On The Road Scroll

(or as Kerouac sometimes referred to it, The Roll)


"On The Road" Scroll Sold to the Highest Bidder

The mythical scroll that Jack Kerouac typed in a non-stop 3 week writing marathon fueled by coffee and possibly other illicit influences; finished on an April day in 1951; that was eventually published by Viking in September 1957; found itself being sold on May 22, 2001 to Jim Irsay for $2.2 million (plus buyer's premium) at Christies Auction House in New York City.

In 2007, on the 50th anniversay of the original publication of On The Road, Viking published the scroll version of the book, using the real names as it was written in the scroll. And 2011 will see the release of the On The Road movie.

Mr. Irsay, the buyer (and owner of the Indianapolis Colts professional football team), had been displaying the scroll during a world wide tour that started in 2004. It made stops in San Francisco, Denver, New York City, and Lowell, with other stops inbetween.

Following are some newspaper accounts of the May 2001 auction. The sale was slightly controversial at the time, as some people in the Kerouac community were concerned that the auction was the beginning of the breakup of the archive which Kerouac himself meticulously maintained until the end of his life (and which remained together until the late 1990s).

However, for the moment, it seems that Mr. Irsay may be the right caretaker for the scroll.


Note - In 2002, NY Public Library acquired a major  portion of the remaining Kerouac archive.



Finally Published...

On the Road: The Original Scroll
Jack Kerouac - Author

Howard Cunnell -  Editor 

The legendary 1951 scroll draft of On the Road, published word for word (almost) as Kerouac originally composed it
. Published August 16, 2007.


By the way, the response to the On The Road Scroll exhibitions has been extremely positive. People were not only pleased with the experience of seeing the actual mythical scroll, but of the exhibit that accompanied it as well. The exhibits surrounding the scroll change from each venue, but in each case have served to make the experience more complete.

On The Road, the beginning...

Click here to see a closeup of the beginning of the scroll.



"On The Road" Scroll quick links to articles on the page.

DHARMA beat brings you the following articles regarding the scroll auction from various newspapers.

At the end are two original reviews of On The Road that were published by the New York Times in 1957.

These articles are about the sale of the On The Road scroll on May 22, 2001. The scroll was brought by Jim Isray.

Kerouac's On the Road scroll tour - Kerouac's scroll begins 2004 museum tour

Kerouac's Road Scroll Is Going to Auction - by Kathryn Shattuck, New York Times, March 22, 2001

Kerouac Manuscript Auctioned for a Record $2.2 Million - By Ellen Wulfhorst - Reuters, May 23, 2001


May 22, 2001 - AP - Filed at 8:42 p.m. ET


On the Road Sets Record on the Block

The Guardian - Thursday April 5, 2001 - Auction of Kerouac manuscript 'blasphemy' by John Ezard

New York Times - Original New York Times review by Gilbert Millstein that set off the firestorm, September 5, 1957.

In Pursuit of Kicks - This was the follow-up review in the New York Times the following week by the regular book reviewer (on September 8, 1957). It was not quite as generous as Mr. Millstein's review.




Kerouac's 'On the Road' scroll begins 2004 museum tour

RYAN LENZ, Associated Press Writer

(01-13- 2004) 19:58 PST INDIANAPOLIS (AP) --

Like the trip that inspired it, the first draft of author Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" is a wandering narrative, told in a continuous block of text.

Yellowed with age, smudged with editing marks and the author's own ink-covered fingerprints, the scroll rolls over nearly 120 feet of paper. It is a relic of a literary phenomenon.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay bought the scroll two years ago for $2.43 million. Now that it has been displayed in Indianapolis, Irsay plans to send what may be the Beat Generation's quintessential text back to the road where it came from.

Beginning this week at the Orange County History Center in Orlando, FL, and ending with a three-month stay at the New York Public Library in 2007, Kerouac's "On the Road" scroll will make a 13-stop, four-year national tour of museums and libraries.

"My goal all along was to have it and share it with all those who want to see it, whether it's in this country or other countries," Irsay said in an interview with The Associated Press.

In a conversation after he brought the scroll with director Cameron Crowe and journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Irsay said they discussed the manuscript's continued relevance as a chronicle of American discovery.

Kerouac wrote the novel in a coffee-saturated, 21-day typewriter marathon at a friend's apartment in New York City in 1951. When finally published six years later, it won critical acclaim as an unconventional masterpiece, defining a post-World War II generation of intellectual outlaws on an aimless odyssey across the American landscape.

But while some -- including The New York Times -- praised its publication, others dismissed it. "That's not writing. That's typing," author Truman Capote said in a review of Kerouac's book.

