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Saul Bellow’s Son Explains How ‘Guerilla Marketing’ Sold His Father’s Unsellable Desk

Until last month, nobody was much interested.

Nobody wanted Saul Bellow’s writing desk, until they did. 

Our story begins in March, when, in the Wall Street Journal, potter Daniel Bellow, son of the writer Saul Bellow, said he was having a hard time selling his famous father’s desk. An ad in the New York Review of Books didn’t find any takers, and, as Daniel said then, “It’s not going very well.” 

That was, at least, until the Wall Street Journal story ran, after which emerged a flood of interest, and, finally, a sale, Daniel told Atlas Obscura Wednesday in a short phone interview. 

“I met people that you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “It was quite a piece of guerilla marketing if I do say so myself.” All of a sudden, everyone from famous journalists to doctors from the Mayo Clinic contacted him about purchasing his father’s desk.

“Everyone was so kind, and so respectful. It was really a good experience,” says Daniel.

Bellow used the Victorian roll top desk to write a number of his novels by hand, including Mr. Sammler’s Planet and Humboldt’s Gift. But despite the literary pedigree of the furniture, Daniel’s initial attempts to sell the piece were unsuccessful. Priced at $10,000, the ask might seem steep, but a fine vintage desk from that era has the potential to sell for around the same price, even without being haunted by the ghost of literary greatness. As the WSJ points out, it’s likely that it is sometimes harder to find a home for famous people’s stuff than one might think.

“We have a whole storage locker full of ‘great man’ crap,” said another unnamed scion quoted in the WSJ

In the end, though, Bellow’s desk was sold to his son’s niece, who matched the top bid at the auction, and kept the desk in the family. “It’s really nice that it’s staying in the family. There were a couple of movements to keep it in the family, so everyone is well-pleased with the way it turned out,” says Daniel. The desk will be put in his niece’s new home in Hudson, New York.

As for the money from the auction, Daniel says he is going to use it to build a kiln chimney in his new pottery studio. “It’s a nice last gift from pop.”