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7 Essentials of Collecting Children's Books

The wonderful and often whimsical world of children's books entrance youth today, just as in the 19th century. In addition to those who enjoy them purely for the tales and adventures, children's literature is a fascinating collecting interest. In this 7 Essentials column, some essential tips and information about children's books and collecting them are featured.

Editor's Note: All of these essential facts and collecting tips (and many more) about children's books, can be found in the popular reference “Collecting Children’s Books” by Noah Fleisher and Lauren Zittle.

    1. Two notable medals awarded to ‘distinguished American children’s books’ and ‘the most distinguished American picture book for children’ is the Newberry Medal and Caldecott Medal, respectively. Not only does the list of past medal winners make for a wonderful reading list, but recipients of the medals will often feature the medal seal on the cover of printings of the book. This can be a helpful tip in determining whether you have a first edition or not. For example, “Harold and the Purple Crayon”, written by Crocket Johnson and published in 1955, won the 1956 Caldecott Medal. Therefore, the first edition of this classic does not have the Caldecott seal.
    1. One of the most prolific illustrators of the 20th century, Jessie Wilcox Smith, created recognizable and relatable characters, beginning with those in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses”, and then those in Mother Goose tales. While her original artwork often sells for more than $5,000 depending on the children’s book and the edition, many titles of books featuring her illustrations are available on the market today, and in some cases can be obtained for as little as $10.
    1. First edition children’s books remain a very competitive market, with prices that reflect that. In the lower to mid-level markets though there are numerous and diverse books that can be affordably purchased.
    1. Signed or inscribed books are a wonderful find, but authenticating the signature is the key. Most reputable dealers and auction houses will work to authenticate the signature before sale, but there are also various authenticators who you can contract with. You can also spend time researching the author’s signature yourself, to gain some sense of what the signature looks like — but remember forgers are often very good at imitation, so proceed with caution if assurances of authenticity are not provided.
    1. Series and sets of children’s books allow for greater collecting opportunities, and enjoyable revisiting of childhood nostalgia. For example, Little Golden Books came on the scene in the early 1940s, and were published in large quantities, providing a relatively ample supply of first editions of the first 12 titles, that can be purchased for between $50 and $200.
    1. The evolution of children’s literature in many ways is responsive to the social, cultural and industrial happenings of the world at the time. In the early 20th century, the Golden Age as it were, fantasy and magical adventures and characters emerged (think Peter Pan, Mother Goose’s characters, Peter Rabbit). As the world embarked on war in 1914 the reality of a safe and peaceful world was altered, almost overnight. Yet, the positive, playful and peaceful themes of children’s books published in the early-to-mid 1900s served as a bit of an escape for those facing the struggles of the day. In the same way, these events also impacted the direction children’s literature would take in the coming decades (consider The Story of Ferdinand).
    1. As with most antiques and collectibles, condition is key when it comes to collecting children’s books. Be sure to examine the spine of the book to determine if its cracked or faded; and with pages check for foxing, water damage, tears or missing pages – as all of these factors play into the value of a book.

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