"It's the way that it was written that, in many ways, is more important than what it really is," said Howard Collinson, director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which will show the entire scroll in 2005. "That it kind of just spewed out of him is what it's all about."

When Kerouac died, his estate was reportedly valued at less than $100. The scroll passed hands and wound up in the New York Public Library. It's a storied life for a rough draft of a classic, said Steven Taylor, chair of writing and poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.

"There's a long, long tradition of displaying literary artifacts that are treasured," said Taylor, who collaborated with beat poet Allen Ginsberg on numerous projects. "But the stream of consciousness, jump-cut, rapid motion of the book will not be as strange as it was to readers a generation ago."

Irsay and Kerouac share connections -- Kerouac was a star football player in Lowell, Mass., during high school and played briefly at Columbia University in New York. But Irsay is a businessman.

Still, buying the scroll and sending it on tour has little to do with profit, he said. Some museums are paying only a minor fee to display the scroll, mostly to cover the cost of shipping.

"It certainly wasn't something where I'm going to buy this because someday it will go up in value or I'm going to buy this because I want to sit and look at it," Irsay said. "I was drawn towards it."

Irsay, a guitarist with a liking for electric Bob Dylan, helped produce "Colors," a tribute to Ryan White, a boy with AIDS whose legal struggle to attend a school in Indiana became a national cause in 1985; White died in 1990 at the age of 18.

Irsay inherited the Colts in 1997 when his father passed away. At 44, he is the NFL's youngest team owner.

The scroll, which was once thought to have been stored in a dorm room closet, exchanged hands often after Kerouac's death in 1969. It had been part of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library until the 2001 auction, which was held to pay for debts in Kerouac's estate.

But as frequently as the scroll passed hands during its 53 years, Irsay, who thinks of himself more as the steward for the scroll than its owner, said perhaps it is fitting for it to leave him.

"Possessions I hold very lightly in the sense that they're kind of like very temporary borrowings," he said. "This will be someone else's and someone else's."


click on pictures to enlarge


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(Scroll down for other articles.)

From the New York Times prior to the auction...

March 22, 2001

Kerouac's 'Road' Scroll Is Going to Auction


Fifty years after its completion on April 22, 1951, the product of a three-week typing marathon said to have been stoked by Benzedrine and coffee, the scroll on which Jack Kerouac composed "On the Road" is to be auctioned on May 22 at Christie's in Manhattan.

The single-spaced quasi-autobiographical ode to free living is nearly 120 feet long and pasted together in sections about a dozen feet long, the seams later reinforced with tape. A faint pencil line runs along its right edge, suggesting that Kerouac cut the paper to fit his typewriter. Darkened with age, the scroll is tattered near its beginning, probably from handling. (Kerouac was fond of showing it, unrolled and roadlike, to friends.) And its final paragraphs are torn away, a mishap that Kerouac attributed to his friend Lucien Carr's dog chewing off the end.

The scroll's consignor is Tony Sampas of Pepperell, Mass. A nephew of Stella Sampas, Kerouac's third and last wife, he inherited the scroll from an uncle, Anthony G. Sampatacacus, who died in December 1999. He is the executor of his uncle's estate and is the joint beneficiary of the scroll with another uncle, John Sampas, and Sampatacacus's longtime girlfriend, Nancy Bump.

"The scroll needs to go into the public," Tony Sampas said of his decision to sell. "It has been locked up in a safe, it has been rolled up for decades, and it's an important work. It needs to be studied by scholars and by ordinary folks." He added: "We have a financial imperative. I have to settle an estate, and we have some bills."

Christie's estimates that the scroll will fetch $1 million to $1.5 million.

"On the Road" is one of the elemental texts of the Beat generation and remains popular today. The book has sold nearly 3.5 million copies in the United States and continues to sell at a rate of 110,000 to 130,000 copies a year, a pace that has increased slightly since 1991, when steady annual sales of 25,000 quadrupled in one year.

"I would place Kerouac in the same league as Kafka, Joyce and Proust, and we have sold manuscripts of all of those authors for substantial sums," said Chris Coover, senior specialist in manuscripts at Christie's.

The scroll was kept in the vault of the Sterling Lord Literistic agency until about 1993 and resurfaced at the New York Public Library several years later, Mr. Coover said. It was moved from the library to Christie's in January and is being studied by conservators at the Pierpont Morgan Library in Manhattan. Christie's plans to exhibit the scroll in Chicago and San Francisco in early May, and it will be on view at the auction house beginning around May 17.

