Vintage children's books of yesteryear are popular with collectors today. Here's what you need to know.
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.