Archive for June 25th, 2010

“Ed Head” alert: an update on the Steinbeck auction

Friday, June 25th, 2010
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Jerry Garcia of American science (Photo: Ed Ricketts Jr.)

Just got an update from Joe Wible of the Hopkins Marine Station Library about the mysterious sale of Ed Ricketts’s briefcase at the NYC Steinbeck auction earlier this week (I wrote about it here and here):

I did hear today from someone who knows the person who made the winning bid for the Ricketts briefcase and manuscripts. It did go to a private collector from southern California and is not likely to end up in a library or museum. Bummer.

Now I understand why a marine librarian would be interested in Ricketts — the only scientist to have 15 animal species and a nightclub named after him (I’ve never read Cannery Row):

Wible ... he told me so

“‘Ricketts is like a cult figure,’ says Joseph Taylor, professor of environmental history at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. Of all the scientists who ran marine research stations along the Pacific Coast, Taylor says, ‘he was by far the most colorful.'”

The quote is from a five-year-old San Francisco Chronicle article on Ricketts here.  I finally googled Ricketts, just as   Wible told me to do — and found this description:

“He is the Jerry Garcia of American science — a beer-drinking, bearded guru who ignored the social and scientific orthodoxies of his time, a progenitor of the counterculture, an enigmatic ecologist whose pioneering work was initially rejected by the scientific establishment.”

“And the winner is…” More on the Steinbeck auction

Friday, June 25th, 2010
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National Steinbeck Center (Photo: Stuart Schwartz)

News is drifting in about the results of the Steinbeck auction earlier this week, and the big winner is … the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

How is that for good news?  You can read about it here and here.

They are the ones who acquired the desk chair and globe.  They are the ones who acquired the pipes and glasses.  They are the ones who acquired manuscripts and correspondence, film and audio recordings.

“We got everything we wanted and then some,” said Gail Steinbeck,  wife of the author’s son, Thom Steinbeck.

The Steinbeck Center people aren’t the only winners, of course.  And some players were working at a disadvantage.

Steinbeck in 1962

Academic libraries have it tough when it comes to auctions:  They don’t have a big pot of gold, and they can’t act on a whim.  They must get authorization for expenditures from their institutions, and that process doesn’t easily allow for the give-and-take, push-and-shove of an auction — where upping the bid a buck,  after intuitively sensing that a competitor has hit his limit, or deciding to forgo some objects so you can go-for-broke on another — could make the difference between having the winning bid or walking away empty-handed.  Moreover, their budget cycle tends to end with the academic year in June – so they are at the bottom of their financial barrel at this time of year. Nevertheless, the Stanford University Libraries did come away a winner, on both the items it bid for.

Not surprisingly for a university, they went after documents rather than glasses, pipes, or briefcases.  Stanford already has significant holdings in its Steinbeck collections, including manuscripts, notes, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera. The libraries will add to its Steinbeck holdings “Lot 205. Documents relating to 1956/1960 Elections,” including typed signed letters from William Faulkner, Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman and others.

They also acquired “Lot 222.  Film and script documents. ‘Zapata’ Revisited,” including correspondence from Darryl Zanuck, Elia Kazan, and others.

“We don’t have much political material,” said Annette Keogh, successful bidder for the Stanford libraries in what she termed the “swift and surprising” auction — hence the interest in the first lot.  “There was some interesting film stuff about Zapata – we do have other film-related materials, thought would be a good compliment.”

“They struck me as something researchers a rather than collectors would be interested in,” said Keogh.

But who got the briefcase that had belonged to Edward Ricketts, a longtime Steinbeck friend and collaborator?  The mysterious lot went to an undisclosed bidder for $18,000.

Why did everyone want it, and why did it go so high?  According to Joe Wible, head librarian and bibliographer at the Hopkins Marine Station Library, who made an unsuccessful bid:

There are a lot of “Ed Heads” out there who would be potential buyers for the Ricketts materials.  Search “Ed Heads” and “Ricketts” in Google and you get over 500 hits.  I wish the auction house had separated the briefcase from the papers it contained into separate lots.  I suspect the bidding went so high because of the briefcase.  Other than maybe the telegram notifying Steinbeck of Ricketts being hit by the train, I don’t think the papers would have sold for such a large sum of money.  I was only interested in the manuscripts and correspondences that were inside the briefcase so that historians studying Ricketts would have access to those documents.

I am very curious to know who had the winning bid.  Unfortunately, if it was a private collector we may never know.

Meanwhile, drop the Book Haven a line if any more news surfaces.