"On the Road" was closely based on the cross-country wanderings of Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady, a charismatic drifter, as they traversed the highways of postwar America and Mexico. Armed with a rucksack filled with small notebooks, Kerouac verbally sketched scenes from everyday life, concentrating on what he considered the neglected cities of the West, where he imagined himself a sort of Sundance Kid to his companion's Butch Cassidy. The book's seemingly endless strands of rhythmic prose echoed the jazz Kerouac loved and heralded its author's belief that he had discovered a new form of writing both spontaneous and unrevised.

"I really wrote a great book, my very best, one of the best to be published this year anywhere (or next Jan.) and wrote it too in 20 days as I say and I feel the pull and strain of having to type with a rusty typewriter like this and a dull ribbon that won't enact my tones," Kerouac wrote to Cassady on June 10, 1951.

In fact, it would take six years to get the manuscript published, during which Kerouac met with forceful rejections, beginning with the reaction of Robert Giroux at Harcourt Brace. "How the hell can the printer work from this?" the editor is said to have roared.

Mr. Coover surmises that within the first year, Kerouac retyped the scroll onto conventional pages.But the manuscript was still summarily turned down by several major New York publishers, perhaps partly because of its glorification of car thieves, con men, hobos and prostitutes, and its unconventional style.

Finally, Malcolm Cowley of Viking agreed to edit the book, but only after Kerouac submitted to substantial revisions and agreed to get signed release forms from its characters. Eventually, Kerouac assigned aliases: Cassady became Dean Moriarty, the poet Allen Ginsberg appeared as Carlo Marx, and Kerouac christened himself Sal Paradise.

In a review in The New York Times in 1957, Gilbert Millstein hailed its publication as "a historic occasion" and called "On the Road" "the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as `beat,' and whose principal avatar he is."

The historian Douglas Brinkley, who is writing a Kerouac biography for Viking, said: "I find the scroll one of the really fascinating documents of 20th-century American literature. There is such a mythology grown on the coffee-and-Benzedrine frenzy in which he produced the scroll." But, he cautioned, "a lot of the mythology is inaccurate."

In fact, Mr. Brinkley said, Kerouac was a seasoned writer who kept meticulous notes and journals filled with anecdotes he honed to perfection. Later, in that April marathon, he is likely to have retyped these notes onto the scroll, while drinking countless cups of coffee rather than the Benzedrine of lore. The myth was perpetuated by Ginsberg but debunked by Kerouac himself.

"I tell you another," Kerouac wrote to Cassady. "I wrote that book on COFFEE. . . . Benny, tea, anything I KNOW none as good as coffee for real mental power kicks."

Kerouac referred to the scroll — 9 inches wide and 119 feet, 8 inches long — as Teletype paper, although it was probably architectural drafting paper that he found in the West 20th Street loft in Manhattan to which he and his second wife, Joan Haverty, had recently moved.

Although Kerouac gave the impression that his writing was spontaneous, the scroll suggests otherwise. There, in the author's minuscule handwriting, words are changed, punctuation added, paragraphs indicated and entire passages crossed out in pencil and red crayon. In the scroll's earlier sections, Kerouac took care to change real names; somewhere around midpoint he abandoned the painstaking process, leaving references to himself, Cassady and others. And the missing portions torn off by his friend's dog? Perhaps no more than a ruse perpetuated by Kerouac when he decided to rewrite the book's ending.

Kerouac died in 1969 at 47 from an alcohol-abetted hemorrhage induced by a bar brawl in St. Petersburg, Fla. The sale of the scroll may finally help put an end to a battle that, like its creator, crisscrossed the country over the last decade as litigious factions tried, unsuccessfully, to wrest control of the Kerouac estate from the Sampas family.

Last week John Sampas, the executor of the Kerouac estate, said he was working to place the Kerouac archives with the New York Public Library. The estate is thought to be worth close to $10 million.

"Jack moved to New York in 1944, and he spent quite a bit of time at the public library," John Sampas said. "I feel the archives should go there. We are committed to it, but as they say, nothing is done until the fat lady sings."

Tony and John Sampas and Ms. Bump will retain the scroll's copyright, said George Tobias Jr., a partner with the Boston firm of Burns & Levinson and the attorney for Kerouac's estate.

John and Tony Sampas and Ms. Bump are the joint beneficiaries of the scroll, but Tony's position as executor of Anthony G. Sampatacacus's estate enables him alone to decide to auction the scroll.

"I'm very disappointed," John Sampas said of the auction. "I almost feel the appraisal could have been more conservative and that the library could have purchased it, but I have no control over it." The library refused to comment.

