While researching the essay about “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” the HBO movie both principals would have really fucking hated, I came across this eBay auction for a Pan Am Airline ticket supposedly signed by Papa himself.
Now, with four days left, the price stands at $36, so the prospect of acquiring anything that Hemingway might have held, much less signed, holds a great attraction. I’ve been a fan since high school, when I puzzled my way through “The Sun Also Rises,” and I even went so far as to spend $200 to acquire a first of “Men Without Women” with a color Xerox of the dust jacket, which now goes for — ahem — goes for quite a lot less.
I blame the Clinton administration.
So with the thought of paying much less for an authentic signature, I went through and collected a few samples of Hem’s fist, from what I think are authenticated sources.
Such as this letter:
And this one:
And then there’s this one, from an edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” It came from the JFK library, so one would have to assume this is good, too:
Now, let’s take a look at the one being auctioned off at eBay:
Now, I’m not an expert on signatures, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hemingway signature in which the tail of the g was continued to underline the last name. Hem either omitted the line, or drew a separate line under the name.
Also, notice the crossbar on the “H”. In the samples I’ve seen, he tended to extend the crossbar to the left, over “Ernest”. In one of the three examples above, he did it to the right, but that was the only one of the dozen examples I’ve seen.
Then there’s the question of why he would sign his ticket there, and add “1952″ to it, and “Cuba & USA”.
The kicker, though, is that the seller “sleuthbks” says that the items came “from the family of Gregorio Fuentes, who was Hemingway’s boat captain in Cuba, for over 30 years,” and that it was “from Cuba to Miami, February 8, 1952.”
So let’s turn to Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway and check that period. On page 498 of “Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story,” he writes (the underlines are mine):
A blue norther sprang up in January, making it cold enough, as he said, to sleep with both a wife and a blanket. But the year was not yet a month old when the house was agitated by the suicide of Mary’s maid, Clara. To shake loose from this affair, the Hemingways set off on the Pilar [their boat] and the Tin Kid for an “austerity vacation” along the Cuban coast. Even one day on the water recharged Ernest’s batteries and he was hoping to spend all of February at sea. For a week the trip was idyllic, with clear, breezy weather. They rose with the sun, fished all morning, swam and read in the afternoons, and got to bed by 9:30. Ernest slept well, ate voraciously, cut back on his drinking, and exuded wit and good cheer. On the 16th, Mary went ashore with Gregorio to get ice at a village called La Mulata on the northwest side of the island. She took the occasion to telephone the Finca to see if all was well.
It wasn’t. On Feb. 11, Hemingway’s publisher, Charles Scribner, died suddenly of a heart attack. It was a major event in Hemingway’s life. Scribner was a good friend, someone he could confide in and tell dirty jokes to. As Baker put it, “the loss was irreparable.”
And it occurred during the week, from roughly Feb. 9 to 16, when Ernest Hemingway was sailing around the coast of Cuba, and not on a Pan Am flight “from Cuba to Miami, February 8, 1952.”
Now, I’m not saying that this is a forged signature, but like Ricky says to Lucy, “sleuthbks” gots some ‘xplainin’ to do.
But wait! There’s more! This is the second item he’s selling with Hemingway’s signature! And it’s not a plane ticket, it’s an “Original Letter Written by Ernest Hemingway.”
This one, dated “8 December 1950″, appears to be on U.S. Army stationary. The picture makes the text hard to read, so I fiddled with the levels and sharpening a bit to bring out the text, and here’s what I can make of it:
8 December 1950
Dear. Enrique Serpa
Please do not . forget “Mario” give him my book. I give you your asiigment on friday
Maney Charits memories
There’s also an envelope with it:
Again, the poor photo quality makes it hard to read the text so I boosted the level and sharpened it, but there’s a Hemingway signature in the lower left corner.
At least this time, Baker’s biography doesn’t show any contradictions. Hemingway was at his home in Cuba, in fact, his wife, Mary, gave a large party on Dec. 9 for him and their visitor, Adriana Ivancich, the young Italian woman Hemingway was in love with.
While an examination of the letter forms could reveal more evidence for or against a fraud, there is a peculiarity in Hem’s handwriting that must be addressed. He had a habit of slanting his lines downward, from left to right. Like in this letter:
But let me make the case for “sleuthbks.” This material could be for real. Hemingway left Finca Vigía in 1960, after Castro took over, and there’s a huge cache of personal material and letters left behind.
It should be noted that “sleuthbks” has been a member in good standing with eBay since 1997 and has a 100% positive feedback. Reputation counts for something.
But, then, if this material really is owned by the family of Gregorio Fuentes, who not only piloted Hemingway’s boat, but served as the inspiration for “The Old Man and the Sea,” then why should they deal with “sleuthbks” and not, say, Southeby’s where they could get much more.
Like, for example, this Hemingway letter to author Silvano Suarez of December 10, 1955, that sold for $3,049. While the “Serpa letter” is basically a note with a signature attached, it’s still a Hemingway letter to a Cuban author, and that still means something.
Still, I think “sleuthbks” got some more ‘xplainin’ to do.
But if you want to take the risk, you can have this “authentic” Hemingway letter and envelope for $22.50 and rising, but get your bid in soon, because the auction expires on June 5, 2012.