First Edition Identification Points
All of the following points must be present to ensure a true first edition / first printing.
- The copyright page has the following text with no mention of subsequent printings:
COPYRIGHT 1939 BY JOHN STEINBECK
PRINTED IN U. S. A. BY STRATFORD PRESS
DISTRIBUTED IN CANADA
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA, LTD.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN APRIL 1939
- Front flap of dust jacket lists the price $2.75 at the top
- Front flap of dust jacket lists FIRST EDITION in the bottom right corner
- End papers feature the sheet music to Battle Hymn of the Old Republic
- 8vo tan cloth boards with brown line drawings
Later Editions’ Identification Points
The applicable printing numbers are listed in brackets when known.
- The copyright page adds print information. The second and third printings were called for before the book was published, and the fourth through (at least) the 13th printings added the month and year. For example, the fifth printing looks like this:
FIRST PUBLISHED IN APRIL 1939
SECOND PRINTING BEFORE PUBLICATION
THIRD PRINTING BEFORE PUBLICATION
FOURTH PRINTING APRIL 1939
FIFTH PRINTING MAY 1939
- Front flap of dust jacket lists print number in bottom right corner [2-9]
- Front flap of dust jacket lists number of copies printed in bottom right corner [10+]
Book Club Editions’ Identification Points
- The copyright page simply lists the following with no print information:
Copyright, 1939, by John Steinbeck
Printed in the United States of America
- Front flap of dust jacket lists “THIS EDITION IS MANUFACTURED EXCLUSIVELY FOR MEMBERS OF THE BOOK LEAGUE OF AMERICA” on the inside edge
John Steinbeck (born John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr.) was approached by The San Francisco News to write a series of articles on migrant workers’ camp conditions in 1936, though his interest in laborers preceded this assignment. Seven articles were published daily from October 5-12, 1936 under the title The Harvest Gypsies. Steinbeck continued to research laborers throughout 1936 and 1937, and even travelled with a group of migrant farmers from Oklahoma to California during this time. His research and experiences formed the basis for The Grapes of Wrath, which Viking Press realized was going to be a sensational novel. They ordered multiple print runs (totaling almost 50,000 copies) before the book was published, despite Steinbeck’s protestations. The novel hit the market on April 14, 1939 and was sold for $2.75. The book was immediately successful and a tremendous number of large subsequent print runs followed. By February of 1940 over 430,000 copies had been printed and the book won the National Book Award as well as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It was also chosen by the Book League of America for their members. Despite its success, the novel was not without its detractors; the book was banned, censored, or burned in various areas and by numerous groups, most notably the Associated Farmers of California.