Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2006 Issue

Upcoming Auction: The Private World of Truman Capote

Bonhams.capote.2006

An unusually personal collection


By Bruce McKinney

Truman Capote may have been a man but these days he's an industry. He was born in a red state but is very big business in the blue states these days. He is of course the celebrated author of In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffney's, A Christmas Memory and numerous other writings. He was a collector, the caged man in a gilded prison of anxiety, despair, extraordinary success and lasting fame. His life is the sore that is relentlessly picked both by those who identify with and appreciate him and his many critics who fault his openly gay life. He, who never received the highest writing awards in his lifetime, seems destined to enjoy in death an enduring recognition that passes silent judgment on those who ignored him decades ago.

So this past year there was the movie Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman that focused on the research and writing of Capote's masterpiece "In Cold Blood," story of the Clutter murders in Kansas in 1959, a movie for which Mr. Hoffman received a Best Actor Academy Award. This year there is Infamous, another movie dealing with the same subject.

For those who wish to have something more tangible than a movie ticket stub or a paperback copy of one of Capote's works there is an auction at Bonhams in New York on November 9th that will provide satisfying collecting opportunities for even insatiable Capote collectors. The auction title says it succinctly: The Private World of Truman Capote.

There are the requisite personal and inscribed copies of Capote's works. The estimates look very low for association copies although condition is often a problem. I think provenance will trump condition and actually jump up and down on it as Capote was known to do when in a fit of peak.

The material is intensely personal. Think of it as a house dispersal, the country auction of a literary giant. Drug dealers who need a passport may want to buy his though immigration may notice it's thirty years old. There are doodles, postcards sent, letters, signed checks and his Emmy nomination certificate for A Christmas Memory in 1966. For those who have not yet purchased advanced degrees on line to enhance their resumes here is the opportunity to purchase honorary degrees he received from Vniversitas Longinslanae and Coe College.

The man was a writer but he was also a decorator so there are association posters of plays and performances by and about him, silver, dinnerware, objects of glass, monogrammed and association matches. Lot 1245 is a collection of keys he, like millions before and after, kept when they checked out of hotels. The estimate is $10 to $20, low enough for the Capote collector who is on a strict budget to think about buying. Would you like to play Scrabble using Truman's set? That's lot 1247 and estimated at $50 to $100.

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