"My only concern is that I hope that whoever buys the scroll will end up donating it to a public institution and not keep it sequestered away in a private home," Mr. Brinkley said. "It's one of those literary documents that belongs to the American people and should be expected to be seen as we would expect to see the first edition of Whitman's `Leaves of Grass' or the draft of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address."

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Kerouac Manuscript Auctioned for a Record $2.2 Million

By Ellen Wulfhorst - Reuters

NEW YORK (May 23, 2001) - The original manuscript of Jack Kerouac's ''On the Road,'' a groundbreaking novel that became a bible of the Beat Generation, sold at Christie's on Tuesday for $2.2 million, a record for a literary manuscript at auction.

The purchaser of the 120-foot-long, single-spaced typed scroll was Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts professional football team, who said he considered his purchase ''a stewardship'' of the historic work.

''I don't believe you own anything in this world. It's dust to dust,'' he said after the auction at Christie's in Manhattan.

''I wanted to make sure we kept it in the country, in America, and we give people an opportunity to enjoy it,'' he added. ''It's just enjoyable to make sure it doesn't get locked away or taken somewhere far away.''

Christie's had estimated the 50-year-old manuscript would sell for $1 million to $1.5 million. Bidding opened at $650,000 and rapidly escalated to set the record for a literary manuscript at auction, Christie's said.


The previous record was set on May 15 by the handwritten manuscript of Louis-Ferdinand Celine's nihilist 1932 novel, ''Journey to the End of the Night,'' sold for $1.5 million at the Drouot-Montaigne auction house in Paris.

Irsay, a 41-year-old resident of Indianapolis, said he was considering putting his prize on display at a museum in Indiana, making it available to academics and taking it on a cross-country tour in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of the book's publication.

Kerouac pasted together 12-foot strips of paper -- he described it at various times as either Teletype or tracing paper -- to create a scroll he could feed without interruption into a typewriter.

Using no paragraphs and little punctuation, he typed ''On the Road'' in 20 days in April 1951.

Published six years later, the novel, based on his cross-country wanderings with Neal Cassady and their experiments with jazz, sex and drugs, became a definitive work of the Beat Generation -- a group of alienated, youthful writers, poets and artists disillusioned with what they considered the shackles of convention and conformity.


The now-yellowing manuscript is filled with editing marks, crossed-out words and marginal notes, and its ending is missing. According to Beat lore, the ending was eaten by a dog, but skeptics say Kerouac disliked the original conclusion and destroyed it.

Irsay, who said he thought Kerouac would be ''flabbergasted'' at the $2.2 million price tag, joked about keeping the work safe.

''We have a very aggressive dog, so we've talked about keeping it away from him,'' he said.

Noting that he also owns a guitar that once belonged to Elvis Presley, Irsay said, ''If you have some talent, don't throw anything away.''

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg once called the ''On the Road'' manuscript ''a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself,'' and argued that it should have been published as written rather than ''hacked and punctuated and broken.''

''The original mad version is greater than the published version, the manuscript still exists and someday when everybody's dead will be published as it is,'' Ginsberg wrote in a 1958 newspaper review.

Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of 47. The manuscript has been in the hands of family members.

''On the Road'' has sold more than 3 million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

03:11 05-23-01

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From the Lowell Sun (Jack’s hometown)




LOWELL -- Nancy Bump was a co-heir to Jack Kerouac's On the Road manuscript, but when the gavel fell and it sold for a record $2.46 million yesterday she was nowhere in the audience.

Bump chose not to attend the auction. "There were too many mixed feelings for me," she said from her Lowell home last night. "It wasn't a party for me."

She and her fellow heirs, Anthony Sampas of Pepperell and John Sampas of Lowell, reluctantly sold the tome to pay estate taxes.

Kerouac was already dead when Bump started reading his books as a high school student. When she went to college in the early 1970s, a friend working on a doctoral dissertation at UMass Amherst about Kerouac suggested she look up Anthony Sampatacacus, who had been good friends with the legendary writer at the old Nicky's bar in Lowell.

That was the start of a 25-year relationship. Anthony Sampatacacus, who died in 1999, named Bump, along with his nephew, Anthony Sampas, and brother, John Sampas, co-heirs to Kerouac's manuscript, which carried the highest sales price in history for literary work at Christie's auction house in New York yesterday. James Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, bought the 120-foot-long typewritten scroll after competing with several other bidders.

Bump, who says her favorite Kerouac book is Dr. Sax, never saw the manuscript.

