Henderson the Rain King

BY Saul Bellow
Book Information1/1/0/US/VK/1959/?  •  220x150x48  •  728  •  Nobel'76  •  Pulitzer'60(F)

I chose to write about Henderson the Rain King for a few reasons. First, I'm a fan of Saul Bellow's work. Second, the first edition points for this book is not listed on the very fine First Edition Points website, and I hope to fill this gap. The points that I am listing here are by no means authoritative or original. Rather, I'm merely standing on the shoulders of some excellent booksellers on Abebooks, and cross-referencing their points to my book. Lastly, the acquisition and state of this book provide some good lessons for amateur collectors.

Henderson was first published in 1959, so this book is 56 years old. Not exactly young, so I expect some wear and tear. Below was the picture (unedited; along with two other inconsequential ones) posted by the bookseller and it showed a pretty decent dust jacket. Plus the bookseller has a 99.2% approval rate on ebay so I thought it couldn't go too wrong (I'm buying from this seller for the first time). The seller's description of the book was trite: "HENDERSON THE RAIN KING BY SAUL BELLOW *FIRST ISSUE*; A NEAR FINE FIRST ISSUE IN DJ; VIKING, 1959." A seller of few words, fine. So I bought the book after some negotiation, but what arrived is a book with a jacket in far worse condition.

Mistake: I failed to ask the seller for more details or more pictures, and assume he or she is a decent bookseller. Big mistake. Even if there is a return policy, don't buy unless you are satisfied with the condition; nobody wants to hassle of returning a book and a protracted refund process.

Lesson learnt: when dealing with an unfamiliar book seller, always start slow: purchase lower-value books and assess the seller's professionalism in the process. If there is doubt of the seller's integrity, stop dealing. If you find a great seller, build a good relationship with him or her. A good seller should always list major issues with the dust jacket and the book, including chipping, closed tears, rubbing, dampstain, marking etc.

This is the as-is, unedited picture provided by the seller. the dust jacket looks quite fine.
Caveat emptor: This is the actual dust jacket when the book arrives. Notice the chipping at the top of the spine, and how the seller's picture was tactfully crop at the top to avoid showing the fault. There are also very serious closed tears on the top and bottom, but they are almost invisible in the seller's picture because of the mylar protector. 
First edition point: the back of the first issue jacket should have three blurbs on Saul Bellow as a novelist by Robert Penn Warren, Lionel Trilling, and the Milwaukee Journal. If, instead, it shows quotes about the novel from Granville Hicks and Paul Pickrel, then the dust jacket is a later issue.
Caveat emptor: This is a close-up of the chipping at the top of the spine. The closed tear on the right of the author's name extending to just after the letter "L" can now be seen. Close tears and chippings are serious flaws that all good booksellers will make explicit. This seller obviously does not belong to the "good" class.
Caveat emptor: Here you can see a very serious closed tear at the bottom of the spine. Again the seller did not report this flaw and probably tried to conceal it in the provided picture with the aid of the mylar protector. tsk tsk.
The front flap of the jacket has the original price of $4.50 on top right corner, and "Jacket Painting by Bili Preston" at the bottom. These are checking points but they are likely not first edition points because later issued jackets seem to have the same price too.

Another checking point is the back flap. It contains an introduction of the author, and one blurb for each of his earlier works. At the bottom is the publisher information. Notice the chip at the top that the seller never mention. Oh well.

The top edge of the book is stained in (dirty?) yellow. The fore and bottom edges are not stained.
The front board is orange clothed board quarter bound with tan cloth, and the title is in black stamping with three repeated publisher device.
The spine is in tan cloth. The title is in orange tilting, the author's name in silver, and the publisher in black.

This is the full title page, with the year of publication, 1959, printed

This is the copyright page with the statement "Published in 1959 by the Viking Press, Inc." and no mention of other printing.

This is the dedication page that follows the copyright page.

This is the first page of the novel. Note that it starts on page 3.

This is the last page of the novel.


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