What you see: Original cover art for D for Delinquent, a 1958 juvenile delinquent-themed pulp paperback. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.
The expert: Meagen McMillan, junior specialist and cataloger for illustration art and American art at Heritage Auctions.
First, could you talk about how rare it is for any original pulp cover art to survive at all? Most often, when an artist created a cover for a pulp or a paperback magazine, they’d send in the artwork and never see it again. The publisher used it for publication and then threw it away, or gave it to friends, or sold it at charity events. The majority of art from this period was thrown in the trash. These come up extremely rarely.
How did this particular piece of art evade the trash bin? It was most likely due to Charles Martignette [pronounced Martin-etty]. While he was collecting he actively went to publishing houses to buy directly–stacks of art for bulk prices. I don’t know if this one was bought that way.
The lot notes call this “the finest single example of the juvenile delinquent genre from the estate of Charles Martignette”. What makes it so? It’s just got the classic [details]–the blonde bombshell with the overly tight sweater and the greaser character, in an abandoned house. It perfectly contains what you want to see from this genre.
What makes it an effective pulp novel cover? It’s immediately dynamic. The print version has a large D in D for Delinquent, and the D is yellow. It draws your eye directly to the blonde.
Do we know who the artist is? We don’t know who the artist is. It’s similar to a lot of different artists’ works. It’s similar to James Avati. It’s similar to Raymond Pease. It’s similar to Norman Saunders. But we don’t know who did this. The publishing house didn’t have records. Back then, it was something done quickly, and they didn’t acknowledge who did these incredible covers. It makes it special. While we can’t assign it to a specific artist, it’s so well-done that it still has value. Normally, if you can’t assign it to an artist, it cuts its value. It’s valuable by the image alone.
I realize we don’t know who did this, but what would have been the typical way to create images like these? Would the artist have used models, or shot reference photos, or just imagined the scene? It depends on each individual artist. Gil Elvgren used models and photos. Norman Rockwell used [models and] photos. Others used their imaginations. It’s really hard to tell what the process would have been [here].
This image was used for an American paperback in 1958 and a British one two years later. Does that speak to its power as an image? It was actually very common. Paperbacks were released in the U.S., the U.K., and maybe Australia. Sometimes they had different covers, and sometimes they re-used the covers. The artist didn’t own the image. They gave it to the publisher and they could use it as many times as they wanted.
What condition is the artwork in, given that it was created as a piece of functional art? It’s actually in surprisingly wonderful condition. The margins might have been trimmed at one point.
Does it show any wear from having passed through several hands at the publishing house? I’d have to unframe it to be certain, but I can give you an example of unframed cover art. Lot #71317 has all sorts of writing and dings to the edges. [You might have to click on the alternate image, which is shown below the main shot.]
How did you arrive at the estimate? Have you sold this piece of art before? I believe we did sell it before, when it was in the Martignette collection. We handled the Martignette estate. We sold it previously in 2011 for $7,170, with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. The market showed the value is there, though there is no artist associated with it. We look at it and see what we’re all looking for–a beautiful girl, a dangerous guy, action, the setting, and it’s a published cover. If it was an interior [a piece of art used inside the book, rather than on the cover]. or we couldn’t prove it was published, it goes down [in value].
What is the piece like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? I guess the only difference is really, when you see it in person, it evokes something in you–an emotional response and a sense of presence. This definitely has it.
And this image was painted at a larger size than it would have appeared as on a pulp cover, yes? A paperback cover is four inches by six inches. This is 24.75 inches by 16 inches. It’s definitely larger.
Do we know what the auction record is for original pulp cover art for a juvenile delinquent-themed book, or would we have to look at pulp cover art in general? We’d have to be more broad. We sold a piece of pulp cover art in 2009 by James Avati, called Goodbye to Berlin, for $26,290. You have to do it [search for auction records] by artist. Doing it by pulp covers is nearly impossible.
Might this piece set a record for original pulp cover art by an unknown artist? It could, but I don’t know that anyone keeps that data point.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? The rarity of it, for sure. I’ve handled probably thousands of pieces of illustration art per year. I’m a big fan of pulp art. When you have a piece come across your desk where you don’t know who the artist is, and it doesn’t matter–that’s rare. It’s still amazing. It’s going to do well, no matter what. It’s an image that speaks for itself.
How to bid: The D for Delinquent art is lot #71185 in the Illustration Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 23, 2019.
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