When Sampatacacus died, Anthony Sampas became executor of his estate. As part of the estate, Sampatacacus bequeathed Kerouac's manuscript to John Sampas, Anthony Sampas and Bump, who had been Sampatacacus' girlfriend.

Sampatacacus had gotten the manuscript from his sister, Stella Sampas, who was the writer's third wife.

When the IRS set the estate tax at close to $1 million, the decision was made to sell the manuscript, Bump said.

"That was the single most easily sold piece in the whole estate," Bump said. "We're upset that we had to sell it."

Bump said she knew it was going to be a valuable item for collectors. "Christie's appraised it for $1 million to $1.5 million and I thought it was going to be in that ballpark, but I wasn't totally surprised when it went for a little bit more," she said.

The sale will not bring a huge windfall, Bump said. After the estate tax and Christie's commission, there will not be much left to divide among the three heirs, she said.

Anthony Sampas could not be reached for comment last night.

Bump was worried the manuscript would go to a private collector and never be seen publicly, but is encouraged by Irsay's plans for public display.

"I wasn't happy we had to auction off because it was really a matter of estate taxes but I am very happy it is going to be on public display," Bump said. "That was probably the most important thing to me."

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May 22, 2001 - AP - Filed at 8:42 p.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- The original manuscript of ``On The Road,'' author Jack Kerouac's epic tale of disaffected youth wandering America, was auctioned Tuesday for $2.43 million, a record for the sale of a literary work.

James Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team, outbid several other would-be buyers for the 120-foot-long scroll filled with the single-spaced typewritten narrative that eventually became a literary sensation and cult classic.

Christie's auctioneer Francis Wahlgren said the price -- $2.2 million plus a buyer's premium of $226,000 -- was ``a new world record for a literary manuscript at auction.''

The previous champ is believed to be a 1920 copy of Franz Kafka's ``The Trial,'' which sold for $1.98 million in 1988.

Irsay said he was honored to acquire the original manuscript of the book he first read as a teen-ager in Chicago. He said he hoped to display it in an Indiana museum and perhaps take it on a national tour that would duplicate the wanderings of the author and his coterie of friends half a century ago.

``I look on it as a stewardship. I don't believe you own anything. In this world, it's dust to dust,'' Irsay said.

He also said he would like to display the manuscript next to the Lombardi Trophy, emblematic of victory in the Super Bowl. ``Maybe that will happen next January,'' he said.

Kerouac wrote the novel in a coffee-saturated, 20-day typewriter marathon at a friend's apartment in New York City in 1951. When finally published six years later, it won critical acclaim as an unconventional masterpiece, defining a post-World War II ``Beat Generation'' of intellectual outlaws on an aimless, Bohemian odyssey across the American landscape.

The text was written on a 119-foot, four-inch roll of paper, variously described as 12-foot strips of onionskin taped together, or a continuous roll of teletype paper given to Kerouac by a reporter friend.

There are no paragraph marks in the cramped typescript, its edges now eaten by time, paper deterioration and a hungry dog that once consumed several sentences.

While Beat poet Allen Ginsberg praised it as ``a magnificent single paragraph, several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself,'' author Truman Capote disparaged it as ``typing, not writing.''

Douglas Brinkley, an author and history professor at the University of New Orleans, said the original manuscript was especially important because it contains the real names of Kerouac's road companions, not the pseudonyms that were used in the final version of the book.

Joyce Johnson, a former companion of Kerouac who attended the auction, said the author ``would find it ironic that a manuscript that nobody wanted for six years'' would sell for such a price.

Christie's said the manuscript was offered for sale by Anthony Sampatacacus, the brother of Kerouac's third wife, Stella Sampas.

On May 15, a buyer in Paris paid $1.7 million for a French work by Celine, ``Voyage au Bout de la Nuits.'' The record for a nonliterary manuscript was $30.8 million that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates paid for Leonardo da Vinci's 16th century scientific tract, the Codex Leicester, in 1994.


THE KEROUAC MANUSCRIPT had been expected to fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million, according to Christie’s officials. With the auction-house commission, the total price came to $2.4 million.

“I’ll probably put it [the scroll] on display somewhere in Indiana,” Irsay said, adding that he would eventually send the manuscript on tour, mirroring Kerouac’s cross-country travels.

Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” held the previous record for an original manuscript sold at auction. It went for 1 million pounds, or roughly $1.9 million, in 1989. A manuscript of Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night” reportedly sold in Paris several days ago for almost $2 million. James Joyce’s manuscript for “Ulysses,” an earlier record holder, once sold for about $1.4 million.

