I started reading SF when I was in High School, and was supported by the school's librarian, Sylvia Allen, who encouraged me to pick up new works. At one point, someone had donated a treasure trove of Science Fiction novels to the school, a lot of which they couldn't catalog, due to age and space. A lot of them went up for sale, and she let me have a crack at them early. One of the books in the pile was The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1, which contained a story from an author I'd been reading, Isaac Asimov, and a number of others. I took it home, and was immediately hooked.
A couple of years later, when I worked at the Brown Public Library in Northfield, I had struck up a friendship with an older patron who (if I remember correctly) had been connected to fandom in New York City. He recounted several stories of authors such as Walter Miller Jr. and a couple of others. At one point, I mentioned the anthology that I'd been re-reading, and he told me that there were two others, and ended up bringing them in for me to have. Later, I bought the re-released version of the first volume, so as to relieve my old copy of wear and tear that it desperately didn't need.
For years, I thought that the three books were the only ones. It wasn't until I started seeing the title pop up in my research that I started to look deeper into the anthology, and to my surprise, found that two others had been printed in the 1980s, but which had been largely forgotten.
The anthologies have a curious history, and never would have come about but for the creation of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and some of their financial troubles. For those interested in science fiction history, the focus of the books are a nice match: the first three volumes were explicitly put together with the idea of charting the evolution of the genre. While they're incomplete (two women in the entire book - I'm really sad that there wasn't a Moore Northwest Smith story in there, or anything by Francis Stevens) by modern standards, it's pretty much the entire Golden Age of SF in a single book. In and of themselves, they are a historical curiosity, and an interesting read all together - a lot of the stories still hold up nicely.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1, Robert Silverberg. Silverberg's introduction has a lot of detail about how this project came about, and it's worth a read into the work and background for this. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2A/B, Ben Bova. Bova's introduction also provides some good details on his entry. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 3, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke's introduction here isn't all that useful, but it does show a pivot for the anthology: a focus now on Nebula winners, rather than historical works. What I found interesting here was also that it's the first book in the series not published by Doubleday. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 4, Terry Carr. As with Clarke's introduction, there's more an emphaisis on the Nebula designation rather than on the selection.
SFWA Bulletin, December 1967: I was able to get a scan of the original Bulletin that issued the call for stories.
Damon Knight: Damon Knight's biography of the Futurians doesn't mention this, but the SFE3 entry provides some good details into this time of his life. SFWA: This has some good backstory on SFWA's formation. Nebula Award: Similarly, this provides some good background information.
ISFDB Entry - Science Fiction Hall of Fame: This was particularly helpful in figuring out publication dates and publishers.
Huge thanks to Former SFWA president Michael Capobianco and Robert Silverberg for their help with this one.