Meriden, Connecticut: The Ralston Society, 1937. First edition. Hardcover. This is the first edition, first printing of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich – the enduring bestseller, paragon of self-help, get rich charlatanism, and progenitor of such modern iterations as Tony Robbins and Trump University. This copy is noteworthy for superior condition, for presence of the scarce dust jacket, and for a laid-in contemporary promotional leaflet from the publisher.
The aesthetic is as subtle as a Monopoly game. The red cloth binding is printed in gilt with a gilt rendering of cane, top hat, gloves, coin, and bills on the lower front cover. Reinforcing the front cover illustration (and the unequivocal title), the dust jacket features a background of gold coins across which, spanning the faces and spine, are red title bands. In case these cues do not convey the message, the upper front face is printed “FOR MEN AND WOMEN WHO RESENT POVERTY”. One can imagine the impact in pre-WWII America that had already endured more than half a decade of the Great Depression.
Condition is very good plus in a very good dust jacket. The red cloth binding is square, clean, and tight with sharp corners, bright gilt, and only minor shelf wear to extremities. The contents are clean with no previous ownership marks, spotting primarily confined to the endpapers and page edges. Differential toning of the endpapers corresponds to the dust jacket flaps, confirming that this copy has spent life jacketed. The dust jacket is bright, with no toning of the vivid gold and red hues. The jacket shows wear to flap folds, hinges, and extremities, as well as shallow losses at spine ends, corners, and upper edges. We also note two old pieces of clear tape affixed to the blank front flap. The jacket is fitted with a clear, removable, archival cover.
The original Ralston Society leaflet, now in a clear mylar sleeve, is printed in red and navy. The leaflet solicits the reader’s opinions about the book, offers additional copies at an “Agent’s Price” of “$1.50 per copy”, and asks the reader for names of friends who may want the book.
The book purports to focus on behavioral attributes of successful people, distilling thirteen steps everyone may notionally follow. The author, Napoleon Hill, claims he spent 15 years interviewing and or studying the likes of Edwin C. Barnes, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie. His “philosophy of success” preaches steps such as “auto-suggestion”, that is, visualizing what you want to achieve, “the power of the master mind”, and “persistence”.
The most interesting part of it all is that Hill was not what he seemed in or out of his writing.
Before Oliver Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) was an acclaimed self-help author, he was an entrepreneur (of sorts): fraud charges in a 1908 lumber scheme; mail fraud in 1908; an “automobile college” in 1910, which extorted free assembly labor from students; yet another school in 1915, The George Washington Institute, this time accompanied by the First National Trust Association, which provided loans to “students” – really just Hill; arrest warrants in 1918; charity embezzlement in the 1920s. It seems his only legitimate operation was a candy company, but his partners forced him out for unknown, albeit imaginable, reasons. All this among his own claims of being a close associate of Andrew Carnegie, and advisor to presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt – claims which made it into Hill’s New York Times obituary, but which there is no evidence to substantiate.
It’s nearly impossible to winnow fact from fiction. The still operational Napoleon Hill Foundation continues to bloviate Hill’s unsubstantiated claims, and Hill’s “official” biography conveniently claims that all records of his meetings with famous men were destroyed in a fire. The only thing that seems unequivocally true about Hill is that he employed his principle of auto-suggestion generously to his own life. Selling tens of millions of copies to date, he managed to become one of the highest selling authors of all time. Item #006718