Signed Beatnik-Era Books Set to Make Bank at Auction

A first edition copy of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test signed by a bevy of counterculture stars is the headliner of a collection of Beat-era items being sold at a San Francisco auction next week. 

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A first edition copy of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test signed by a bevy of counterculture stars is the headliner of a collection of items being sold at a San Francisco auction next week. And with the prices for these signed items, the buyers might just need to be drug-induced themselves.

The version of Wolfe's 1968 book (right), which covered the author's LSD-influenced travels across the U.S. in a brightly painted bus, features signatures from the most psychedelic stars of the day: author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, and Wendell Berry, among others. There are 46 signatures in all, which Collectors Weekly calls "like a print version of the famous bus."

The book is part of the collection of one Rich Synchef, who apparently has plenty of time on his hands; he personally reached out one-by-one to get each of the signatures in the years since he received the book. That leg work, of course, comes at a heavy price, with estimates between $7,000-$10,000.

Another prized piece of the collection is a copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, signed by a Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for the book's main character. In the margin Cassady scrawled "Tell it John," referring to Kerouac's more informal name. The auction also includes a methadone vial that belonged to author William Burroughs, another of Kerouac's inspirations. For lovers of the Beat generation, these would be key coffee table conversation starters, if not a bit eccentric.

But while the Wolfe and Kerouac books score high on the coolness scale, neither is the most expensive work in the collection. That price tag would belong to an 1831 copy of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly with its first illustrations in fairly decent condition, which is estimated to be sold between $10,000 and $15,000.

These prices for Beat and counterculture items are all just estimations, though, and the auction could bring out higher or lower prices. But one thing is for certain: the Beats will go on.

(Photos: Collectors Weekly/PBA Galleries.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.