- Associated Press - Sunday, June 20, 2010

OXFORD, Miss. | A rare auction of signed William Faulkner books and personal items has drawn international interest, but few on the town square of the author’s hometown were aware of the bidding set for Tuesday at Christie’s in New York.

It’s not as if Oxford’s famous son is forgotten at home. Inside Off Square Books, a poster of the fiercely private writer hangs on an entrance wall. Down the street is the home where Faulkner’s mother lived and nearby is Rowan Oak, the author’s Greek Revival house owned and operated as a museum by the University of Mississippi. Rowan Oak draws about 26,000 visitors each year.

Bill Griffith, Rowan Oak’s curator, is among those who would love to own Faulkner’s Canadian Royal Air Force Uniform or signed, first editions of some his works. Mr. Griffith, however, said tight finances won’t allow him to place a bid.

“We’re hopeful it goes well for folks in Mississippi who are interested. Most of this stuff is first class. It’s what we would love to curate,” he said.

The auction could be the last chance to acquire such a large collection of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s work, said Louis Daniel Brodsky, a poet and Faulkner scholar, who lives in St. Louis.

Mr. Brodsky, who donated his private collection to the Center for Faulkner Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, said he once owned the extremely rare copy of Faulkner’s first novel, “Soldier’s Pay,” in a dust jacket that’s part of the lot up for auction.

“There are five of those known,” he said.

Also included in the collection are signed copies of “The Wild Palms” and “Absalom, Absalom!” In keeping with common auction house practice, Christie’s didn’t identify the owner, but said he was an American.

A few items offer a glimpse into the personal side of the Nobel Prize-winning author, whose stream of consciousness writings explored the complicated social system of the South.

Ironically, Faulkner likely would have cringed to know his personal items are to be part of a public bidding war, Mr. Griffith said.

“I think he would be shocked that a telegram to his daughter is going up for auction for $2,000,” he said. “When I first took over as curator, I thought his privacy thing was a little coy, but he was serious about it. He wanted to be left alone.”

In his 1936 Western Union telegram to his 3-year-old daughter, Faulkner wished her “plenty of ghosts, goblins, witches and cats and owls on Halloween.”

Christie’s said the lot is a nearly complete representation of Faulkner’s work. The estimated values range from $1,200 for a British first edition of “Sanctuary” to $120,000 for a presentation copy of “The Marble Faun” that Faulkner inscribed to his mother and father. The book also was dedicated to his mother.

The lot of 90 items is expected to bring more than $1 million.

Christie’s has been fielding inquiries from potential bidders from around the world, said Tom Lecky, head of the auction house’s department of books and manuscripts. He attributes the interest to the fine quality of the material.

“He’s not merely an American author. He’s an international author,” he said.

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