Welcome to Old Children's Books, selling children's literature and picture books online since 1994. We stock more than 10,000 scarce, collectible and out-of-print books, for readers, teachers and collectors.
Your collection is yours and no one else's. It should reflect your own interests and tastes. Somewhere in the world, an institution is collecting complete runs of just about anything published, so there is no need to duplicate the effort. Collect what pleases you. Here are some possible approaches, most based on ideas of friends and customers.
Unless you are quite famous or live a very long time, collections like these have little interest to the world at large, but they will enrich your life and the life of your family.
Books that please you: The most personal collection of all is just composed of books you like. I'd have to say that my own collection runs in this direction. Perhaps it can't be considered a collection at all, but when I see The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm next to Peter Newell's Alices, I think they are enjoying each other's company!
Loved books from your past: Tracking down the books you loved as a child can be an absorbing treasure hunt and the resulting shelf a pleasure to keep nearby. Wouldn't you like to have a shelf of your great-grandfather's favorite childhood books right now?... How about forming small collections of your own and your parents' favorites for each of your children to pass down to their children. Or what about nice copies of the books you used when you first taught, or the books you read to your children when they were very young? We had one customer who collected significant books written in the year of his birth, 1922, which was a good year as it turned out!
Interesting to research and compile, these collections take almost limitless forms! Again, collect what you like, the more specific the better. Some resources to get you started can be found on the Books for Collectors page and the Links for Collector's page in this section of the on this site; also look in the Just for Older Readers section in the Reader's Corner.
Author collections: Collect the author's work in the best condition and edition you can afford. If your interest is in one of the great names of children's literature, you may not be able to afford a significant collection, but you can still contribute. Many of the famous children's authors, like Beatrix Potter, have societies devoted to researching their lives and work, see our list of Authors on the Links for Collector's Page. Join the author's society and participate in its conferences and journals. You will be able find ideas to shape your collection, so that it can be unique. If you are interested in a relatively unrecognized author, a complete run of an author's work, copies of letters, locations of institutional collections and any biographical material will be challenging to assemble and useful as well. Biographies of children's authors and illustrators are available, but bibliographic references, which detail the bindings and publication history of each of their books, are hard to find and usually expensive.
Illustrator collections: The comments above about apply to illustrator collections, as well. You will be able to find bibliographies of famous illustrators: Dulac, Rackham, Sendak, and others. If examples of turn of the century illustrators are out of reach, what about an illustrator from the 20's or 30's (incidentally a good monetary investment), or a modern illustrator whose work you like? Most artists produced magazine illustrations and illustrations for other juvenile novels before they went on to do their own books and these can be fun to track down. Twentieth Century Children's Writers, cited in Just for Older Readers includes lists of illustrator's work for other authors. For a real challenge: modern illustrators often started out by illustrating jackets, and their early jackets can only be identified by the signature or style; no publisher's blurb is present. Original sketches and paintings by children's book illustrators are available from a few specialized dealers and sometimes come up at auction.
Title collections: The way in which different illustrators and publishers have interpreted a classic can make a fascinating collection. Alice in Wonderland, Child's Garden of Verses, The Water Babies, Aesop. Collections of Mother Goose and ABC books, versions of fairy tales or Bible stories, all these have such a large range of books to choose from that you can specialize even further.
Topic collections: Just about any topic which interests you or relates to your life will make an interesting children's collection and one that need not be expensive. Some examples, tools, fire engines, donkeys, trade unions, trains, dandelions.
Regional collections: A type of collection of interest to both children's book people and "grown-ups" centers around your own state or region, or reminds you of a place that you love: for example, Maine, Slovenia, Baja California, Pacific Ocean.
Genre collections: You can simply collect the books you like in your genre of choice, or you can investigate the changes in these books through time. Define your genre collection in narrow enough terms so that you can compile it successfully: science fiction set on Mars, Viking historical fiction, English time slip fantasies from the mid 20th c, mysteries set in California, 19th insect fantasies (lots of these exist, actually!)
Ethnic/cultural collections: An original collection of authors and artists from groups whose contributions are recently becoming generally known might be welcome to a small library or college as well as interesting to you: early Latino illustrators, books by Indian writers in English, juvenile novels from Eastern Europe, political refugees.
Historical collections: Children's books from a particular period tell about the technology available at the time, the targeted social class or consumer that was presupposed, and also the view of childhood held by the adults who published and purchased the books. Fortunately, the selections from what was available also tell us what the children themselves wanted to read. You can build a fascinating collection of books or children's magazines with this in mind.
Award collections: If you are interested in the history of children's book publication, a Newbery or Caldecott or Carnegie collection will be meaningful to you even though it is duplicated elsewhere. Be aware that some of these books, like Virginia Burton's Little House, are virtually impossible to find in collectible first printings, and define your collection parameters accordingly. Please collect the Honor books as well! Other award collections might be of more interest to your local library should you eventually wish to donate them, such as the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for outstanding books in translation, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Charlotte Zolotow Award for picture book writing, the Pura Belpre Award for books in the emergent field of Chicano literature, or even the Phoenix award for a book published 20 years previously which did not win an award. Included in the Links for Collectors is information on the
Books of artistic and literary merit: If you want to create a collection of recognized authors and illustrators and you were not exposed to them as a child, please study reference materials and the books themselves. Keep in mind that many fine books were written before modern English and American awards, many awards were not given to the author/illustrator's best work, and many award books are simply expressions of their times. If you cannot afford a first or early edition of a famous book, you can probably find reprints. Some of the older ones have value, but be aware that reprints vary greatly in quality. For instance, the older Harper's Elsa Beskow reprints have quite beautiful colour, as do the recent Maj Lindman Flicka and Snip paperback reprints (a nice present for a child). Howard Pyle reprints from the 20's are very like the original trade editions. However, modern reprints of Willebeek le Mair, E. Boyd Smith, Boutet de Monvel and other artists who use subtle, pale colours don't work so well. And you will never appreciate Walter Crane from a reprint.
Publisher/Binding collections: Hardcover bindings can be fun to search out and a treat to look at: Volland books, Lang fairy tales in first edition, Dent classics (I just like the endpapers), Altemus books. An inexpensive collection of paperbacks can bring back childhood memories, as well, although the pulp paper used will not last. People are drawn to early Scholastics. Early Puffin paperbacks and Puffin club material show a respect for quality in children's paperback publishing that has not been equaled. Children's softcover collecting can involve illustration as well, for instance one could collect early Puffin Picturebooks or the beautiful work of Rojan (kovsky) and Helene Guertik in early Pere Castor books.
Collections of toybooks or cloth books: The physical materials and shapes of children's books merge into toys, and thus are much more varied than adult books: Dean's Rag Books, Kohler Felt books, house shaped books, fuzzy books, Japanese crepe paper books, panoramas, pop-ups, and books with dolls and books with wheels. All of these, especially older toys and popups, are highly collectible. Prices for books like these vary greatly.
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