The Centennial Push

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The latest sign that Howard’s centennial year marks a critical watershed for the author is the news that a poor reading copy (!?!) of A Gent from Bear Creek (Jenkins, 1937) has just sold on eBay for a “Buy It Now!” price of $8500 (hat tip: Damon Sasser). Cimmerian readers will recall that a mere four years ago I purchased a much better copy of this book for $3700 ($4000 once the currency exchange was figured in), at a time when there were less known copies of the book than there are now.

Granted, $8500 isn’t first edition Dracula numbers yet, but it’s a huge jump in four years, even as more copies of the book have been discovered. And don’t forget, this copy of the book was in terrible condition. What does this say about the Howard Museum copy, which I thought was in pretty bad condition at the time, but which now looks to be under-insured at $10,000? And my God, what does this say about Glenn Lord’s pristine copy, the only one in the world with the dustjacket intact (although other dustjackets exist in English library archives), and one that is signed “August Derleth’s copy,” giving it that extra bit of cachet? Would Glenn’s book fetch Dracula numbers?

Interesting questions all, and their sum total indicates a sign of Howardian permanence the likes of which we have never seen. In the past, Howard’s reputation has risen and fell with the vagaries of the market and the waxing and waning interest in fantasy. Like so many other authors, he was a big fish in a small pond, a niche guy. Perhaps it’s a little too early to claim victory over this long-time state of affairs, but I don’t think so. The last few years have seen huge jumps in collector’s prices, tons of Howard roaring into print, new Howard magazines thriving, and perhaps most importantly more Big Media news coverage than ever before. Both the Cross Plains fire and Howard Days hit CNN and USA Today, and Pulitzer-Prize winning book columnist Michael Dirda gave Howard a birthday tribute in the Washington Post.

And now, with the centennial closing and fans preparing for the 2006 World Fantasy Convention — where Howard is the theme of this year’s festivities — we have a poor copy of a Howard book selling for eight g’s and change. It’s becoming more clear every day that Howard has burst through an invisible ceiling of some sort, and catapulted himself into a stratospheric orbit that isn’t likely to fail anytime soon. He’s becoming more mainstream, more acceptable to mix in polite society. A century on, he’s also benefiting from the strange effect that age has on things, making them seem more important and authoritative simply by virtue of their distance from our time. How lucky that Howard wrote in such a way that his work remains modern and accessible even as the passing of time grants him classic status.

It’s somewhat of a relief to realize that we can begin relaxing a bit and start solidifying other aspects of Howard’s legacy without ceaselessly worrying about keeping a sputtering engine churning over the next hill. He’s flying now, low to the ground perhaps, but flying steadily and serenely nonetheless. And I for one am enjoying the view.

ROB ADDS: Bill Thom, over at Howard Works, tells me that the book is headed for a private collection in Canada and has the following information about the book:

It has a Boots Book Slip at the first page of text, as well as a Boots
Lending slip on the verso of the rear cover.