Lloyd A. Eshbach's Torcon Rememberance

1948Torcon I, Toronto
by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach
from the Noreascon Three PB

With the passing years the World SF Conventions began to follow a pattern, including greater attention to programming and, inevitably, to partying. The latter at night, of course. The Toronto fan club which sponsored Torcon I quite successfully planned and conducted the affair, but it was a quiet convention. With only about two hundred attending, the hotel management frowned on a minority disturbing the other guests. Philcon I had been boisterous; not so Toronto.

But one somewhat unusual phase of convention planning began at Torcon I — "the smoke-filled room." With the present orderly method for the selection of world convention sites, today's fans may be surprised to learn about the wheeling and dealing that went on behind the scenes in earlier days. It started at the Torcon. I was there and observed it. Will Sykora, who had been one of the leaders in putting on the 1939 WorldCon, came to Toronto determined to have New York named for the 1949 convention [See New York in '49.] The feuding behind the first Worldcon still lingered in many memories; New York fandom was divided into opposing factions; and many fans felt that since Philadelphia, an East Coast city, had had it in 1947 it should go to another part of the country. Smoke-filled rooms became the order of the day. Influential fans tried to talk Sykora out of his bid, but he was adamant. Since there was no other substantial bid in view, it looked as though New York would be selected by default. At this point Jim Williams of Prime Press, one of the small-press book publishers of the day, swung into action. The so-called "smoke-filled rooms" came into being. One of these included Dr. C.L. Barrett, leading collector and fan from Bellefontaine, Ohio; and Don Ford of Cincinnati. Some fast phone calls were made to Cincy — and a Cincinnati bid was made for 1949. In the voting New York lost and Cincinnati won.

Had this not happened, there is no likelihood that I would ever have been made a pro Guest of Honor at a Worldcon. But that's part of the Cinvention story.

One bit of trivia stands out in my memory of Torcon I — an item sold at the fan auction. These auctions were highly important for each convention in the early days. Donated artwork and manuscript were sold to help defray the expenses of putting on the con.
At the Torcon a particularly beautiful Virgil Finlay cover original from Fantastic Novels was offered and two men wanted it. One was Harry Moore (who later chaired Nolacon I) and the other a fan whose name I've forgotten. In a day when cover originals usually went for $50 or $75, this painting brought $300 into the convention coffers. It was probably the most dramatic moment in the entire convention. Neither bidder wanted to pay that much, but neither wanted to admit defeat. Moore finally bowed out, making a quiet comment to me, "Well — I gave him a good run for his money!" Southern pride had kept him going far beyond what he really wanted to pay.

Earlier mention of Prime Press brings to mind a promotional gimmick Ozzie Train and Jim Williams produced for Torcon I. This was a booklet called "It" by Theodore Sturgeon, a short story reprinted from the Sturgeon collection Without Sorcery, their newest release. A limited number of these were either given away or sold, the latter, probably, for a nominal sum, 50ยข as I recall it. Recently I saw this booklet listed in a rare book dealer's catalog for a fantastic price. Of such are rare collectors' items made.

And it happened in Toronto, 1948.