To be a bit fussy about it fifty years marks the anniversary of the book being published which will be in early 2017.
The whole thing began as an article commissioned by Carey McWilliams. It was published in The Nation Newspaper (or magazine depending on how fussy one is) on 17th May 1965. Hunter was paid $100 for the article which he later broadened into what became the book we know today.
In 1966 an excerpt from the book appeared in Esquire Magazine (Volume 67 No 1. Image below) as part of an article on the Hell’s Angels.
In early 1967 Random House of New York published the 1st Edition, hardcover (with dust jacket) of Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.
There are 7 prints of the 1st edition.. I have not seen an 8th print and I’ve been collecting and dealing with this stuff for years.. If you know of more prints of the 1st edition please send word. The top closed edge of this edition had a black stain, and embossed on the front boards (main cover under dust jacket) was a silver motorcycle.
Also in 1967 the Book Club edition was published by Random House in New York. To the novice eye this edition looked identical to the 1st edition. The differences are simple to identify. The top closed edge of this edition has a red stain, and the motorcycle embossed on the front boards was red too. This book is a bit smaller than the 1st edition proper. See images at bottom of page for comparisons.
Now, every collector has one book that makes them go weak at the knees. My kryptonite, if you will, is a 1st UK edition (with dust jacket) of Hell’s Angels. Published in London 1967 by Allen Lane – The Penguin press.
I have pounded the streets for years looking for more information about this edition. According to some folks not many were released. Apparently only a chosen few libraries and suppliers were given copies of this edition. As always if anyone has information about this please send word.. It is hard to find this one in good condition. (Image right)
Later in 1967 a Taiwanese hardcover, pirate edition surfaced. It was noticeably smaller than the real deal when they were put side by side. The paper was of horrible, flimsy quality. A cool thing to have now if you are running out of things to collect.
In 1968 New York Ballantine Books published the 1st soft cover edition. Then onward from that almost every year up to the year 1985 various paperback editions were released in several languages. More on the foreign editions later.
In 1985 a significant audio book version was published by Copenhagen State Library for the blind, read by Paul Becker. Why significant? Because as a collector I find it significant that it is the only audio book version of Hell’s Angels. To my knowledge, that is.
In 1999 the first hard cover edition since 1967 was published by The Modern Library (A division of Random House) in New York. Much smaller with a dust jacket sporting a selfie by Hunter himself. Image below-top left.
A bit more on the foreign editions. Up to the time of writing this, Hell’s Angels has been published in 14 languages including Japanese, German, Polish, Dutch, French and more. The first non-English Hell’s Angels book was published in The Hague, Netherlands by Bakker publishers in 1971. Translated by Adriaan Venema.
I like to think that every book maintains a journey separate from the story contained within. Hunter’s work, including Hell’s Angels is no exception. If anything, considering the potency of Gonzo journalism, maybe Hunter’s writing forms a twisted sentience, hopefully destined to claw and stomp its way through the literary world.
As always, behind every writer there are folks tasked with editing, copy editing, handling, enduring all manner of torture. Jim Silberman edited Hell’s Angels. Margaret Harrell was the copy-editor. I have no doubt they played no small part in the book’s success. Moreover because of Margaret’s and Hunter’s chemistry they formed a friendship that lasted decades as mentioned in Margaret’s own series of books. More about Margaret’s books here..
Many thanks to Collector Joe Y for the images (credited as such) Header image by Kevin Hanrahan. All other images are mine.
As always I’m open to correction or new information. Feel free to comment with any suggestions. Abusive comments will never see the light of day.