December 11, 2014 / 6:09 AM / 4 years ago

Auction of once-lost Beat era letter suspended

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The scheduled auction of an 18-page letter written by Beat-era icon Neal Cassady that transformed Jack Kerouac’s writing style has been indefinitely suspended, according to the auction house.

An 18-page letter written by Beat-era icon Neal Cassady, which transformed Jack Kerouac's writing style, is shown in San Francisco, California, December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Deepa Seetharaman

The 16,000-word, stream-of-consciousness missive was set to be sold off by the auction house Profiles in History on Dec. 17, but spokeswoman Sabrina Propper said the sale would be held off indefinitely “until the ownership of the letter has been worked out.”

The letter was missing for decades until it was found among several unopened boxes in a garage in Northern California a few years ago.

A portion of the Cassady letter, beginning with the words “to have seen a specter isn’t everything,” was preserved and widely published. But it has long been known that the vast majority of the so-called “Joan Anderson” letter was missing.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Kerouac and Cassady estates have feuded over the ownership of the letter, citing an attorney for Kerouac’s camp and Cassady’s daughter.

In the letter, Cassady describes a series of adventures, including climbing out of a window when a woman’s mother unexpectedly came home. He also drew a picture of the window in the letter shown to reporters.

Earlier this month, the auction house said it could not display the full text of the letter because of a copyright held by the Cassady family.

Under current U.S. law, work that has not been published remains in copyright for 70 years after the death of the author. Cassady died in 1968.

Allen Ginsberg, a seminal Beat poet who referenced Cassady’s antics in his poem “Howl,” sent the letter to a publishing company, Golden Goose.

But the company folded and the letter went unread until Jean Spinosa, 41, came across the Golden Goose archives in her father’s garage after his death.

She said she is among a handful of people who have read the letter in full.

The reserve price for the piece, at which serious bidding would begin, was set between $300,000 and $500,000, according to the auction house.

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