London's Love of Books and Boats  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of PBA Galleries

"Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well,"  writer Jack London said.

“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” 
— Jack London

London realized early on that an education could liberate him from a life of poverty.  Growing up in Oakland, Calif., he came to love boats and books early.

He studied hard, mostly on his own, and the needy, illegitimate youngster ultimately became one of the world's best-loved authors in the early-1900s.  He created more than 50 fiction and non-fiction books, hundreds of short stories, essays and articles on all kinds of subjects, plus plays.

London is probably best known for his book "The Call of the Wild," a book poet-writer Carl Sandburg named the greatest dog story ever written.

The author was a master of realistic detail.  Whether it was the canneries and fields of California,  his experiences at sea or in Alaska, his writings brought readers up close and personal to his subjectsby recalling the sounds, smells, sights, feelings and tastes of what he described. 

"The  Call of the Wild" is about a dog named Buck stolen from his comfy home in California and adapting to life as a sled dog.  London's philosophy echoes throughout the text. He pays tribute to the underdog in life and glorifies the fighter.  Borrowing from his own life, London believed those who adapt to change are those who survive.

The book touched the hearts of readers in 1903 in a profound way.  The first edition of 10,000 copies sold out within 24 hours.  London had his best-seller. In 1905, he started writing "White Fang," a companion story to "The Call of The Wild."

At his peak London was the highest paid writer in the United States.  But he never forgot the hollow feeling of having nothing and always seemed to be scrounging for money.  He supported his mother, nephew, ex-wife and children plus current wife and down-and-out old friends.   

He became a lifelong advocate for the little guy, lecturing on women's right to vote, child labor, and topics of war. 

"I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet," he said.

If the truth be told, London said he hated writing and didn't do it for the fame and glory.  He did it for the money. For 17 years he wrote 1,000 words a day and sold almost everything he wrote. 

London died on Nov. 22, 1916 of kidney failure.  He was 40-years-old.  On his desk was the unfinished manuscript of "Cherry."

After London's death letters poured in from all over the world.

"He had lived with down and outs, and with animals...And he wrote their tragic lives as no human ever wrote them before,"  one letter said.

"I think that the greatest thing in each man's life is his own personal struggle to live, to survive, to succeed in spite of all the odds against him," London said.  "And the all in that struggle, and how he handles himself."

On Aug. 20, PBA Galleries featured a selection of London items in its Fine Literature with the Wayne Martin Collection of Jack London Part Two. 

Jack London

Play;Theft; in four acts; inscribed by London with mounted photographs; first edition; first issue;  1910;  $1,800.

Photographs; 2; Jack and Charmian London; each inscribed and signed; 9 1/2 inches by 13 1/4 inches;  $1,920

Letters; from London to step-nephew John Miller; 3; typed; signed; 1915 and 1916;  $1,920.

Letter of Purchase; typed by London for a typewriter; to be paid in installments; signed;  1901;  $2,400.

Literary Magazine; rare London stories in his high school literary magazine; two stories; 1895;  $3,000.

Photo Album; 26 original photos; 1902; given by London to socialist activist Anna Strunsky as a birthday present; includes photos of London and family;  $4,500.  


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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