University Archives

Lot 183

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Jack Kerouac's Personally Owned & Used "On The Road"-Era Leica Camera, From His Estate

A Leica camera personally owned and used by Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the famous mid-century American writer who brought us "On The Road" (1957), perhaps during or after that very trip! Provenance: The lot will be accompanied by an estate certification signed by John Shen-Sampas, executor of the Kerouac Estate by descent. John Shen-Sampas is the son of John Sampas, who was the brother-in-law of Jack Kerouac, and the brother of Stella Kerouac, Jack's wife.

The German-manufactured Leica D.R.P. Ernst Leitz Wetzlar camera, ca. 1947-1951, consists of the camera and a screw mount lens attachment. Expected surface wear including light scuffs and scratches, as well as an isolated area of finish loss near the film chamber opening. Not tested. Else near fine. Measures 5.625" x 6" x 2.75" with the lens attachment at its smallest extent.

The serial number 446766 dates the camera body to ca. 1948-1951, while the telescoping lens attachment (serial number 851760) dates it to ca. 1951. The camera and lens attachment thus date from Kerouac's "On the Road" era. Kerouac could have very well used this camera during his extended road trip with friend Neal Cassady, which the pair undertook between 1947-1950. Kerouac and Cassady had traversed the United States and Mexico, stopping at San Francisco, Denver, New York City, Virginia, New Orleans, Detroit, Mexico City, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago among a myriad of other detours and destinations.

What strange sights, people, and things "on the road" did Kerouac photograph with this camera? Kerouac understood--as both a writer and an artist--that otherwise undefinable feelings or aspects of a culture could best be captured by words or images. Take the following excerpt from Kerouac's preface to his friend Robert Frank's English language edition of "The Americans" (1959), the Swiss photographer and filmmaker's photo collection. Kerouac wrote: "With that little camera that he [Frank] raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.” And elsewhere in the same introduction, Kerouac delights in the "humor, the sadness, the EVERYTHING-ness and American-ness of these pictures!" In an interesting coincidence, Robert Frank preferred Leica cameras.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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August 19, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

Wilton, CT, US

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