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Did you buy a signed Tom Clancy on EBay? Um . . .

May 19, 2009 |  5:21 pm

Today in a Philadelphia court, a Reading, Pa., man pleaded guilty to forging the autographs of popular authors in first editions of their books and selling them on EBay. Forrest Smith, 47, sold "signed originals"  by Truman Capote, James Michener, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Tom Clancy; prosecutors said he made more than $500 on a single copy of "Interview With the Vampire" by Anne Rice. All told, Smith made more than $300,000 from the scam.

Capote, who eventually lived comfortably, could have used some of that scratch in 1946, when he was freelancing for Harper's Bazaar. Gawker has unearthed a letter of Capote's (published in "Too Brief a Treat") in which he complains, "The Bazaar is behaving badly.... I have not given them the [New Orleans] piece yet, and I think I will just hang onto it until it is too late for them etc., and I'm not going to give it to them at all unless they give me my money."

As of this writing, there are nine autographed books by Truman Capote on EBay, ranging in price from $79 to $2,500. There are 29 James Micheners up for auction, going for a low of $11 up to about $500. The signed Tom Clancy first editions up for auction can be gotten for less than $30 -- but "The Hunt for Red October" will run you more than $800. And there are 56 books for sale by Anne Rice, starting around $20 and going up to $3,000.

Ascertaining the authenticity of them is, of course, up to you.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Tom Clancy in 1995. Credit: Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times