March 25, 2016
Nobody wants to buy Saul Bellow’s old desk
by Julia Fleischaker
Daniel Bellow, son of Saul, is having a tough time unloading the desk where the Nobel Prize-winning author did much of his writing. The famous writer bought the desk from a London antiques store in the 1960s, flush from the success of Herzog. But according to Brenda Cronin at the Wall Street Journal, the advertisement his son has placed in the the New York Review of Books has yet to yield any serious offers. Cronin reports:
“It’s not going very well,” Daniel Bellow, son of Nobel-prize-winning author Saul Bellow, said of the attempt to sell his late father’s mahogany roll-top desk. His classified advertisement offering the massive Victorian-era desk for $10,000 has run in the New York Review of Books and appeared on the publication’s website for two weeks. The desk has a “leather writing surface, pigeonholes” and “appears in book jacket photo,” the ad says.
The enticements haven’t yet worked, even among an audience Mr. Bellow considered disposed toward memorabilia from the author of “Mr. Sammler’s Planet,” “Humboldt’s Gift” and other novels. “I guess space is expensive on the Upper West Side. Nobody’s got room for a giant piece of furniture,” Mr. Bellow said. “I thought, well, this will provoke discussion. But it really didn’t.”
Bellow is selling the desk because, you guessed it, he’s moving to a smaller place. According to Cronin, “He has other, less-cumbersome mementos, including the family’s King James Bible, one of his father’s neckties and his edition of Chaucer.” Cronin also reminds us of the fate of some other prominent desks:
Other writers’ desks, like their archives, tend to be sold or donated through third parties or auction houses. Marcel Proust wrote in bed, not at a desk, and his entire cork-lined chamber has been recreated at Paris’s Musée Carnavalet. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has the desks of Edgar Allan Poe, Compton Mackenzie and Isaac Bashevis Singer—who won the Nobel for literature in 1978, two years after Saul Bellow. It also has John Fowles’s writing desk—and its contents, including two pipes, a single Tic Tac, a tin of pastel pencils and a set of brass knuckles.
Bellow thought he had found the right outlet to sell his father’s desk, but he understands the difficulties inherent in selling to New Yorkers. As he put it: “Loving Saul Bellow is one thing and agreeing to take on a large piece of furniture is another.”
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.