Okay, this is the first British edition as published in London by William Heinemann in 1937, not the true first edition. The latter was published by Covici Friede in New York, also in 1937, but this is still a book worthy of examination and pursuit for several reasons.
Let’s examine the dust jacket illustration produced by Michael Rothenstein. He’s got the size differential between Lennie Small and George Milton correct. Lennie is the giant man with a truncated brain. George is his caring companion, much more slightly built, but with the means necessary to parent his child-like friend. But Rothenstein’s front dust jacket illustration of the two men makes them look like British hoboes rather than drifters from central California. There’s something about their hats that is wrong. It’s not that they are wearing British bowlers, but the hats just don’t fit anymore than the suits they are wearing. Ranch hands wearing suits? Really? No matter how dirty they appear or how much they are in need of a good pressing, they are wrong. Rothenstein’s other illustrations, or decorations at chapter headings and the like, are otherwise good and appropriate.
The text is also interesting. The first English edition is recorded in the Goldstone & Payne bibliography of John Steinbeck as A7c. The true first edition is A7a. The words “and only moved because the heavy hands were pendula” appear on page nine, lines 20 and 21 in the true first edition. Those nine words of awkward phrasing were removed in subsequent printings. The entire page was reset. That work was accomplished almost immediately, and yet that phrasing about the heavy hands being pendula appears in this first British edition.
One of the two copies I have for sale includes the rare wrap-around band that advertises and promotes the book. “137,000 copies sold in America!” it barks, noting that translations also appear in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The band also includes a quote from a review of the book by the “Daily Express” that says, “I am satisfied that Mr. Steinbeck’s story is one of maximum power and pity, told with economy and imbued with a deep sense of beauty….”
I love these sorts of add-ons, especially on a book of this vintage when one could reasonably predict that most copies would today lack the band. This specific copy is also adorned with an inscription by Steinbeck to an old friend, Guy G. B. Reedy who had worked with the great writer in building Madison Square Garden in New York in their youths. It’s difficult to see, but Steinbeck has also adorned the book in a quaint fashion. He has drawn a duck on the inside front flap of the wrap-around band. Above it where the front jacket flap notes that the book is “Decorated by Michael Rothenstein” Steinbeck has added “& J. S.” Further, he has drawn opposing arrows between the front jacket flap and the front pastedown under which he has added “What beauty.”