Yours for $1 million, maybe even less: J.D. Salinger's toilet

STAFF WRITERAugust 17, 2010 

It's almost as if "The Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger saw this moment coming in 1953 when he retreated in growing distress about his own fame to small-town New Hampshire and became a notorious recluse.

Salinger's toilet, the ultimate symbol of privacy for a man notorious for defending his, is being auctioned on eBay.

A well-known memorabilia and collectibles dealer based in Kernersville who has stalked Salinger items for years is asking the standard eBay hey-look-at-this-bizarre-thing-I've-got price of $1 million but said he's open to reasonable offers.

"I bet it's worth $100,000," said Rick Kohl of www .webuytreasure .com , invoking the author's iconic tale of teen alienation. "Come on, it's J.D. Salinger's throne! We're talking 'Catcher in the Rye' here!"

Salinger died in January after more than half a century in Cornish, N.H., where the 1,700 or so other residents quietly shielded him from an endless stream of visiting fans.

The toilet came not from his final home there but from another nearby that he moved out of in the mid-1980s. James Littlefield, who along with his wife, Joan, bought the house from Salinger and still lives there, confirmed in an interview Monday that the toilet was Salinger's. It's being auctioned with a letter of authentication from Joan Littlefield.

A simple, white Crane Oxford model, the toilet is stamped with a manufacturing date of October 1962, so Salinger didn't actually enjoy its comforts until after writing nearly all of his published work.

Kohl, though, noted that Salinger is believed to have left behind a substantial volume of unpublished writing, and that surely Salinger conceived some of it while sitting on the million-dollar thunder pot.

Determined fans

Even after Salinger stopped publishing his books and magazine stories, back in the mid-1960s, fans kept coming to Cornish, asking directions to his house.

Littlefield said that for years, a foreign tour company brought groups of Asian Salinger fans to the town, and the Littlefields allowed them to walk around.

"They'd walk through 'his' field and look down 'his' mountain and breathe the Salinger air," Littlefield said.

Seeing the power of the enthusiasm for all things Salinger, the Littlefields kept the toilet and various appliances after they remodeled, and even saved and put in storage long stretches of Salinger's privacy fence.

Kohl approached them several years ago, looking for anything interesting Salinger might have left behind. The Littlefields decided not long ago to see whether he wanted the toilet and a couple of sections of the fence.

James Littlefield said he knew Salinger mementos had unusual value.

Still, he was startled to hear Kohl's asking price.

"Where did he get that idea from?" he said.

Kohl said he hasn't read any of Salinger's work. But after decades buying and selling the likes of guitars owned by Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain, and the overcoat that President Lyndon Johnson wore during his inauguration, Kohl said, he knows a few things about valuing unique celebrity memorabilia.

No seat or lid

Salinger is, in a way, partly responsible for this posthumous violation of his potty privacy.

Kohl said he hunted Salinger memorabilia for years, going so far as to approach his ex-wives asking for letters. The more Salinger stayed out of sight, the rarer things like his autographs became, and the more objects associated with him - even his toilet - became worth.

The auction has about two and a half weeks left to run, unless someone hits the "Buy It Now" option and pays the full price.

If you decide that you must have this vital part of Salinger's life, be forewarned: The toilet does not come with a seat or lid.

And it hasn't been cleaned.

But, hey, what do you want for a measly million bucks?

Or if you want to wait awhile, something a little more classy may eventually hit the market: The Littlefields still have one of Salinger's check registers, which, unlike the toilet, offers a bit of story.

"He gave very large sums to charities," Littlefield said. "He was a very, very generous man."

News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.

jay.price@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4526

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