West Coast author on an East Coast mornning radio show means the producer called at 6:20 am this morning. But it was fun appearing on "Whatcha Got?" with the knowledgable Mr. Harry Ryker. This syndicated radio show lets people chat about what they have in their houses and the collectible value of their objects.
Of course, Ryker's interview touched on the hardest-to-answer question: what is a collectible children's book? And I filled up all my airtime trying to explain this. If I rambled, well, it was 6:30 a.m. Also I co-authored a huge Encyclopedia of Collectible Children's Books that takes 350 oversized pages to answer that question. Difficult to boil into a one-minute answer.
Here's the basics, a bit better organized, of what I said:
- Not all collectible children's books were originally published for children. Many 19th-century and 20th-century adult novels moved into the chldren's section of the bookstore, where they picked up fantastic illustrations and bigger print. Think Jules Verne or Jack London, both now routinely shelved in children's because of the editions illustrated by N.C. Wyeth (Mysterious Island) or Paul Bransom (Call of the Wild).
- Age is not necessarily the determining factors in value. Victorian children's books are true antiques (more than 100 years old) but many can be had for less than the cost of a double tall latte. On the other hand, be prepared to pay out the cost of a small used car for a true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone printed at the end of the 20th century. The reason is that many more people are fans of J.K. Rowling than lust after Mrs. Moleworth.
- Edition also means less in children's books than other types of fiction. While true first editions always have value, don't ditch that Edward Gorey edition of Edward Lear's Jumblies. Although published in 1969, approximately 80 years after Lear's death, the highly collectible Gorey's illustrations make this a desirable book.
- Always look at the illustrator as well as the author when valuing children's fiction. Although Mrs. Moleworth isn't all that desirable for her writing, editions of her books illustrated by Walter Crane or L. Leslie Brooke appeal to many collectors.
- Quality of writing does not always translate into value to collectors. Yes, there are those who want every Newbery book (the highest literary award given to children's fiction by U.S. librarians) and these are "quality" writing as per the librarians of the day. On the other hand, just as many people want complete collections of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys, series that were never known for their literary value, cracking good reads as per the children of their day, but often banned by librarians. A true first edition of a 1930s Nancy Drew mystery can go as high as $300 with a dust jacket. A true first of Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (1933 Newbery winner) in the same condition can be had for $100 easily and you may find a nice copy for less. Again, Nancy Drew just has more fans than Young Fu.
- Which leads to the one determing factor of collecting children's books: it is all about the love. I don't care what you think about the literary quality of Santa Mouse. If Santa Mouse was someone's absolutely favorite book when they were young and their mother gave it away or their little brother scribbled crayon all over it, they will pay more than the cost of a double latte to have that book back on their personal bookshelf.
And once you start picking up one or two childhood memories, you start noticing all the other wonderful children's books just begging to go home with you at the used bookstore (and the new bookstore too). Which leads to writing an Encyclopedia on the subject and chatting on the radio before dawn about the collectibility of children's books.
Oh, and just in case you think this sounds like a fun hobby, be warned. You can collect many lovely children's books without breaking the bank but you may find yourself with a backache or two. I'm currently halfway through packing 2,000 books for a move across town. That's a lot of tonnage that I'm going to have to haul.
Still I can't live without these reading pleasures. Or resist talking about them.