1980 was a very interesting year for this bookseller. It was my very first year as a professional bookseller. My stock was mostly American fiction first editions, with special emphasis in John Steinbeck and Steinbeckiana.
In the fall of that year another bookseller blew my mind when he issued his Catalogue Eight. The bookseller was Bradford Morrow. His 154-page catalogue listed 700 items of exactly my specialty, Steinbeck and Steinbeckiana, as amassed by Harry Valentine who lived in the heart of Steinbeck country, Pacific Grove, CA. Valentine was a friend of the Steinbeck family. He had made the bulk of his purchases from Steinbeck’s sons, Thom and John, over just a three-year period. The catalogue came just six years after publication of what is called Goldstone & Payne, THE Steinbeck bibliography. As a matter of fact, the Payne of Goldstone & Payne, John R. Payne, contributed the foreword to Morrow’s historic catalogue.
Morrow issued 2,500 copies bound in wrappers along with 250 hardcover copies with a dust jacket. It is divided into nine sections: 1) Books and Pamphlets By John Steinbeck, 2) Manuscripts, Letters, and Photographs, 3) Books With Contributions By Steinbeck, 4) Periodical Appearances By Steinbeck, 5) Translations of Works By Steinbeck, 6) Stage and Screen Materials: Playscripts, Playbills, Posters, Campaign Books and Screenplays, 7) Books, Pamphlets, Bibliographies, Periodical Articles and Other Secondary Materials About Steinbeck, 8) Books From the Library of John Steinbeck, and 9) Recordings and Miscellaneous Items. It is a fabulous companion to the Goldstone & Payne bibliography and is a must for any Steinbeck collector.
I remember getting that catalogue in the mail like it was yesterday. First thing I thought was that this was quite a hefty catalogue. I opened it with great anticipation since it was devoted to my main specialties, but I was unprepared for what I saw. I spent several hours without a break looking through each page, being astounded not only by the breadth of what I saw, but also being shocked at the prices. Today, 33 years later, many of those prices seem tame. And while I was shocked at the prices, I was blown away by the material. Who was this Harry Valentine and where did he find this stuff?
Let’s explore some of what I found. His very first item was Steinbeck’s first book, Cup of Gold, with the exceedingly rare dust jacket garishly illustrated by Mahlon Blaine priced at $2,500. He listed uncorrected galley proofs for Tortilla Flat at $4,000, and a “mint” copy of the trade edition in like jacket at $750. He also had printer’s copy B of the unrecorded lettered edition of In Dubious Battle, a brother to the signed/limited edition of just 99 copies signed by Steinbeck, for $5,000. I didn’t even know there were such things as lettered copies. He likewise had a lettered copy of The Red Pony, a brother to the signed/limited edition of 699 copies signed by Steinbeck, cheap at $2,500. How about this? He had Steinbeck’s own personal reference set of the uncorrected long galleys of The Grapes of Wrath at $10,000. He had the play version of The Moon Is Down, one of 250 hardcovers with dust jacket, at a measly $125. A “mint” copy of the elusive Vanderbilt Clinic was $250. He had The First Watch with Steinbeck’s ownership blind-stamp at $2,750. How about the separately-printed Foreword to “Between Pacific Tides” at $4,500, or unrevised galley proofs for East of Eden at the same price. He had the limited edition, one of 30 copies, of Un Americain A New York Et A Paris at $3,000. He had Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize Speech inscribed to the editor-in-chief at Viking, his publisher, for $1,500.
He was just getting started.
He had the manuscript of an unpublished novella, The Wizard of Maine, for a pittance, $27,500. He had the first draft manuscript of The Pearl. That item was unpriced, but I believe it was available for $150,000. It eventually was sold to the John Steinbeck Library in Salinas, his hometown, for $75,000.
Quick note. Describing myself as a novice bookseller in 1980 would be charitable. I was completely naïve. I actually thought about buying the manuscript for The Wizard of Maine with the idea that I would publish the material. The idea was that sales of the book would eventually re-pay me the cost of the manuscript which would make it essentially free to me. Not long after that I got a friendly, shall we say, letter from either McIntosh & Otis, Steinbeck’s literary agents, or lawyers for Viking (I don’t remember which) gently, shall we say, informing me that physical ownership of the manuscript did NOT give me publishing rights. Just as well since I didn’t have the $27,500. Hell, I didn’t have $2,750.
The anthology section was filled with items not recorded by Goldstone & Payne. The section devoted to periodical appearances was probably the weakest section, but it was followed by 18 pages listing Steinbeck’s works in translation. Film and theatre memorabilia followed. This kind of material was completely unknown to me, as was most of the section on recordings and miscellaneous material.
The Morrow catalogue changed me as a bookseller. As a novice, I thought I would sell only primary first editions by Steinbeck, or Hemingway or Faulkner, etc. I had never envisioned selling such higher-end material as manuscripts and letters. I certainly never thought of selling film and theatre memorabilia, or recordings of Steinbeck reading his works. My mind was exploding with thoughts and ideas or how to be a bookseller and what kind of material I should offer.
Collecting has changed over the years. Collectors are concentrating more these days on an author’s highspots, his best-known works, rather than collecting the full canon of his or her works. They aren’t so much interested in broad-based collecting that involves secondary material. One can either lead or one can follow. The businessman part of me wants to adjust to this sort of collecting so that I am not “stuck” with unsalable material. The book collector part of me wants to continue to lead collectors to “color” their collections, to personalize them, to set them apart from the collections of others with exactly the kind of material represented by the Morrow catalogue of 33 years ago.