Vintage children's books of yesteryear are popular with collectors today. Here's what you need to know.
Collectible Children's Books
There are countless collections of the nursery rhymes and children’s tales many of us know by heart. This 1942 edition of The Real Mother Goose, with a copyright date of 1916, features pen and watercolor illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright. Reprinted many times, it’s one of the best-selling children’s books of all time; this volume is worth about $65. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
The Real Mother Goose - inside
The Mother Goose fairy tales and nursery rhymes from folklore have enchanted children for generations; these pen and watercolor illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright are timeless. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
The Bobbsey Twins books
The Bobbsey Twins series, about a family with two pairs of boy-girl twins, ran between 1904 and 1979. Edward Stratemeyer, one of publishing’s most successful entrepreneurs, saw an untapped market for children’s books; he wrote the first Bobbsey Twins book under the name Laura Lee Hope. Like his other series—including Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, published under the umbrella of the Stratemeyer Syndicate—this one was written by a variety of authors using a single pen name. Updates took the stories from horse-and-carriage days through international jet travel; publishers used a variety of formats. This 1933 Grosset & Dunlap volume, "The Bobbsey Twins on an Airplane Trip," is in average condition, but still has its dust jacket; it's worth $9 to $15. A very early book from the series might sell for more than $200. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
The Corner House Girls series
Another Stratemeyer Syndicate product, this 1915-’26 series chronicled the lives of four orphaned sisters who move into a house left to them by a wealthy great-uncle. Its front covers remained identical throughout; finding all 13 volumes would be quite a feat. Each sold for a then-hefty price of 75 cents. Today the 1919 volume shown at the top of the stack, "The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat," would sell for about $7, or more than $35 if completely free of stains. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
Little Golden Book: Howdy Doody's Animal Friends
The first 12 Little Golden Books, including "The Poky Little Puppy," came out in 1942. Noted for their distinctive, colorful look and reasonable prices (they first sold for 25 cents), the books eventually sold more than 2 billion copies. Some stories featured figures from popular culture, like this one about Howdy Doody, the freckled marionette from the 1947-’60 children’s TV show. This book is worth about $14. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
Dick and Jane, the classic primers
Zerna Sharp, a teacher and reading consultant, helped millions of children learn to read through this celebrated series, used in classrooms from 1927 through the 1970s. She developed the idea for a primer that introduced no more than one word on each page, and no more than five new words in each story. Colorful illustrations helped young readers stay interested. These are 1985 reproductions. Full sets that have never seen use are extremely rare and can cost more than $300. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
Day In and Day Out workbook
With the success of the Dick and Jane series, other publishing houses brought out their own reading primers, complete with teacher’s guides and workbooks. This 1957 workbook was used with the Day In and Day Out first-grade primer from the Alice & Jerry Basic Reading Program, offering practice exercises and quizzes. The workbook in the photo was never completed; even the name line on the back cover remains blank. It’s worth about $22. (Photo by Country Woman Magazine)
The Emerald City of Oz
Almost everyone has heard of "The Wizard of Oz," thanks to the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland. But before the movie, there was an entire series of books by L. Frank Baum. Reader Corrine Gay of Edgerton, Kansas shares this 1910 volume, the sixth sequel to his 1900 original, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." (Photo by Corrine Gay)
The Emerald City, copyright page
Fanciful drawings adorn this copyright page from the 1910 volume of "The Emerald City of Oz." This book tells the story of Dorothy Gale, along with her aunt and uncle, coming to liver permanently in Oz. (Photo by Corrine Gay)
Ozma of Oz
This 1907 volume was the third of what would become 14 Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Country Woman reader Corrine Gay shares this book, found along with "The Emerald City of Oz," in an abandoned storage unit.
By Barbara J. Eash
Stories live so close to our hearts that if I asked you to name your favorite childhood books, you could probably rattle them off instantly, even if it’s been years since you read them.
From Little Women to the Little House books, familiar characters and stories have endured, some for generations. But how do you know which vintage children’s books might be real collector’s items?
A book’s value depends on several factors. Is it a first or limited edition? Was it signed by the author? Is it illustrated, and are the illustrations appealing? Is the subject matter of wide interest, or specialized?
“First edition” generally refers to the books printed from one continuous operation of the press. Different publishing houses use different means to identify first editions, sometimes simply putting the words on the copyright page. If there’s a date on the title page, it must match the copyright date, with no other date listed.
Book club editions are generally of lower quality, and therefore, not as sought after.
For autographed and inscribed items, collectors will want to verify the signature; genuine signatures tend to increase a book’s value.
Collectors seek books in “fine” or “very good” condition, with intact spines and no major defects. (All defects should be listed and described when selling a book).
Of course, a child’s book is often wrinkled, torn or scribbled in—it was made not to sit on the shelf, but to be handled, hugged and lugged around. Children’s books that have been treated that way are usually in such poor condition that they’ll never have a high dollar value—but to the owners, they’re priceless nonetheless.
Barb’s best tips for good book health
- Protect the spine. Keep books upright on a shelf or lying flat, never leaning. Never force books onto an overcrowded shelf.
- Control the climate. Never store books on the floor of a damp basement, garage or storage unit; it’s best to keep them where there is central heat and air-conditioning. Moisture—even in the air—leads to foxing, a speckled discoloration of the pages.
- Keep the dust jacket. Even with rips and other flaws in it, having the jacket can triple the price a collector will pay.
- Handle with care. Dust regularly with the soft brush on your vacuum cleaner. Use clean hands when reading and mark your place with a flat bookmark—never dog-ear the pages.
Barbara J. Eash, Country Woman Magazine’s antiques expert, is a certified personal property appraiser specializing in antiques and collectibles.
Shared stories: We asked readers to share snapshots and memories of their favorite children’s books; they’re captured in the slide show above.