Christie’s officials had said before the auction that Kerouac’s novel was “in the same league” as those of Kafka, Joyce and Proust, three acknowledged titans of 20th-century European literature. The scroll, displayed in a long glass case, was sold by a nephew of Kerouac’s third wife. He inherited it from an uncle. The manuscript consists of single-spaced typewritten text on pages of what Kerouac described as Teletype paper. He taped the pages together and rolled them up. The scroll has since taken on mythic proportions in the literary world. Kerouac himself wrote that he typed the manuscript over a 20-day period in April, 1951, while high on Benzedrine and coffee.

Bidding for the scroll began at $650,000 and within seconds moved up by $50,000 increments to $1 million. At that point the bids jumped by $100,000 leaps as a standing-room-only crowd looked on.

Irsay, 41, looking dapper in a gray pinstriped suit, said after the auction that he had tried to get author Hunter S. Thompson to attend the auction with him. But Thompson backed out in a late-night phone call, Irsay said.


“On the Road” was rejected by various publishing houses before it was finally brought out by Viking in 1957 and only after considerable revision. Along with Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” and the satirical “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs, “On the Road” is now regarded as a seminal work of mid-20th-century American literature.

It is a fateful coincidence perhaps that Kerouac’s most famous claim to literary greatness has ended up in the possession of a football-team owner.

A football scholarship initially brought Kerouac to Columbia University in Manhattan, where he met Allen Ginsberg, another Columbia undergraduate during the 1940s. And it was Ginsberg, working tirelessly as Kerouac’s friend, who lobbied New York editors to publish “On the Road.” The scroll was kept in a vault at a literary agency for many years until the early 1990s, when it was moved to the New York Public Library.

Preceding the auction, the scroll was exhibited in Chicago and San Francisco and went on display at Christie’s for about a week.

Among other items sold on Tuesday: A 1922 master copy of T.E. Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” for $850,000; a copy of David Roberts’ “The Holy Land,” for $125,000; a first-printing copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” for $6,500. A copy of “Ulysses,” signed by Joyce and the painter Henri Matisse, brought $13,000.

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'On the Road' Sets Record on the Block


The scroll on which Jack Kerouac composed "On the Road" 50 years ago was auctioned yesterday at Christie's in Manhattan for $2.4 million, setting the world auction record for a literary manuscript and significantly eclipsing its presale estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million.

The winning bidder, James Irsay, the owner and chief executive of the Indianapolis Colts, walked away to rousing applause with one of the foremost literary relics of the 20th century.

The scroll's consignor was Tony Sampas of Pepperell, Mass. A nephew of Stella Sampas, Kerouac's third and last wife, he inherited the scroll from an uncle, Anthony G. Sampatacacus, and is the joint beneficiary with another uncle, John Sampas, and Mr. Sampatacacus's companion, Nancy Bump.

Closely based on the wanderings of Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady as they wandered the highways of postwar America and Mexico, "On the Road" is one of the elemental texts of the Beat generation and remains popular today. The book has sold nearly 3.5 million copies in the United States and continues to sell from 110,000 to 130,000 copies a year.

The product of a three-week typing marathon reputedly stoked by Benzedrine and coffee, the single- spaced, 120-foot-long scroll is pasted together in 12- foot sections, its seams later reinforced with tape. Its final paragraphs are torn away, a mishap that Kerouac attributed to his friend Lucien Carr's dog chewing off the end.

Kerouac died in 1969 at 47 from an alcohol- abetted hemorrhage induced by a bar brawl in St. Petersburg, Fla. The sale of the scroll, announced publicly on March 22, has drawn heated criticism from Kerouac devotees, who claim that the peripatetic writer wished his archive to be kept intact and donated to a scholarly institution. In March, John Sampas, the executor of the Kerouac estate, which is thought to be worth $10 million, said he was working to place the Kerouac archives with the New York Public Library. The library refused to comment. Mr. Sampas has acknowledged selling some items in the early 1990's.

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Of course, not everyone was happy with the sale (including a few here in the USA). From across the water ...

The Guardian - Thursday April 5, 2001

Auction of Kerouac manuscript 'blasphemy'

Sale of On the Road scroll likely to raise $1.5m but causes anger

by John Ezard

The former wife of Neal Cassady, one of the two central figures in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, yesterday denounced as "blasphemy" an auction at which the original manuscript of the story is expected to sell for up to $1.5m.

Carolyn Cassady, who appears as a character in the novel, now lives at Bracknell, Berkshire. She is the most eminent and intimate survivor from the personalities of the early Beat generation. She called the sale a tragedy.

