Friday, April 13, 2007

The 1941 First Edition Steinbeck

I'm into natural history, that is, wandering around, looking at plants and animals, making sketches and notes. Over the years, I've collected field guides and other books on the subject.

When I was much younger I heard about a book called "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. The Log (ship's log) is only the first half of a book they did together chronicling a marine collecting trip they took on a boat down the California coast to the Baja peninsula. The second half of the book are notes of the animals collected, all carefully made by Ed Ricketts (who provided Steinbeck with inspiration for characters like Doc in Cannery Row, among others). Both Ricketts and Steinbeck contributed to the Log.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a used bookstore in my neighborhood and saw a turquoise green book in the rare books section of the store. It said "The Sea of Cortez." I asked the bookstore clerk to take it down for me and I carefully opened it up. It was a First Edition, a little damaged on the spine and missing its dust cover, but the pages were all intact including the plates of the animals collected. Steinbeck and Ricketts published this book in 1941. Only 7900 copies of the first edition were made.

The book was $200. I bought it anyway.

Missing the dust jacket.

Here, you can see the damage to the spine.

This is one of two or three first edition books I have been casually looking for my entire adult life without hopes of ever finding one. When I opened the book up and saw that it was $200, I winced, but then I kept turning the pages and knew I had to have it even if it wasn't in pristine condition.

Title page. Isn't it beautiful?

This book has lots of photographs of the animals they collected and cataloged. What? You didn't know Steinbeck was interested in marine biology? We learn something new everyday.

Of course, I haven't read it yet. I've never read the Log from the Sea of Cortez, but will do so as soon as I find one in a used bookstore. I don't want to read this one. Need to keep it as clean as possible.

Here's a picture of one of the color plates.

There are only eight color plates, the rest of the species catalog is in black and white, but I assure you they are all splendid. Many of the pictures also have a ruler so you can see sizes of things.

One of my friends at the Aquarium, Biologist 4, was kind enough to give me a fourth edition of Between Pacific Tides by Ed Ricketts to go along side of The Sea of Cortez. Although this 4th edition is out of date by now, it's still a groundbreaking book by Ricketts and directly relates to one of my favorite activities, tide pooling.

Last time I checked, a pristine copy of the "Sea of Cortez", including the dustcover, was going for $1,500 on eBay not that I'm in it for the money. Still, it's nice to get an idea for how much these things might be worth. This book isn't worth $1,500 but it's probably worth more than $200.

Just thinking about that book sitting silently on its dark shelf where no sunlight can get to it makes me very happy.

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