In 1948, thirty-one year old Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton published his autobiography - the story of how he had been converted to Catholicism. Expecting only moderate sales given the subject matter and unknown writer the publisher arranged a limited print run. Over the following, weeks, months and years, The Seven Story Mountain, was to become an international bestseller, inspire hundreds of people across the US to join monasteries and turn out to be one of the most influential books on religion of the twentieth century.
Following the astonishing success of his first publication Merton went on to write more than 70 books that included novels, poetry, biographies and non-fiction books covering spirituality, religion and meditation. Merton's early works have been seen as somewhat limited in his focus, but as his writing developed he became far more reflective and started to learn more about other religions and encompass many of their teachings within his work. By the 1960s Merton had become as much a spiritualist leader as a writer. He wrote of his concerns about real life issues like world peace and social justice, seeking answers in religion and humanism.
Merton's books do not appear frequently at auctions, but they can prove popular with collectors when they do come up. A signed first edition of his 1958 book, Prometheus - A Meditation, has achieved more than $800 with, The Solitary Life from two years later, achieved just under that figure.
Few religious writers of the last century can claim to have had the impact on wider society that Merton did. His timing was perfect, coming just after the war and writing into the 1960s, this was just the time when people were looking for reassurance about their lives. Merton's books offer us a glimpse, not just at an impressively spiritual man, but also someone who was able to inspire and influence his readers.
Merton, Thomas. Cistercian Contemplatives. Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky (1948). black and white photos
Merton, Thomas. Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions, New York (1949). Includes issue of 100 copies signed by the author
Coulter, Merton. Travels in the Old South, Confederate States, New South. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1956). edited by Thomas D. Clark; Travels in the Old South, Travels in the Confederate States, Travels in the New South: A Bibliography; 6 volumes
Merton, Thomas. The Tower of Babel. New Directions, Connecticut (1957). Woodcuts by Gerhard Marcks; limited to 260 numbered copies signed by Merton and Marcks
Merton, Thomas. Original Child Bomb. New Directions, New York (1962). Points for Meditation to be Scratched on the Walls of a Cave; Limited to 500 signed copies
Merton, Thomas. St. Maedoc. Unicorn, 1970 (1970). A Fragment of an Ikon; 300 copies
Merton, Thomas. Ishi Means Man. Unicorn Press, Inc., Greensboro, North Carolina (1976). Collection of Essays on Native Americans; Illustrated with woodblock prints by Rita Corbin; Forword by Dorothy Day