerman and SF publisher Donald M. Grant dubbed him “Mr. Atlantis” in their tributes to his memory (Ackerman; “Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971” [viii]). Philip José Farmer acknowledged Eichner’s contribution of “some valuable Atlantean data” to his book Tarzan Alive, a fictional biography of the Edgar Rice Burroughs character (Farmer vii).* In his posthumously published work Atlantean Chronicles, winner of the Count Dracula Society’s tenth annual Ann Radcliffe Award for Literature, Eichner claimed to have first encountered the legend of Atlantis when he was sixteen and in search of the historical basis of the Biblical Great Flood. “I saw a book by an author with a rather unusual name, Cutcliffe Hyne,” he wrote.
Along with five or six other titles, the book went home with me. About a week later, I finally got around to reading it. It was a fascinating story, but it was more than that to me. Here was related an event that produced an earthquaking flood, in which a continent, called Atlantis, sank beneath the sea. I suppose that I knew it was fiction, but it was an event that was tailor made to account for the Flood, and quite logically too. (Eichner 5)
Later debates with friends led him to abandon this “tailor made” explanation of the Genesis narrative as untenable, but his pursuit of Atlantis as fact and fancy continued for the rest of his life. “In all honesty,” he admitted, “I’m enjoying the search, and I am the first to admit that this particular search may never come to an end. But it’s been fun!” (Eichner 7). In addition to presenting a wide-ranging bibliography of Atlantis in literature and film, Atlantean Chronicles surveys interpretations of the legend from Plato to Angelos Galanopoulos, whose version of the Minoan hypothesis — that “the Crete-Santorin locale for Atlantis has far more similarities to [Plato’s] Atlantis than any other locale … and most of them are scientifically proveable today!” (Eichner 130) — Eichner found convincing, sending a postcard to Donald M. Grant from Crete that read, “This was Atlantis!” (“Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971” [viii]). His enthusiasm for the subject was not the monomania of a crank, however — merely one of many SFnal interests. “Following the trail of Atlantis over the years has lead [sic] me into many obscure highways and byways,” he wrote.
Some clue would lead me in one direction. At a crossroad, some other clue would make me turn, and I’d find myself seeing something different, which had caught my attention. Some time later, I’d come out on the main road again, but I had, in the meantime, acquired some additional interest … Today I am interested in the Abominable Snowman (now there is a subject), E.S.P., dowsing, poltergeists, Reincarnation, the Loch Ness monster, parallel time and the fourth dimension, the Australian Bushman, Macchu Picchu, vampires, werewolves, incubi and succubi, Flying Saucers and What Happened to Bridey Murphy. There are other subjects as well, but this will give you at least an idea of what you can get into, unwittingly, when you follow the Atlantean trail. (Eichner 7)
Eichner left his library of Atlantean material to Forrest Ackerman, whose gigantic collection of SF literature and memorabilia was auctioned off in 2009. But this copy of Tempski’s Fire — a romance novel about a woman who breaks her engagement to an American diplomat to marry a Hawaiian ranch hand — testifies to the breadth of Henry M. Eichner’s own interests, Pacific as well as Atlantean.
*Eichner was a personal friend of Hulbert Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ son, who eulogized him as “an honest, fearless and talented man of deep convictions and great sincerity” (“Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971” [vii]). In Atlantean Chronicles Eichner subjected L. Sprague de Camp‘s assertion that “Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martians were essentially Theosophical Atlanteans and Lemurians” to a withering takedown by summarizing his conversations on the subject with Hulbert, whom “Mr. de Camp could have sought out … if he had wished to get at the truth of the matter, but it was probably simpler not to, so he didn’t” (Eichner 28). He was more forgiving of Fritz Leiber:
When I informed Mr. Leiber of what were more likely the true facts regarding ERB [and theosophy], he answered by stating that such information should be brought to public attention, and that he could very well have been wrong. Now there is the kind of expert that I admire. (Eichner 30)
Ackerman, Forrest J. “Henry M. Eichner.” Luna Monthly 31 (December 1971), 11.
Eichner, Henry M. Atlantean Chronicles. Alhambra, Calif.: Fantasy Publishing Company, 1971.
Farmer, Philip José. Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972.
“Henry Eichner, Writer of Fantasy, Dies.” Los Angeles Times 26 November 1971: D2.
“Henry M. Eichner, 1909-1971.” In Eichner, Henry M. Atlantean Chronicles. [vii]-[viii].
White, Alan, ed. Mr. Monster: A Tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman. Las Vegas: Alan White, 2009.
Liz Broadwell has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and catalogs rare books in the Special Collections Processing Center.