Monday, September 13, 2010

Estate Sale

John D MacDonald died on December 28, 1986, and his wife Dorothy survived him by a little over two years, passing away on March 30, 1989. The couple's only son Maynard, who had moved to New Zealand with his family years before, was with both of his parents when they died and, after his mother's death, he remained stateside to take care of all of the details of closing out the estate: probating wills, closing accounts and selling his parents' Siesta Key house. He gathered their belongings, took what he wanted, sent off a few remaining items to the University of Florida, and arranged for an estate sale to get rid of what was left. That sale took place over two days, on June 30 and July 1, 1989, and was advertised in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

MacDonald's bibliographers Walter and Jean Shine attended the sale and wrote about it in their column in the JDM Bibliophile. As was typical of Walter whenever he wrote about something that irritated him, he was direct and not shy about letting his feelings be known. The following appeared under the headline "Sad Day":

"There are few sights more forlorn than the treasured lifetime possessions of people of taste and distinction being pawed over at an estate sale...

"The MacDonalds were people of dignity, culture, and talent. So much of that culture and talent was given to their choice of keepsakes, but in seconds, perfect strangers, grubbing through them, rejected some as uninteresting or unworthy, or gobbled them up to grab a bargain. Little of the meaning of those chattels to their owners could ever be known or taken into account. True, many of the MacDonalds' favorites were sent off to their son's New Zealand home prior to the sale, but there was still vast evidence of their passion for beauty in many forms: paintings, sculptures, Mexican artifacts, rock crystals, vases, phonograph records and tapes, and books enough to elicit an overheard comment: 'Why there are more here than in our city's library!' The books covered a vast range of subjects, apart from fiction, including photography, chess, rock cutting, painting, sculpture, philosophy, psychology, semantics and travel, to name only those we can remember.

"We were at the sale early and found many things which have a direct relationship to the books: hats worn by John D. for the back-of-the-book photos, records and tapes of music and books specifically mentioned in John's books, etc. All of them will find their way into the John D. MacDonald Collection at the University of Florida in Gainesville."

It's no surprise that many of those books once owned by the MacDonalds and sold to "perfect strangers" eventually found their way into the rare book market. Almost immediately, antiquarian booksellers began advertising the sale of books once part of the "John D MacDonald Library" and featuring the author's distinctive personal bookplate, for prices far beyond the reach of ordinary readers. Apparently many of those customers who were "grubbing" and "gobbling up" bargains knew what they were doing.

Some of these volumes have found their way to one particular antiquarian bookseller in Baltimore, Maryland. Royal Books, a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, has several of these volumes for sale to anyone with the financial ability and desire to pay for something once owned by MacDonald. The prices ain't cheap.

For a mere $25.00 one can purchase MacDonald's copy of John Keasler's Dear George, given to MacDonald as a gift by the author and featuring the following inscription: "Dear Anxious John: If you would stop worrying so Goddamn much about who done it, those dizzy spells would go away." For only ten dollars more you can own MacDonald's copy of the 1941 mystery anthology The Murderer's Companion, edited by William Roughead (a First Edition!) And lest you think that JDM was all-knowing, the same price gets you his copy of A Reader's Guide to Literary Terms, proving that the author probably needed an occasional literary crutch.

Do you have more money to burn? For only $75 you can own JDM's copy of Ancient Lake Cahuilla's Fish Trappers by Ann and John Balch, another gift book given to MacDonald by the authors and inscribed thusly: "To John D. MacDonald, in partial payment for the hours of pleasure that we have experienced from reading your books. May you live at least "one year" longer than we do so that we can be sure of a continual supply." It's a big jump to the next item, a 1934 First Edition of Peter Fleming's One's Company -- sans dust jacket -- for $275. Then we get into serious money with the next-highest-priced volume, Biography of the Bulls: An Anthology of Spanish Bullfighting by Rex Smith, a 1957 First Edition. Price: $425. Top dollar, however, is reserved for an obscure volume titled Doctor Golf, a 1963 First Edition written by William Price Fox. It will cost you $475. Perhaps its lofty purchase price is due to the illustrator of that work: the great Charles Rodrigues.

If you still have some money left in your wallet or purse after all that, you might want to peruse the books for sale that John D MacDonald actually wrote. You can find a few relatively inexpensive First Edition paperbacks of readily available titles such as Barrier Island or Cape Fear (the movie tie-in version of The Executioners) for as little as five dollars. But since we're here to spend some money (aren't we?) lets get to the top of the price chart. A signed First Edition of the ultra-rare Weep For Me, inscribed by MacDonald with the amusing plea, "Eddie, Please burn this bad book!" can be had for only $950. But if you want to own the rarest, most expensive MacDonald volume in the store, you will have to choose between two volumes: the first American hardcover edition of Bright Orange for the Shroud, or a British hardcover edition of his 1958 novel Soft Touch. Either can be purchased for a cool $2,500.

If you can't decide you can always purchase both.

As I said, the "grubbers" knew what they were doing.

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