Hasty and half-hearted Steinbeck auction raises questions


His glasses and pipes

If you weren’t at Bloomsbury Auctions in NYC today, you missed a great recession-era auction — half of the John Steinbeck items went below estimated prices, or failed to sell at all.

Steinbeck’s chair and terrestrial globe sold for $1,800 — below the $2,000 to $3,000 pre-auction estimate.  One manuscript, Steinbeck’s acceptance speech for his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature, was among 26 lots (out of 50) that didn’t sell at all.

According to the Associated Press story:

His chair and globe

The most spirited bidding went for a briefcase that had belonged to Edward Ricketts, a longtime Steinbeck friend and collaborator who was the inspiration for the character of the lonely biologist ‘Doc’ in “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday.”

Estimated at $9,000 to $12,000, it sold for $18,000, one of the few items that went higher than expected.

One would-be buyer told me that the Steinbeck Center at San Jose State University was not bidding on any of the lots.  The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas bid on a few, and the Monterey Public Library made a bid for the briefcase, but dropped out.

The Ricketts briefcase

Nobody seems to know where this stuff is going — or where it went.  It’s too bad, as a major concern for many public-spirited bidders was that Steinbeck’s personal items might be sequestered into personal collections and therefore be lost to the public. Speaking in an Oakland Tribune article here, Executive Director Colleen Bailey of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas said:

“All of these things should be preserved and available for everybody to see, and not stuffed in a closet somewhere in somebody’s personal collection,” Bailey said. “It’s an opportunity for the world to gain access to his private world.”

Autographed manuscripts

“There’s such a fascination with the private lives of people who have done such wonderful things.”

Apparently, some were caught off guard by news that John Steinbeck memorabilia was to be auctioned — including the author’s son and daughter-in-law, Thom and Gail Steinbeck, who were quickly raising money to bid for items and take them back to Salinas.  As of Monday, they had raised $4,600 of a hoped for $15,000.

Meanwhile … has anyone heard anything?

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2 Responses to “Hasty and half-hearted Steinbeck auction raises questions”

  1. Colleen Bailey Says:

    For updated information on the Steinbeck Collection, please go to the Salinas Californian article in the Salinas Californian: http://www.thecalifornian.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=20106240308.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks, Colleen. More to come…