“The high point of my life is passed and now I can only go downhill,” he writes. “The sadness that creeps in on me has always been in me. It isn’t hard on any physical thing nor can I find a mental basis for it. But the unwanted sadness is overwhelming.”

Kennedy Correspondence
Other correspondence, particularly between Steinbeck and John and Jackie Kennedy, are particularly sought-after, Luray says.

“Certain things have intrinsic value,” she explains. “His autograph is worth something. Jackie O’s handwriting is worth something. The fact that some of the Kennedy letters are on White House stationery is worth something. And then the subject matter is important, and the provenance is important.”

The real key, says Argosy’s Lowry, is that the correspondence itself should be interesting.

“Letters are important depending on the content,” she says. “Everyone writes letters—‘Thanks for the invitation, but I can’t come speak at your organization’—and that’s valuable for the signature.” (For context, Argosy has a few letters written by Steinbeck in Moscow that range from $1,500 to $2,000.)

Just a Steinbeck signature, she continues, is worth a few hundred dollars. “But real collectors want a letter, and a letter that says something. Maybe one that reveals something you never knew.”

If that’s the case, the correspondence between Jackie Kennedy and Steinbeck after JFK’s assassination could prove particularly valuable, if not to Steinbeck collectors, then at least to Kennedy fans.

JFK Assassination
Luray says Jackie’s letters to Steinbeck contain a tacit request for the author to write JFK’s biography. They also include some explicitly personal asides.

“I wonder if he foresaw his end. He often spoke in a light way about being assassinated,” Kennedy writes in a six-page letter to Steinbeck on March 22, 1964, four months after her husband was killed. “I was never scared—because I could not conceive of anything like that happening to Jack—and he was so wry about it. Now I wonder if he thought deep down that it might happen to him.”

(Lowry points out that “of course he didn’t [write the biography], which makes it all even more interesting.”)