The manuscript was expected to be acquired for display at New York public library, which held it for some years. But its owner, Tony Sampas, who inherited it through the family of Kerouac's third wife, explained the decision to offer it to private collectors by telling the New York Times: "We have a financial imperative. I have an estate to settle and some bills."

Christie's, which is holding the auction in New York on May 22, said the first version of one of the 20th century's most influential literary bestsellers should reach the same price league as a manuscript by Kafka, Joyce or Proust. On the Road still sells 110,000-130,000 copies a year.

For sale is the 120ft long scroll of tracing paper on which Kerouac wrote his account of the "irresponsible wanderlust of the soul" in a three-week burst.

April 22 will be the 50th anniversary of the day he finished writing it in 1951.

He wrote soon afterwards to his closest friend, Neal Cassady, who is called Dean Moriarty in the novel: "Story deals with you and me on the road... marks complete departure from previous American Literature."

His original title for the novel, heavily revised before it was published in 1957, was Visions of Neal. Carolyn Cassady, 78, said: "He typed a lot of it on my college typewriter in my attic - he liked it because it was my sister's. She was educated in Europe, so it had European punctuation, which he preferred.

"I will always remember how concentrated he was on writing, how rapidly he typed and that I had to furnish him with a lot of coffee."

Cassady died in 1968, Kerouac in 1969. Carolyn, mother of Neal's three children, had a long affair with Kerouac at her husband's suggestion. She divorced Cassady in 1967 after 17 years of marriage, but they remained close. In On the Road she is called Camille.

Now a great-grandmother, she has lived in Britain for 18 years. In 1996 Penguin Books published Off the Road, her memoir of marriage, friendship and child-rearing.

She said of the auction: "It is a blasphemy, a terrible thing. The scroll was always meant to be preserved in a library under temperature control, where the public could see it.

"It should be kept as we do the letters of Browning and Dickens in the British Library. Jack loved public libraries. He went to them all the time himself. If they auction it, anybody rich could buy it and keep it out of sight.

"It's tragic because Kerouac changed the history of literature. The book was responsible for altering the way people wrote and thought about society."

David Sandison, a London author who has written biographies of Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway and is working with Mrs Cassady on the first modern biography of Neal Cassady, said: "It's a great shame if the scroll is going to pass into monied hands and be owned by somebody who just wants another notch on their bedpost."

'All that road going ...'

How the novel ends: "... So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old, broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it ... just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty ... I think of Dean Moriarty."

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The Original "On The Road" Book Reviews

Gilbert Millstein, who's New York Times review of the book shot Kerouac to fame, was actually substituting for the regular book reviewer, David Dempsey.

David Dempsey (the regular book reviewer), wrote his own review a few days later.

New York Times Book Review  

September 5, 1957

Books of the Times


On the Road" is the second novel by Jack Kerouac, and its publication is a historic occasion in so far as the exposure of an authentic work of art is of any great moment in an age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion (multiplied a millionfold by the speed and pound of communications).

This book requires exegesis and a detailing of background. It is possible that it will be condescended to by, or make uneasy, the neo-academicians and the "official" avant-garde critics, and that it will be dealt with superficially elsewhere as merely "absorbing" or "intriguing" or "picaresque" or any of a dozen convenient banalities, not excluding "off beat." But the fact is that "On the Road" is the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as "beat," and whose principal avatar he is.

Just as, more than any other novel of the Twenties, "the Sun Also Rises" came to be regarded as the testament of the "Lost Generation," so it seems certain that "On the Road" will come to be known as that of the "Beat Generation." There is, otherwise, no similarity between the two: technically and philosophically, Hemingway and Kerouac are, at the very least, a depression and a world war apart.

The 'Beat' Bear Stigmata

Much has been made of the phenomenon that a good deal of the writing, the poetry and the painting of this generation (to say nothing of its deep interest in modern jazz) has emerged in the so-called "San Francisco Renaissance," which, while true, is irrelevant. It cannot be localized. (Many of the San Francisco group, a highly mobile lot in any case, are no longer resident in that benign city, or only intermittently.) The "Beat Generation" and its artists display readily recognizable stigmata.

Outwardly, these may be summed up as the frenzied pursuit of every possible sensory impression, an extreme exacerbation of the nerves, a constant outraging of the body. (One gets "kicks"; one "digs" everything whether it be drink, drugs, sexual promiscuity, driving at high speeds or absorbing Zen Buddhism.)

Inwardly, these excesses are made to serve a spiritual purpose, the purpose of an affirmation still unfocused, still to be defined, unsystematic. It is markedly distinct from the protest of the "Lost Generation" or the political protest of the "Depression Generation."

