A Treasure and a Mystery in the Basement

February 16, 2011

At the end of this month, the Evanston Public Library’s South Branch location will be closing. The basement at South Branch is where older or less popular books are shelved, and all of these books have to dealt with. Some are being sent to other Evanston locations, some donated, some added to our book sale, and some are just being tossed because they are in such dreadful condition. An eagle-eyed volunteer (thanks, Jessica!) while helping us on this arduous task, found an author-signed copy of Catch-22. We won’t know its value until we find some experts to advise us, but just fooling around and searching various used and rare book websites, I found values for things like this ranging from $300 to $1000.

Now don’t get all excited yet because the copy we have is not pristine.  It was published in 1961 and may be a first edition, but there’s a stamp on the inside back cover indicating it was rebound in 1995. It now has the standard drab beige cover that most rebound books end up with.  The inscription by Heller, dated 1980, was obviously carefully cut out from the original inside cover and glued into the rebound copy. Alas, there is no book jacket.

What is especially noteworthy to us at the library, is that the handwritten note Heller wrote reads as follows:

 The Evanston Library,

Let’s hope nobody steals this copy and forces you to replace it with another.

Joseph Heller



So we are left with some questions. Why did Joseph Heller sign this book? Did he visit Chicago (or Evanston) in 1980? Did he donate the book, or just sign a copy we already had on our shelf? How did it end up at South Branch?

And, of course, we need to figure out what it’s worth. So, right now we’re working on getting some answers, hoping there’s no “catch-22” to foul this up. Stay tuned.

Barbara L.

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