Update: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road sold for $7,500.
What you see: A 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Heritage Auctions anticipates selling it for as much as $8,000.
Who was Jack Kerouac? Born Jean-Louis Kérouac in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, he became a star of the mid-20th century Beat Generation of poets and authors. On the Road, a fictionalized tale of the cross-country travels of himself and his friends, published in 1957, is widely regarded as his greatest, most influential work. Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of 47.
Do we know how big the press run was for the first edition of On the Road? “I can’t find any reliable information about this, just that Viking published an unknown number of hard-cover copies in dust jackets on September 5, 1957,” says James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions. “It sold well enough that it required a second printing on September 20 and a third not long after that.” [This copy is from the second printing.]
Did Viking Press have any notion of what they had with On the Road? Was it like Ulysses, where there was some anticipation and awareness that the book might be great? “Some sections of On the Road were published in literary magazines, and were well received so that the publisher announced that the complete first edition book was ‘a publishing event of no small interest.’,” he says. “This was Kerouac’s second novel, but the literary approach was completely fresh and new.”
Do we know how many inscribed presentation copies of On the Road are out there, and how often they come to auction? “Kerouac is known not to have inscribed a lot of copies of this title,” he says. “I only note about eight or 10 copies through the auction rooms in the last 20 years or so, of course getting premium prices.”
The woman to whom this book is inscribed, Mimi, and her daughter, Francesca, are not characters in On the Road, but Lucien Carr, husband to Francesca and son-in-law to Mimi, is in the book [the character based on him is named Damion]. How does that affect this copy’s value? Are inscribed presentation copies of On the Road worth more if they are inscribed to people who appear in the book as fictionalized characters? “I think this twice-removed relationship limits the importance and desirability of the inscribed copy,” he says. “It is still a great book, but would be a vastly different thing if it was inscribed to Lucien Carr himself.”
What is the auction record for a first edition copy of On the Road? Does it belong to an inscribed presentation copy? If so, to whom did Kerouac sign it? “Aside from the original scroll of On the Road, the highest price I saw for an inscribed first was to his paramour, Joyce Johnson, and included a drawing,” he says. “Joyce Johnson also inscribed the book. It sold for $185,000 in 2002. The lot also included an autograph letter from Kerouac, and an inscribed copy of Johnson’s book about her relationship with Kerouac.”
What is the estimate on this copy of On the Road, and could you talk about why bidding will open at $4,000? “The estimate is $8,000, and we open bidding at half of the estimate,” he says. “We hope the estimate is conservative and the book will sell for more than $8,000.”
Could you talk about the condition of the book and its dust jacket? Does it have the wear that you’d expect of a book that’s about 60 years old? Or is it in better shape? “The book is fairly nice, without major restoration which would really detract from the value,” he says. “A book like this, with a black dust jacket that shows flaws easily and is popular enough to be read over and over by various readers, typically shows much more wear. This is in better shape than what we see typically, but really nice copies in jacket are out there and get a premium price.”
Do collectors of first-edition Kerouac books, and early copies of On the Road, differ from book collectors in general? “Not in my experience, though sometimes a buyer of On the Road will be specifically a beat literature collector,” he says. “Usually this is included in collections of high-spot literature collectors, who want great books by a variety of modern writers.”
Why will this copy of the book stick in your memory? “The Carr association, though a little removed, being inscribed to his mother-in-law, still adds a layer of interest that might encourage a bidder to go some extra increments, or a retail buyer to pay a little more,” Gannon says. “The ‘pride of ownership’ aspect is enhanced if you can share an interesting story when showing the book to friends and colleagues.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
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