by Barbara Nailler and Harvey Wolf
Putting together a collection of children's books seems to be a lot of fun. Over the 20 years we have dealt in them, we've had many interesting conversations with collectors, most of whom are adults, 30 years and over. Generally, collectors fall into two categories: those who remember their favorite childhood book characters and those who prefer something unusual about the books, such as illustrations, size, shape, or topic.
Collectors in the first category are often replacing the books they read as youngsters. Authors in this area include Horatio Alger, Carolyn Keene, Victor Appleton, Howard Pease, Laura Lee Hope, Margaret Sutton, Clair Bee, Harold Sherman, and Joseph Altsheler. Usually these books revolve around one or two main characters, such as Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, or the Hardy Boys. Other series involve sports figures (basketball, football, and baseball), military academies, motorcycles, radio, nurses, boy and girl scouts, Civil War, or the American West. Others have to do with different countries, such as the Twins of the World series by Lucy Fitch Perkins.
Although most of these series have a specific author listed, many were actually written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. According to Harry K. Hudson, (who wrote The Boys Series reference guide), Edward Stratemeyer, a writer of dime novels before their decline, decided that people would purchase inexpensive juvenile fiction if it were made available. Although he wrote many of the books himself, he also briefly outlined the story lines and hired other writers at a weekly or piece-work price who fleshed out the stories with details. Some of the authors listed by the Syndicate are May Hollis Barton, Alice Emerson, Billie Bradley, Laura Lee Hope, Carolyn Keene, Margaret Penrose, Jerry West, Helen L. Thorndyke, Victor Appleton, Arthur Winfield, Clarence Young, and Frank Dixon.
The second category of collector likes something else about the books beside or in addition to the characters. Collections of this nature might include books illustrated by fine artists. Some sought-after illustrators are Lois Lenski, Rockwell Kent, N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Wanda Flagg, Milo Winter, Marguerite de Angeli, Wesley Dennis, Diana Thorne, Edmund Dulac, Maurice Sendak, Kate Greenaway, Tasha Tudor, and John R. Neil (of Oz fame).
Other collections contain books in the shapes of animals, books with a hole through them, books with animals wearing human apparel, mechanicals, and linen books. Currently, old school books seem to be the rage, like Dick and Jane, Alice and Jerry, Baby Ray, Elson Gray, and the McGuffey Readers. Home-schooling parents are choosing the Landmark series of famous characters and events in the U.S. and world, as well as the We Were There and the Signature series.
Some collectors choose a favorite book and collect every edition published. Those might include Little Black Sambo, The Yearling, or Treasure Island.
So, the wide variety of juvenile books available means that many decisions need to be made before a library is assembled, or those decisions will be made partway through, when the books are overflowing the shelves and must be weeded down closer to the real interest of the collector.
What should you collect? Although some people choose books for investment purposes, you'll be a better collector if you develop your library around what interests you the most. Depending on how you chose, your investment will likely pay off years down the road.
No matter how you assemble your collection, first think condition, condition, condition. In the real estate market, the conventional wisdom is location, location, location. In the book world it is condition. The best advice is to buy the most perfect copies you can find. That means very few flaws and in original bindings and dust jackets (if so issued). There are some books with color laser dust jackets and those would certainly protect the books, but be aware that these do not substitute for the real thing. Try to buy books that do not have illustrative augmentation by a former owner, such as crayon coloring and pencil drawings/scribbling on the pages or cover. And of course, the edition you choose is also important. For long-term, the first editions, barring damage, will probably hold their value better than reprints.
As your library grows, you'll become what is known as an advanced collector. Then the fun begins in earnest! Early on, some titles will be very common and your collection will grow rapidly. Eventually however, some other titles will seem elusive. At that time, you might want to lean toward obtaining the book in any edition and in nearly any condition. You can always keep searching for the better condition copy and upgrade later.
In any case, you'll want to arm yourself with some good reference works. For many books the determination of edition is tricky and not always clear cut. Some will be bibliographic in nature and others will also give price ranges depending on the condition and edition. A few we recommend are:
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Girls Series Books, published by The Children's Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ The Boys Series reference originally begun by the late Harry K. Hudson and available through the Special Collections, University of South Florida Library, Tampa, Florida
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Farah's Guide to Nancy Drew Books
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Illustrators of Books for Young People by Ward and Marquardt
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Pictus Orbis Sambo by Phyllis S. Barton
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ The Fiction Factory by Quentin Reynolds
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Horatio Alger or the American Hero Era by Ralph D. Gardner
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Price Guide and Bibliographic Check List for Children's and Illustrated Books compiled by E. Lee Baumgarten
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Bibliographia Oziana by Dick Martin et al.
ΓΆΒ€ΒΆ Biblio of Boys Series Books by Mattson-Davis
There you have the basics in a nutshell, so start collecting and have fun!
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