Letters from J.D. Salinger to Pittsburgh woman go on auction block

More than 40 letters that author J.D. Salinger wrote to a Pittsburgh woman over 10 years will be auctioned today at Christie’s in New York City.

The estimated value of Lot 280 — 41 typed and signed letters totaling 66 pages — is $180,000 to $240,000. The auction house said if bidding does not reach the undisclosed reserve, the lot will not be sold. The 360-lot auction, “Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana,” includes letters that American presidents, authors and others wrote.

The recipient of the Salinger letters, C.C. Smith of the East End, declined to discuss why she decided to offer them. In February 2010, she wrote an article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Jerry and Me,” about the letters.

As Salinger wished, she never spoke of their relationship before his death on Jan. 27, 2010.

This collection is the largest Salinger archive to appear at auction. In 1999, a collection of 14 Salinger letters to Joyce Maynard were auctioned at Sotheby’s. They fetched $156,5000. The buyer later returned them to Salinger as a gift. Ms. Maynard lived with Salinger in his Cornish, N.H., home for 10 months before he ended their relationship.

Salinger was born Jan. 1, 1919, in New York.

He struggled with formal education but found support and inspiration to become a writer while attending Columbia University in New York City. His service in World War II led to a hospitalization for a nervous breakdown.

“Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951, but fame disagreed with Salinger. At age 34 he left New York City and retreated to his secluded, 90-acre home in Cornish. He spent most of his life — 57 years — as a recluse, no longer publishing his work but corresponding with a few fans.

In 1966, when she was 15 and growing up in Central Pennsylvania, Ms. Smith began writing letters to people she admired. Salinger’s work deeply affected her, and she wrote to express her admiration and other observations.

In her article in the Post-Gazette, she described his tone at times as “teaching, repetitious, opinionated and remonstrative but filled with affection.”

They wrote each other for four years before meeting in person, when she spent five days at his home. She maintains that their relationship was platonic. They never met again but kept in touch until 1976. She does not recall who wrote the last letter but said that “the relationship just ran its course.”

Today’s auction begins at 10 a.m. Information: www.christies.com.

Lorri Drumm: ldrumm@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3771.

Lorri Drumm: ldrumm@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3771.

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