FAN-MAIL #3 (1941) - Arthur C. ClarkeHere's something I never thought I'd ever see - one of Clarke's WW2 chain-letters. Yet, amazingly, this one has survived after 80 years. And finally seeing one has, I think, enabled me to figure out the how these chains worked, an explanation of which appears after the scans. I described them in THEN as essentially operating like APAs, but the logistics involved were a bit more complicated than that.
(document scans courtesy of First Fandom Experience)
First up is Clarke's hand-written letter, a transcript of which follows.
ARTHUR C. CLARKE:
Ego was Clarke's nickname in fandom, one given to him by Bill Temple.
SFS = Science Fiction Service. Johnson & Carnell's pre-war mail-order business.
GG = GARGOYLE
ERIC FRANK RUSSELL:
HT = Harry Turner
PPU = Peace Pledge Union
HOW THE CHAIN WOULD HAVE WORKED (PROBABLY)
According to its entry in the British Fanzine Bibliography, FAN-MAIL was produced in an edition of five copies. So a top copy plus four carbon copies, about the maximum you could produce at one time if you wanted the bottom copy to be readable. You would have had to have struck your typewriter keys pretty hard, indentation evidence of which should be clear on the originals of the above scans.
When adding his contribution to the bundle he'd been sent and mailing it on to the next person on the chain, each individual would also mail his carbon copies to Clarke. You'll have noticed that the mailing card at the top of this page is labelled 'Copy 1'. It has five names on it, plus Clarke's. Since up to twenty-five people were on this chain we can infer there were eventually five copies going around, each copy-group containing no more than five people, plus Clarke, and each copy always ending up back with him. We can also infer that each copy went out with a different scribbled page of comments by Clarke attached - no carbon copies for him!
This was FAN-MAIL #3. When sending out copies of a new issue, each would have included carbons of letters from the previous issue except obviously for those from the people in that particular copy group. What this meant is that as well as responding to letters from those in your copy group for this issue, you would also be commenting on letters on the previous issue from those in the other copy groups. This also meant that even leaving aside Clarke's scribbled page, no two copies of a given issue were ever the same anyway, though the juggling of top copies and carbons would've resulted in everyone eventually getting to see the same letters. Mostly.
Whether who ended up in which particular copy group was random or not is obviously unknown - though I will note that most of those in this particular group are Liverpudlians. However, based on this complaint from John F. Burke those copy groups had become more rigid than originally intended:
Do we have to stay on the same circuit all the time? I thought the original idea was to keep swapping around, so that we were kept more or less in touch with different people. I'd like to be on a chain with Sam, Eric Hop[kins], and Doug....boo hoo....I won't play if you don't let me be with Sam, Eric and Doug. An occasional dose of Eric Williams would be more than welcome, too.
The mailing card for this copy shows that after it came back to him Clarke mailed it on to Ted Carnell. Either he did so without any carbon copies or these have been lost.