Is J.D. Salinger's Toilet a Good Investment?

As anyone who pays attention to the market can attest, valuation is a delicate dance. Whether the item in question is gold or stocks, ETFs or commodity futures, pricing a commodity involves a balance of of supply and demand, perceived value and established trends. And, as the recent decision to auction J.D. Salinger's toilet demonstrates, this process is even more pronounced when the commodity is a commode.

Home Depot's base price for a toilet is just over $59, and one would assume that the cost would drop sharply for a 48-year-old used model that has had at least two owners. However, if the can in question has cradled the tushie of one of the twentieth century's most famous and reclusive authors, the stakes get a little higher. The Vault of Forsythe, an auction house based in Winston-Salem North Carolina, recently listed Salinger's toilet on eBay with a "Buy It Now" price of $1 million.

After his death in January, Salinger's home in Cornish, NH, was purchased by the Littlefield family, who decided to sell some of its furnishings. The toilet, which is the first item to go on the market, comes with a letter of authenticity from Joan Littlefield:

I, Joan Littlefield attest that this toilet, original to the home of J.D. Salinger in Cornish, New Hampshire, was replaced by my husband and me when the bathroom needed some renovations. We personally knew all the workmen who added Salinger's "new wing" + installed this toilet when he owned the residence we now own.

Joan T. Littlefield
April 16, 2010

While it's hard to imagine paying $1 million for a standard porcelain toilet, it seems likely that the Crapper in the Rye will still bring in a hugely outsized sum. And, to be fair, it might not be a terrible investment: after all, the art market has proven amazingly recession-resistant, losing only 4.5% of its value in 2008 -- the same year that the S&P 500 dropped by 40%. While a truly one-of-a-kind collectible (Marcel Duchamp, anyone?), Salinger's throne isn't quite on the same level as a Warhol print. Then again, given the performance of GM, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch over the past few years, its future owners can rest easy in the knowledge that they aren't flushing their money down the...well, you know.