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.
What do children's booksellers and collectors mean when they refer to "collectible books"? On our Collecting Children's Books pages we encourage you to collect according to your personal interests and on Links for Collectors, Books for Collectors, and New Children's Reference give suggestions about refining your knowledge of books you like. However, the term "collectible children's book" refers to a book that will hold or increase its monetary value as to edition, condition, and scarcity. This page is about selecting those books.
Monetary Value: An interesting blog, which includes careful research on monetary value and edition points is Stan Zielinski's Children's Picturebook Collecting. Given the stresses books are exposed to from moisture, sunlight, and handling, we'd think that emeralds might be a better bet! However, you'll want to make sure your collection will have held or increased its value when the time comes to sell or donate it. Helen Younger in an excellent article 100 Years/100 Books: Highspots of Collectible Children's Books from 1863-1963 rightly points out that if you are collecting books on this level, you'll want the assistance of an established children's specialist dealer, one who has handled hundreds of similar copies over many years.
With reliable dealers, price will usually reflect collectibility, but there are some common modern books needed for a complete collection, for instance a Caldecott collection, which are inexpensive even as Fine/Fine 1sts, like Macaulay's Black and White, (F/F $10!) and of course you may always find a bargain. To protect even a modest investment, you'll need to consider these attributes of a "collectible book".
Edition:In general, a collectible book should be the first printing of the first edition, often, but not always, referred to as a "first edition". Do not rely on a "First Edition" designation without knowing the dealer unless you see "stated First Edition," and even then there are exceptions. Sometimes a quite common book, like The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, is collectible because of the edition and condition combined.
You may also branch out to the first printing of the book in another country (1st American) like Agaton Sax, or a new translation (translated by...., earlier translations are usually not mentioned), or, with a newly illustrated edition of a classic book by a recognized artist (1st thus illustrated), or simpler, less expensive version of a limited edition, (1st trade edition), or a new format by a major publishing house or small press (1st thus). Note: A new edition by a mass market reprint house like Donohue or Grosset & Dunlap might make a nice children's present, but it is not considered "1st thus". Also, ISBN numbers did not exists before 1971, Harper and Row began in 1962....there are many details to watch out for!
All this is is easily said, but identifying the edition of books too early for a number line can be difficult, as it varies by publisher and year of publication. Carefully match the publication and binding data with a copy offered by a reliable dealer on ABE or the ABAA website. If in any doubt, you will really need a specialist dealer's experience and access to a bibliographical library.
Condition: Books from the high end of Very Good to Fine are in "collectible condition" Books that say "otherwise very good" , "very good except for...." and "very good for its age" generally are not. You may love the book, but unless a 19th or 20th c book is in very nice condition, it will not be readily saleable and may not hold its value. There are exceptions to this, as with fragile picture books from the 30's or 19th c repaired fine pop-ups, but you would have to ask an experienced bookseller to evaluate the "collectibility" of a "Good" book. Sometimes older jackets in less than VG+ condition are acceptable with children's books. It depends on the book.
Here is a beautiful book, illustrated by C. B. Falls, The Wild Flower Fairy Book. It is not in collectible condition, and never will be, as someone has removed a plate. If you were lucky enough to find and replace an undamaged plate from the same edition, you might well keep it in your collection, but it is not "collectible". Always count the plates or get a commitment from the dealer as to the plates present before you buy. We use "8 plates as issued" to indicate that we have counted the plates.
Watch out for glued down spine cloth like this one on Lang's Red Fairy Book. They are often undetectable in photographs, but they can be felt easily. They make the book stiff in the hand: the spine cloth and underlay should be free from the signature gatherings on most hardback books. Pass on split hinges with common books: split hinges can be repaired, of course, but best not to get involved if you can avoid it. A professional dealer will list the worst flaws first. That is, if the book has lightly rubbed corners we can assume it does not have cracked hinges. An inexperienced seller may not do this, so always ask, and return the book if it is not satisfactory.
Consider the quality of the paper. There are old comic books on pulp paper which are highly collectible, and probably some series books and mass market books as well, but with children's juvenile or picture books, be wary of pulp paper unless it is a collectible Wartime Edition. Many books were published around the turn of the last century with elaborate chromolitho covers and coarse, now browning, paper. They were usually filled with fuzzy pictures and generic stories from the publisher's files. Fads come and go, but I'd avoid these unless they are in perfect condition and you love the cover (of more interest to vintage dealers). I don't really have an example but, Merry Times: Pleasant Pages for Every One, has the same unremarkable literary quality. (The paper on this de Wolfe Fisk book is nice and the jacket is unusual.)
Book clubs, remainders, and ex-libraries are not considered collectible. As always, there are exceptions, but they are pretty obvious.... a remainder with a long author's inscription to a famous editor; an18th c book withdrawn from a cathedral library in 1820, a JLG Ransome with an alternate jacket illustration etc..
Be wary of signed books online when you do not know the dealer's reputation. A few years ago it was possible to find collections of author signatures on the internet. Significant fraud resulted, and most of these pages have been removed. You should always be cautious about paying for the signature of a major author/illustrator when you do not know the dealer. I am more apt to trust the veracity of less important author signatures.
Some hardcover "binding copies" in which both the block and the cover are in Fine condition but unattached, might be considered collectible once they have been repaired, but they need to be rare enough to be worth repairing in the first place. Research this carefully.
Scarcity: Sometimes the scarcity and price of an unknown book is surprising, like Caroline Dyer's wonderful Three Famous Ugly Sisters, which must qualify as an underground classic. Before the advent of the internet, scarcity was difficult for anyone but a very experienced bookseller to determine, and it still is for very rare books. However, with most books, checking ABE, Addall, and Worldcat should give you a good handle on how scarce the book is. Be sure that the publication data and condition are comparable to yours.
Content, Historical Significance, and Provenance: Traditionally, only "known" illustrators and authors appeared on lists of collectible books of children's literature. But if you have confidence in your own taste and you can add to the value of the book with your research, go ahead and collect it ! For instance, The Stray Child , (1934), a rare book with a fragile binding, has an interesting slant on pets and children and wonderful graphics. It is very well written in the voice of its time. Certainly a "collectible" book.
You can also add to the historical significance of a book through your own research. I have a wonderful little 19th c book about a trip to Niagara Falls, written in a modern voice by a 12 year old boy who grew up to sail out of San Francisco and died with his wife and young children in a shipwreck in the Pacific. (it may never be for sale).
With children's books, provenance, the internal record of the history of the book, rarely involves famous people. Instead, there are records of the book's being passed through a family, notes on where it was first read, and children's "library slips" with dire warnings laid in. To us, all these add to the value of the book. Unfortunately, the modern trend is to erase evidence of provenance in the hope of improving the condition grade/price of the book. We never remove this material, and hope you don't either. If you are fond of Daisy Ashford, here is an inexpensive duBois copy of The Young Visiters with a marvellous letter included
On Nostalgia: In addition to the usual reasons for collecting, children's book collectors are uniquely driven by nostalgia, the wish to experience the same sensation they felt when they read the book as a child. These books may fall out of fashion as the youngest collectors to have read them as children fade away, as is true of The Birds' Christmas Carol. Or they may remain or reappear in the canon as literature or social history, like Castle Blair. However, there are internet dealers who bank on buyer nostalgia to charge high prices for commonly found books in lesser condition, so always check several sources before you assume a readily available book in questionable condition merits a high price.