The "Beat Generation" was born disillusioned; it takes for granted the imminence of war, the barrenness of politics and the hostility of the rest of society. It is not even impressed by (although it never pretends to scorn) material well-being (as distinguished from materialism). It does not know what refuge it is seeking, but it is seeking.

As John Aldridge has put it in his critical work, "After the Lost Generation," there were four choices open to the post-war writer: novelistic journalism or journalistic novel-writing; what little subject- matter that had not been fully exploited already (homosexuality, racial conflict), pure technique (for lack of something to say), or the course I feel Kerouac has taken--assertion "of the need for belief even though it is upon a background in which belief is impossible and in which the symbols are lacking for a genuine affirmation in genuine terms."

Five years ago, in the Sunday magazine of this newspaper, a young novelist, Clellon Holmes, the author of a book called "Go," and a friend of Kerouac's, attempted to define the generation Kerouac had labeled. In doing so, he carried Aldridge's premise further. He said, among many other pertinent things, that to his kind "the absence of personal and social values * * * is not a revelation shaking the ground beneath them, but a problem demanding a day-to-day solution. How to live seems to them much more crucial than why." He added that the difference between the "Lost" and the "Beat" may lie in the latter's "will to believe even in the face of an inability to do so in conventional terms"; that they exhibited "on every side and in a bewildering number of facets a perfect craving to believe."

Those Who Burn, Burn, Burn

That is the meaning of "On the Road." What does its narrator, Sal Paradise, say? "* * * The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles. * * *"

And what does Dean Moriarity, Sal's American hero-saint say? "And of course no one can tell us that there is no God. We've passed through all forms. * * * Everything is fine, God exists, we know time. * * * God exists without qualms. As we roll along this way I am positive beyond doubt that everything will be taken care of for us--that even you, as you drive, fearful of the wheel * * * the thing will go along of itself and you won't go off the road and I can sleep."

This search for affirmation takes Sal on the road to Denver and San Francisco; Los Angeles and Texas and Mexico; sometimes with Dean, sometimes without; sometimes in the company of other beat individuals whose tics vary, but whose search is very much the same (not infrequently ending in death or derangement; the search for belief is very likely the most violent known to man).

There are sections of "On the Road" in which the writing is of a beauty almost breathtaking. There is a description of a cross-country automobile ride fully the equal, for example, of the train ride told by Thomas Wolfe in "Of Time and the River." There are details of a trip to Mexico (and an interlude in a Mexican bordello) that are by turns, awesome, tender and funny. And, finally, there is some writing on jazz that has never been equaled in American fiction, either for insight, style or technical virtuosity. "On the Road" is a major novel.

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This was the review by the regular New York Times book reviewer which was published a week after the review by Gilbert Millstein. One wonders if this review was published first, whether the book would have become what it eventually became.

September 8, 1957

In Pursuit of 'Kicks'


Thirty years ago it was fashionable for the young and the weary--creatures of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald--simply to be "lost." Today, one depression and two wars later, in order to remain uncommitted one must at least flirt with depravity. "On The Road" belongs to the new Bohemianism in American fiction in which an experimental style is combined with eccentric characters and a morally neutral point of view. it is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so-called "beat" generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend upon the bizarre and the offbeat for its creative stimulus. Jack Kerouac has written an enormously readable and entertaining book but one reads it in the same mood that he might visit a sideshow--the freaks are fascinating although they are hardly part of our lives.

The story is told--with great relish--by Sal Paradise, a young college student who satisfies, through his association with a character named Dean Moriarity, his restlessness and search for "kicks." Moriarity, a good-natured and slap-happy reform-school alumnus, is pathologically given to aimless travel, women, car stealing, reefers, bop jazz, liquor and pseudo-intellectual talk, as though life were just one long joy-ride that can't be stopped. He is Mr. Kerouac's answer to the age of anxiety--and one of the author's real accomplishments is to make him both agreeable and sympathetic.

Through Moriarity we meet his three wives. We are also introduced to a dope addict, a poet--and an assortment of migratory decadents whose playground is the vast American subcontinent of cheap lodgings, saloons, broken-down cars, cross-country buses and all night restaurants. Moriarity's continual roaming is interrupted only by a half-hearted attempt to find his alcoholic father. The incessant and frenetic moving around is the chief dynamic of "On The Road," partly because this is one of the symptoms of "beatness" but partly, too, because the hot pursuit of pleasure enables Mr. Kerouac to serve up the great, raw slices of America that give his book a descriptive excitement unmatched since the days of Thomas Wolfe.

Mr. Dempsey is a freelance writer and critic of fiction

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