Bidding for Steinbeck archive underwhelms

Letters, manuscripts, photos from his New York apartment produce lackluster offers, with half failing to sell

Topics: Fiction, Books,

An auction of a trove of author John Steinbeck’s letters, manuscripts and photographs from his New York City apartment produced lackluster bidding on Wednesday, with half of the items failing to sell or fetching prices below their pre-sale estimates.

The “Grapes of Wrath” author’s archive brought a total of $73,950 at Bloomsbury Auction. The auctioneer had predicted that the material would bring $200,000 to $250,000.

Among the highlights that did not sell was Steinbeck’s acceptance speech for his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. It was one of 26 lots — out of 50 — that failed to find a buyer, the auctioneer said.

Steinbeck, considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, lived in the East 72nd Street apartment with his third wife, Elaine, until his death in 1968.

The Bloomsbury material dated from the early 1940s until his death and was being sold by Elaine Steinbeck’s heirs, the auction house said.

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.

Among personal artifacts was Steinbeck’s chair and terrestrial globe, which sold for $1,800, below the $2,000 to $3,000 estimate.

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The prices did not reflect Bloomsbury’s 22 percent buyer’s premium.

Jay Parini, a novelist and Steinbeck biographer who was a close friend of Elaine Steinbeck, said in a recent interview that the material was not as important as earlier Steinbeck documents.

However, he said, “These manuscripts are fascinating as they offer a look inside the creative imagination of a major writer.”

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Online: http://ny.bloomsburyauctions.com

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