The Luckiest Gent in Howardom

I am a very happy man today, having just received in the mail my very own copy of the 1937 Herbert Jenkins edition of A Gent from Bear Creek.  Considering there are only a dozen other known copies in the world, I am also a very lucky man.

Just like every Howard collector, I’ve always wanted to own a copy of the Jenkins Gent. I knew that I would have to get lucky if I ever wanted to find one, because my pockets were not deep enough to buy one at full price. When the Darrell C. Richardson auction was announced a few weeks ago, I did raise a good chunk of money to go after the Phantagraphs and some desired pulps, but the copy of Gent that was in the lot was never on my radar.

Now, I suppose every hardcore collector is aware that a few years ago an American bookseller listed a Jenkins edition of Gent for $15, obviously having no idea as to its real value. This copy was immediately snatched up by a Canadian bookdealer and ended up on eBay, selling for $8,500 a few weeks later. I suspect that a lot of people had the same idea I had – that history could repeat itself, so I added Gent to my list of automated notifications from ABE and patiently waited.

Last Tuesday (April 20), a little before 6:00 pm French time, I received the email. I remember seeing A Gent from Bear Creek in the subject field, which surprised me because I usually don’t get notifications for the book, and then I saw the year – 1937. I don’t remember registering anything as to the condition except that it lacked the dustjacket, and the price: ?20 ($30 American). It took me a few seconds to digest all this, and then I literally went dizzy, immediately clicked on the item, logged in, and bought it. The whole transaction took 30 seconds, tops. I didn’t know how much I had paid for postage, and was not really sure I hadn’t made a mistake.

I tried to cool down, re-read everything, took a deep breath and decided to give the bookseller a call. I told him I was simply inquiring if my order had gone through, because I had been looking for that book “for years.” I offered no further details. The bookseller said it usually took a couple hours before they get the notification, but he did some checking and thus the book was pulled off the ABE list within the hour. I didn’t ask him to confirm it was indeed a 1937 Herbert Jenkins edition, as I didn’t want to arouse suspicion. The conversation ended when he told me the book would go out the next day.

For the next 48 hours, the butterflies in my stomach were killed by the pins and needles I had in there. On Thursday, I received notification that the book had shipped and I became hopeful, but still remained wary. It arrived today in a plain padded envelope. Fortunately it made the trip safely and didn’t suffer any damage in transit.

The book is in amazing shape; by far the best copy I have seen. No fading whatsoever – some very light foxing, some minor rubbing and shelfwear, and that’s it. A copy that was not in such great shape, the Richardson copy, fetched about $12,000 a few weeks ago in a little-publicized auction. With that in mind, one can only wonder as to the value of the copy now in my possession.

Now, I know that A Gent from Bear Creek is the Holy Grail for most heavy-duty Howard collectors, so I *am* on Cloud Nine, no doubt about it. But my state of mind is nowhere near what I felt when I came into possession of an original of the iconic 1934 Fedora/Al Capone photograph. Receiving that rare gift still gives me shivers. It is a one of a kind item, one that has a real connection to Bob Howard. This copy of Gent is only a book – well, a really, really rare book.

You might ask if I am planning to sell my copy. Well, no, I have no intention of parting with it – unless you have some original Howard typescripts to trade. That I would consider.

Note: Jeff Shanks over at The Cimmerian has posted his thoughts on this amazing discovery.