[STEINBECK, JOHN. 1902-1968.]
Flemish baroque style ebonized table casket, 19th century, hinged lid, with a cavetto top enclosed by a sliding panel, above six oils on board within molded surrounds, on brass bun feet, some losses to oil paintings and moldings, one molding missing to sliding cover, minor surface wear, lock and hasp replaced.
Provenance: John Steinbeck (photocopy of typed letter signed by Thomas Myles Steinbeck attesting to ownership).
STEINBECK MANUSCRIPT CHEST. An unusual association piece. According to the accompanying letter from Steinbeck's son Thomas, the table casket was a gift from Steinbeck's editor, publisher, and close friend PAT COVICI. The letter states that "Steinbeck used the chest to store manuscripts of works in progress, and came to be known as 'Merlin's Chest' or the 'Magic Chest.' It was my father's humorous contention, that work deposited within for any period of time, became quantumly better for the experience. Thus, unresolved or flawed material, perfected itself without further labor on the part of the author." Though Thomas remembers that the casket "has been in family possession since Christmas of 1950," the initials "J.S. 1936" are scratched onto the reverse side of the sliding cover.
Covici published Tortilla Flat in 1935, and he remained Steinbeck's editor until his death in 1964. Steinbeck wrote after his death that "Pat Covici was much more than my friend.... For 30 years [he] was my collaborator and my conscience" (Railsback p 65).