An old girlfriend gave me a first edition copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck while we both were students at San Jose State University. The year was 1967. I was 19 years old. That book started my book collection. From then on I could say, “I’m a book collector.” I did so with both pride and an expectation of deference. Never mind the fact that as a book collector I couldn’t find my ass with both my hands. I still have that book. I kept it for sentimental reasons as well as a reminder of lessons learned.
What lessons? Well, I found out that it cost her $35. For $35 in 1967, you could have purchased a really nice copy of that book in a really nice dust jacket. What she got was a book without its dust jacket. It was missing the leaf that is the half title and lists other books by Steinbeck. The spine of the book is quite browned and the front cover has ink smears. It is a defective copy. In short, she got taken.
In the next few years I would drop into every bookstore I could find looking for other Steinbeck first editions. As a popular author, it seemed as if every store had at least a few first editions. I asked the store owners a lot of questions that revealed just how little I knew, like, “How do you know this is a first edition?” The answers varied. Sometimes I got, “Well, I just know.” Sometimes it was, “Well, my years of experience tell me.” These were not very satisfactory responses.
Then someone said, “Well, I checked it against the bibliography.”
“It’s a book that tells you line-by-line what’s supposed to be in the book and where.”
“Do you have one?”
I was making progress, but said progress was slow. I kept asking every store owner I could find if they had a Steinbeck bibliography. I wanted one desperately. Nobody had one. I couldn’t even pin them down on whether one existed for Steinbeck, but I was persistent, and in 1975 I finally got an answer, that the University of Texas had published a Steinbeck bibliography the year before. Needless to say, I purchased one immediately. I still remember the day it arrived. I gathered together all my “first editions” so I could check them against the bibliography known as Goldstone & Payne (G&P) authored by Adrian H. Goldstone and John R. Payne.
Adrian Homer Goldstone was a long-time book collector of both Steinbeck and mysteries. He had been collecting Steinbeck for 40 years, having been turned on to Steinbeck by the legendary bookseller Ben Abramson. John R. Payne was then a librarian at the University of Texas.
I found that I could actually read this bibliography rather easily, that I understood what it was trying to tell me, and I loved it because it was going to confirm what I had. The trouble is that it confirmed that I had purchased a lot of book club editions as first editions. It confirmed that the first book in my collection, that copy of The Grapes of Wrath, was defective. I learned that knowledge is power and that lack of knowledge made me vulnerable. These were not just book collecting lessons.
From that day forward I took my bibliography, informally called G&P, whenever I visited a bookstore. I felt protected with it. It was armor against those who lacked integrity. I made small notes in it. I laid bibliographic notes into it, as well as lists of items I wanted to buy. It still has the original invoice laid into it. It is literally falling apart. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
But as a bookseller, I have purchased other copies to sell to my customers. The most recent copy may well be the most important. It was Adrian Goldstone own copy. It carries his bookplate on the front pastedown. On the front free endpaper is a faint inscription to him by his co-author, John R. Payne, to wit: “Adrian—1st copy from the Press Aug. 15, ’74 JRPayne.”
The very first copy off the press. Adrian Goldstone’s own copy. Inscribed to him by his co-author John Payne.
Note: Thanks to both Jim Pepper of James Pepper Rare Books in Santa Barbara, CA and Terry Halladay of William Reese Company in New Haven, CT for correcting my assertion in an earlier blog about the Bradford Morrow Catalogue 8, which presented the Harry Valentine collection of Steinbeck/Steinbeckiana, that Valentine purchased the bulk of that collection from Steinbeck’s two sons. While some of that collection did come from “the boys,” large portions came via a number of professional booksellers all over the country.
Also, thanks to Joe Brockowski of Long Beach, CA who is writing a bibliography of Ballantine Books. In earlier blogs I indicated that the paperbacks in the series preceded the hardcovers. Some did. Some didn’t. Some were issued simultaneously. Of the three books on which I blogged (The World of Li’l Abner, New Short Novels, 2, and James Dean), all were issued simultaneously. Thanks, Joe.