John Steinbeck rare books and memorabilia
John Steinbeck rare books and memorabilia are collectible items relating to American writer John Steinbeck (1902-1968).
Steinbeck, an American of German and Irish descent, wrote sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five short story collections. He received the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1962. Steinbeck is best known for Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939). These are considered the greatest of American realist and Dust Bowl fiction, describing the plights and dreams of common people during the Great Depression of the 1930s. His writing was extremely popular, but at the time controversial, due to certain anti-capitalist sentiments and sympathy for the common working man. The Grapes of Wrath was even banned from libraries from 1939 – 1941. Other well known works are East of Eden (1952) and The Pearl (1947). Highly admired is his non-fiction 1951 Log from the Sea of Cortez, detailing his marine specimen collecting expedition by boat, made with his close friend, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts.
Types of rare books and memorabilia
- Scarce unrevised pre-publication gallery proofs of The Grapes of Wrath from 1939, sold for $7,500 in June 2010.
- Of Mice and Men (1937), first edition, inscribed by Steinbeck. Sold for £3,200 in June 2009.
- In Dubious Battle (1936), first edition signed, sold for $3,200 in November 2007.
- The Grapes of Wrath, first edition, sold for £2,000 in March 2008.
- The Grapes of Wrath (1939), first edition, inscribed, sold for $47,800 in February 2007.
- Cup of Gold (1929), first edition, inscribed to Steinbeck’s sister, sold for $21,510 in February 2007.
- The Grapes of Wrath (1939) first edition, inscribed to Viking editor Marshall Best, sold for $41,825 in October 2002.
- Cannery Row (1945), first edition, copy given to Ed Ricketts. Sold for $36,800 in February 1996.
- Cup of Gold (1929) first edition, sold for $29,375 in April 2001.
- The Pastures of Heaven (1932) first edition, inscribed, sold for $11,950 in October 2002.
Documents, Autographs, Correspondence etc
- Ed Rickett’s briefcase with documents relating to his and Steinbeck’s travels and The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Sold for $18,000 in June 2010.
- An autograph manuscript, incomplete early draft of article ‘My Short Novels’. Sold for $13,000 in June 2008.
- Film and script documents relating to Zapata Revisited, many handwritten, among other items relating to other films Steinbeck was involved with. Sold for $6,000 in June 2010.
- Collection of correspondence between Steinbeck and Covici, sold for $3,400 in June 2010.
- A collection of reviews of The Moon is Down, organised into five sections by Steinbeck. Sold for $1,400 in June 2010.
- Unpublished archive of Steinbeck letters dating 1948-9, during a time of personal crisis. Sold for $90,000 in June 2007.
- Handwritten draft of LBJ’s 1965 inaugural speech written by Steinbeck. Sold for $36,600 in October 2009.
- Archive of correspondence to Pare Lorentz from the time of writing The Grapes of Wrath. Sold for $19,200 in June 2007.
- Autograph manuscript of his profile and tribute ‘About Ed Ricketts’. Sold for $46,000 in December 1997.
Possessions and Photographs
- A group of 16mm films and audio tapes owned by Steinbeck, including a recording of Steinbeck reading The Crap-Shooter and a portion of East is Eden dated 1959, sold for $3,400 in June 2010.
- A case of tobacco pipes, reading glasses, lighters, a belt buckle, keys, chequebooks etc. Sold for $2,400 in June 2010.
- Group of photos of John Steinbeck with others, sold for $2,000 in June 2010.
- A world globe and a chair belonging to Steinbeck sold for $1,800 in June 2010.
Guide for collectors
Steinbeck represents something significant to people, considered by some as the voice of America. As such his possessions are infinitely sought-after, often more valuable than his books. Steinbeck symbolises so many things to people, from his moving fictional accounts of American history, drawn from stories of his life, his close friendship with Ed Ricketts, his service in World War II, a certain atmosphere of freedom and spirit of resistance synonymous with his name. Particularly revered are items relating to Steinbeck’s travels with Ed Ricketts, which resulted in The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
First editions of Steinbeck significantly increase in value when signed or inscribed by him, particularly when inscribed to important figures of the time, or connected with his life. The dust-jackets that came with the first edition are very striking, and if present and in good condition can also make a copy more valuable.
There is a collection of essays on collecting John Steinbeck books published by Bradenton: Opuscula Press in 1989 which may be a good place to look if just starting out as a Steinbeck collector.