As It Happens

Why this signed copy of The Catcher in the Rye is 'elusive and quite special'

It's rare to find signed works of J.D. Salinger's, but this inscribed copy of The Catcher in the Rye is being sold by Peter Harrington Books in the U.K. for £225,000.

The reclusive author rarely signed books, but one first-edition is up for sale in the U.K.

An open book. On the inside cover is a coat of arms and the words "Ann Agoos." On the first page, words scrawled in pen read: " "To Charles Kirtz with every good wish from J.D. Salinger (extra greetings to Ada and Victor from Sonny Salinger) New York 10/18/56."
A rare signed first-edition copy of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is up for sale in London. (Peter Harrington London)

An inscribed copy of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a rare commodity among antiquarian book collectors. 

But those hunting for a signed copy of the 1951 classic can rejoice: a signed first edition is up for sale in London.

The copy is being sold by Peter Harrington Books in an event called Firsts: London's rare book fair, for £225,000 (approximately $340,000 Cdn).

The inscription, which was made out to family friends of Salinger's, reads: "To Charles Kirtz with every good wish from J.D. Salinger (extra greetings to Ada and Victor from Sonny Salinger) New York 10/18/56," on the book's first blank page.

A black and white portrait of a smiling man with short hear wearing a tweed suit and a tie.
J.D. Salinger was the famously reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye. (Little, Brown & Co./The Associated Press)

Pom Harrington, the owner of Peter Harrington Books, says he's handled many important works of literature and first editions, but he's never owned an inscribed first edition of The Catcher in the Rye. 

"It's a book I've always wanted to handle as a dealer," Harrington told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "It's very elusive and quite special."

The Catcher in the Rye tells the coming-of-age story of protagonist Holden Caulfield. It explores his teenage rebellion and his internal struggle against growing up, pitting the innocence of childhood against the actualities of adulthood. 

Today, it remains one of the most notable works of fiction in American literary history. 

'Signing his own books was a favour'

The difficulty in tracking down signed first editions of Salinger's works mostly lies in the author's reclusivity. 

"He was very shy and hid away. He didn't inscribe many books — nevermind first editions," Harrington said.

A slightly disheveled hardcover copy of The Catcher In The Rye. The book jacket is red and white, with a yellow title. The red forms a crude sketch of a horse from a merry-go-round. Beneath it is a black sketch of park benches in front of a cityscape.
The front cover of a first-edition copy of Salinger's famous book. (Peter Harrington London)

The Catcher in the Rye made Salinger a renowned author in terms of 20th-century American fiction. But he was a reclusive, and signing his own books was a favour he did for "very close friends or associates," Harrington said. "If he was asked."

Another considerable reason was that Salinger wasn't keen on people making money off of his fortune. 

"He would get very upset if people sold letters. Letters are quite valuable, also, in his lifetime. He certainly frowned upon it," Harrington said.

Signed books were few and far between, so not many came on the market. 

"If it did come to market, they tended to be discreetly sold," he said. 

Relevancy several decades later 

So, who were the Kirtzes, as inscribed in the book's interior? 

Family friends, Harrington said, who lived in the same apartment house as Salinger and his parents. 

Salinger grew up with the recipient's mother and brother, the Ada and Victor referenced in the signing.

His rare signoff as "Sonny" is a childhood nickname of the author's, and might be the only known copy of the book signed using that name. 

"I've never come across it before," Harrington said, adding that that it showcases how close the friendship between the two families must have been. 

Harrington says he read the book when he was younger, possibly in his 20s. He says it still maintains a pertinent grasp on teenagers today as in the past. 

"It does such a great job of describing the feelings of a teenage boy and what he must have experienced," he said.  "It was clearly quite shocking to 1950s America."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said a signed copy of Catcher in the Rye is up for auction in London. In fact, it's up for sale.
    Sep 22, 2022 10:31 AM ET

Interview produced by Kate Swoger

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