I Call Bullshit (on a “Signed” Calder Naked Lunch)

Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Calder Naked Lunch with a dubious William Burroughs signature

Years ago I got fed up with eBay and just about gave up on it. Too many items not as described. Too many dubious items. Too much fake news. In short too much bullshit to deal with for the occasional great find. Then I bought an Aspen 5+6 off of eBay, which exceeded my expectations, was reasonably priced, and renewed my faith in man and eBay. That said there is still too much bullshit. Take signed Burroughs items. It is the fucking Wild West on eBay for this stuff. It is truly buyer beware. eBay needs to do a better job in policing its marketplace. But I guess in a free market they expect the market to police itself. Back in the day, the boys of the Bunker successfully brought down an eBay scam. But that was the end of the Bunker’s role as policeman. As Burroughs said of the ideal policeman, he does his work and goes.

One of the first posts I did was a small sampling of what I see as authentic Burroughs signatures over the course of his career. It would be an interesting side note to that to create an archive of suspect or outright fake Burroughs signatures to give people not only an idea of what a Burroughs signature looks like but what one does not look like as well. If people could provide scans or images of such signatures we can add them to this post as a running project.

Front of Calder NL with dubious signatureI will start the ball rolling with a signature that recently caught my eye on eBay. For years I have been looking for a signed copy of the Calder Naked Lunch published in 1964. I have grown to kind of hate this book because it is a carryover from an earlier phase of my Burroughs collecting. Starting out, I highly prized signed Burroughs A-items from 1953-1965. I could not afford signed copies of Naked Lunch or Junkie but at the time signed copies of the cut-up material from Minutes to Go to Nova Express where within my reach. Early on I was ecstatic to get a signed copy of Dead Fingers Talk published by Calder in 1963 and about that time I put my sights on the Calder Naked Lunch as well. They are companion books. I love the cover design of both books. Yet somehow the Calder Naked Lunch eluded me, until as a collector I outgrew my love for the Burroughs hardcovers. Now immersed in the world of the paperback and mimeo revolutions, I have little interest in mainstream hardcovers, even if they were published by an independent press, like Grove or Calder, rather can a corporate powerhouse like Henry Holt or Viking.  

So the Calder Naked Lunch has become a thorn in my side. I still kind of want it and I acknowledge that it is a hole in my collection but I have little desire to pay for it and when I do acquire it, I will get little joy from it. It is my obligation as a Burroughs collector to get this book, not a passion. Needless to say, I keep my eye out for any signed Calder Naked Lunch. The last one that got me excited was the inscribed copy, double signed to Richard Aaron and Bob Jackson currently on the market from Ken Lopez. It is a cool copy, a great association, some wonderful signatures. But it is $2500. A deflating number. 

Recently I saw a signed copy on eBay for about $325. Now that is a number that gets me excited, but you get what you pay for and as good as the signatures and provenance are on the Lopez copy they are sorely lacking in the eBay copy. The Lopez copy is interesting because it provides two legit examples of Burroughs signature over time. The signature to Richard Aaron is a textbook example of a 1960s Burroughs signature. This one looks much like the signature I have on my Dead Fingers Talk. The signature to Bob Jackson shows how Burroughs’ signature loosened up over time. It also demonstrates how the signature changed in content. The “S” is much more common in later signatures as is the practice of dating the signature. Again the signature to Jackson is textbook later Burroughs.

Calder NL with Bromley library stampSo you can see the potential problem with the eBay Naked Lunch. It is a textbook late signature but dated March 1965. Without the date, I would pass this signature off. But with the date it is suspect. The chronology of Burroughs in 1965 has been roughly constructed on RealityStudio and Burroughs was clearly in New York City at this time. It seems weird that Burroughs would sign the British edition of Naked Lunch while in New York City; it is even weirder that this book was stolen from a library in 1965 and then got transported to New York City for the signature or found its way into a library after the book was signed. For me the library stamp is one of the most interesting aspects of this eBay copy. I assume that Bromley is the neighborhood in London, famous for the Bromley Contingent of punk icons who lived there and served as the entourage for the Sex Pistols. The idea that Siouxsie Sioux or Soo Catwoman could have checked out this copy of Naked Lunch really tickles my fancy. It is the coolest part of an otherwise depressing copy.  

So there you have it. I call bullshit. Anybody else out there got their bullshit detectors working? I would love to hear from you.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 10 May 2019.

4 thoughts on “I Call Bullshit (on a “Signed” Calder Naked Lunch)

  1. This looks suspect to me on other counts.. Lacks fluency, especially on the William. I have quite a few signed copies of Burroughs books, some clearly unassailable, and while they vary in size (yes he certainly loosened up over time), none quite look like that. But very nice detective work, couldn’t agree more..

  2. I will leave you an image of my “signed” copy of Junkie as soon as I can get it out of my storage unit. Would love to have it scrutinized by a couple of other sets of eyes to help determine it’s authenticity.

  3. John ,

    Please dig out that Junkie. I am sure we at RealityStudio will have some thoughts and collectors and archivist like Jeff Ball and Mike Stevens will weigh in too.

    There are some more questionable Burroughs signatures out there that we have seen. Maybe we will get them on the site.

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