J. D. Salinger introduced the world to Holden Caulfield, the quintessential cussing, anti-phony, cynical, disillusioned, rebellious adolescent, on July 16, 1951 after working on The Catcher in the Rye for about a decade. The 277-page first edition was published by Little, Brown. Salinger objected to cover art and illustrations on his books because he didn’t want readers influenced by any artistic interpretations. However, The Catcher in the Rye was an exception. With this particular book, the iconic artwork was drawn by E. Michael Mitchell, a close and trusted friend of Salinger. The dust jacket features the pen-and ink-drawing of a carousel horse painted red-orange. The title is superimposed in yellow over a field of red-orange. On the lower left, obscured by the hind leg of the horse, is a small sketch of Central Park overlooking the New York City skyline in the lower left. Attentive readers will recognize that Holden’s sister, Phoebe, rides a carousel horse in Central Park (Holden refuses to join her); but more significantly, the horse is an important metaphor in the novel. On one level, the horse represents lost innocence. On another level, it represents Holden’s attempt to jump into adulthood but is inextricably bound to the carousel horse of his childhood. The back of the dust jacket features a black-and-white photo of Salinger taken by Lotte Jacobi.
Back in 1951, a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye cost a paltry $3.00. Since then, the book has sold more than 65 million copies. But more significantly, the value of a first edition has risen exponentially. Most first editions sell for about $20,000 to $25,000. However, first editions signed by Salinger are extremely rare and fetch much higher prices: Currently, there are two signed first editions for sale: one for $55,000 and one for $125,000. This more expensive one is inscribed: “To Ned Thompson with all good wishes J.D. Salinger Windsor, VT Nov. 5, 1961.” Both books are housed in custom clamshell boxes.
One wonders what Holden Caulfield would make of all this. Perhaps he would say, “Half a grand for a lousy book about some whiny jerk and his sister? Leave it to a bunch of phonies to read the book and then smoking and talking about how important it is. And it takes another goddamn phony bastard to come up with that much dough for a book because he believes it’s actually worth that amount. That kills me!”
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For further reading: https://americanwritersmuseum.org/stories-behind-classic-book-covers-the-catcher-in-the-rye/