Interview With John R. Payne

John R. Payne has played an important role in my life as a bookseller and in the lives of countless other booksellers.  Although he began his career as a librarian, it is his work as a bibliographer that has touched so many people  —   both professional booksellers such as myself and private collectors.  None of us could do the work we do without the help of bibliographies.  Without a bibliography to guide us, sellers and collectors would be spending their time guessing if they had a first edition or if their copy of such-and-such book was the important and rare first issue or the ever-so-common second issue.

My first introduction to his work came in 1975 when I was told that the University of Texas had published a bibliography of John Steinbeck the year before.  Back then I was a private collector.  I had been collecting books, mostly Steinbeck, for eight years.  Every time I visited a used book store or even a rare book store I was like a blind man walking the streets, just hoping that I was doing the right thing, that I was headed in the right direction.  I had no guide to assist me.  I couldn’t tell if I was buying Steinbeck’s first editions, or later printings, or even the ubiquitous book club editions.  I had to rely on the veracity of the bookseller that what he was selling me was indeed what he said it was.  I was soon to find out that I was often taken.

But not after 1975 when I sent my money to the University of Texas as fast as I could.  What I got was a book authored by Adrian H. Goldstone and John R. Payne titled John Steinbeck A Bibliographical Catalogue of the Adrian H. Goldstone Collection.  The book is commonly referred to as Goldstone & Payne or G&P.  In short, Adrian Goldstone was the collector.  The book was based on his Steinbeck collection.  He was more than ably assisted by Payne, then a librarian at the University of Texas.  The book was like an answer to a prayer.  At first I thought it might be too technical, but I was rather astonished to find that I understood it rather easily.  I checked every Steinbeck book I owned against that bibliography.  Boy howdy, was I surprised to learn that I had purchased several book club editions as true firsts.  I had at least two first editions (good) that had later dust jackets (bad).  A few other books in my collection were not book club editions (good), but they also were not the first editions as promised when I purchased them (bad, bad, bad).

Goldstone & Payne

Goldstone & Payne

Five years later, when  I became a professional bookseller, Payne also had a hand in what I call the Morrow catalogue.  Bradford Morrow was a bookseller who had issued a 700-item catalogue of the Harry Valentine collection of Steinbeck in 1980.  Payne wrote an introduction for that catalogue which is the second best reference for Steinbeck material.

The Morrow catalogue

The Morrow catalogue

In subsequent years I have used both books to the extent that both are now literally falling apart.  Both Adrian Goldstone and John Payne have been with me so many times over so many years that I feel like I know them, despite never having met either man.  However, I was able to interview Payne via e-mail recently about his historic book and the role he played in it.

John R. Payne

John R. Payne

Payne worked in a variety of positions at the University of Texas from 1967 to 1985.  He began work with the Humanities Research Center (now known as the Harry Ransom Center) in 1969, his first assignment following his Lilly Fellowship of 1968-69.  Payne also taught the course in Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts in the graduate school of library and information science.

“I worked on bibliographic research and exhibitions during my early months at the Center.  I was also working nights and weekends on W. H. Hudson A Bibliography, with a foreword by Alfred A. Knopf that was published in 1977 by William Dawson & Son in England.”

Goldstone was already well-acquainted with the HRC.  He had been an active “friend” of the HRC by giving it his Arthur Machen book collection, along with other books.  Payne had met Goldstone and his wife during one of their frequent visits to Austin.  Because Payne had bibliographic training, Warren Roberts who was then director of the HRC, elected Payne to assist Goldstone in completing his work on Steinbeck.  Work on the project began c.1971.  They worked mostly at the HRC, but there also was one long visit by Payne to Goldstone’s Northern California home.

“Our division of labor on the Steinbeck involved his writing the first description, followed by my editing, expansion of the text, and proofing the final product.  Adrian’s eyesight was typical of an 80-year-old, so I was able to assist with corrections of punctuation and spelling while comparing his text against either copies in his private collection or other copies in the Ransom Center.

“Adrian was very easy to work with.  He knew and read his Steinbeck books, so he knew what was missing from his and the HRC’s combined collections.

“He was always on the hunt for those elusive items that had evaded him.  As soon as a new purchase was made, Adrian forwarded it on to Austin for my examination, writing of the descriptions, and proofing.  He was a gracious and grateful collaborator.

“Our expectations were to produce a complete bibliography of all of Steinbeck’s writings, including foreign translations and ephemera.  The book was structured like the Soho Bibliographies published from the 1950s by Rupert Hart-Davis and later by the Clarendon Press in England.

“Occasionally during our work on the book Adrian and his wife would visit Austin, and it was generally my pleasure to visit with them and have them as dinner guests.  Conversation with Adrian was always about books  —  either Steinbeck or his first love, detective fiction.”

The final product was designed by William R. Holman who was head of the HRC’s publications program having come to the HRC two years earlier from his position as director of the San Francisco Public Library.  The print-run was 1,200 copies.  “The book went out-of-print more quickly than any previous publication by the HRC,” according to Payne.

After my first purchased I decided to buy two more copies of G&P.  I asked if it was possible to have Payne sign the books, which he did, and I also asked how to contact Goldstone so I could also ask him to sign my copies.  I was given his address and phone number, but Goldstone died before I had a chance to contact him.  Seems a delivery truck at his home began to slide down a hill from its parking spot.  Goldstone ran after the truck in an attempt to jump inside it and halt the runaway truck.  It essentially ran over him.  He died a few days later, ending the life of a great bookman.

Payne resigned from the University of Texas in 1985 to establish Payne & Associates, an appraisal firm for rare books, historical documents, and archives.  Collections that his firm has appraised include the presidential papers of Richard M. Nixon, the Andy Warhol library and archive, the library and archive of Helen Keller and the literary archives of such writers as Joyce Carol Oates, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and others.  His most current work is on a project entitled Great Catalogues by Master Booksellers, a bibliography and anthology of the best English and American bookseller catalogues from the 19th Century through today.  There will be a limited edition and a de luxe edition.

“I hope to finish my work compiling the book in early 2014 with publication probably in late 2014 or early 2015.  I refer to the book as a bibliography and an anthology because I have included the introductory essays written by the bookseller, collector, or bibliographer, creating in effect an anthology of essays about the most popular book collected subjects written by the leading authorities on each subject.”

Contact Payne via e-mail at if you have questions or would like to recommend catalogues to be included.


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