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Early and Rare Books of Leonard Cohen

By Audrey Golden. Jul 6, 2024. 5:37 PM.

Topics: Poetry, Rare Books, Music

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), songwriter and musician extraordinaire, is best known for the music he made during his lifetime, with albums like Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971), and Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977). He continued recording albums throughout his life, releasing You Want It Darker (2016) the year of his death.

Yet Cohen was also a poet and novelist, and early first editions of his written work are quite valuable, rare, and elusive. Whether you’re interested in Cohen’s music and want to expand your vinyl collection to include rare books, or you’re starting a book collection made up of works by musicians (yes, there are quite a few musicians who have also published books of poetry and fiction), we want to supply you with some of the information you’ll need to start collecting. We’ve put together some details for you about some of the earliest and rarest Leonard Cohen books to seek out for your collection.

Leonard Cohen muralLet Us Compare Mythologies (1956)

This is the earliest of Leonard Cohen’s poetry books, and it is likely to be the priciest book on this list if you’re able to find one. The first edition was published in Montreal in the McGill Poetry Series by Contact Press, and fewer than 400 copies were printed. The book has been reprinted a number of times since its original publication, most notably by the National Library of Canada in 1989 and in a 50th anniversary edition by Ecco Press. While you can certainly find one of these reprints to add to your library, if you want to add a first edition to your collection, you should plan to budget about $10,000 USD.

The Spice-Box of Earth (1961)

Like many of Cohen’s early works, the first edition of The Spice-Box of Earth was published in Toronto by McClelland & Stewart. It has, in our opinion, it is among the best-titled poetry collections, and it contains some of Cohen’s most compelling poems. These are difficult to find, particularly with an intact just jacket in good condition. You’ll likely spend around $500 USD for a first edition and more if you can locate a signed copy. Even some reprints of this rare book are highly collectible, such as the Jonathan Cape edition from 1973.

The Favourite Game (1963)

First editions of The Favourite Game, Cohen’s first novel, are quite rare, particularly in very good condition. The novel was published in London by Secker & Warburg, and a U.S. edition by Viking Press in New York the same year with an Americanized title spelling, The Favorite Game. These usually sell for anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to well over $1,000 USD if you’re interested in purchasing a galley proof or a signed copy.

Leonard Cohen Chelsea Hotel PlaqueFlowers for Hitler (1964)

This one’s another McClelland & Stewart publication that’s a pretty rare book, particularly with a dust jacket that’s also in good condition. It’s Cohen’s third poetry book, and a first edition (in good to very good condition) might cost you anywhere from $400 USD to over $1,000. There are a number of first edition copies for sale without the dust jacket for significantly less money if you’re hoping to build your collection slowly with a smaller budget. Jonathan Cape pressings from 1973 are also relatively rare and collectible, and are slightly more affordable for entry-level collectors.

Parasites of Heaven (1966)

While Cohen’s fourth book of poetry, published by McClelland & Stewart like several of his earlier works, might not cost you quite as much as a first edition of Let Us Compare Mythologies, it might be more difficult to find. Quite simply, there aren’t many of these for sale, and copies with a dust jacket are scarce. Even the softcover edition, published by McClelland & Stewart in 1966, are collectible and average a sales price of more than $100 USD for a copy in very good condition.

Beautiful Losers (1966)

Cohen’s second and final novel is a strange work of historical fiction. The first edition was published in New York by the Viking Press, with the first Canadian edition appearing the same year from McClelland & Stewart. Both copies are rare and collectible, and approaching the price point of Let Us Compare Mythologies. Notably, this is the last book Cohen wrote before his career as a musician took off and fans across the globe fell in love with Songs of Leonard Cohen and its tracks that included “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.”

A number of these early and rare Leonard Cohen books, as we mentioned, have been reprinted if you want to start smaller in terms of price scale. In addition, you should keep in mind that any copies of these books that have been signed or inscribed by Cohen are significantly more valuable and would make exciting additions to any collection. Cohen’s works have also been published in a variety of languages in different parts of the world, and seeking out those editions could add a fascinating angle to any Leonard Cohen collection.

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Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.


 

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