What Vintage Children’s Book Collectors Collect

An example of a Tom Swift series edition.
The story of <i>Robin Hood</i>, which has no copyright, has been published hundreds of times, often with no credit for the illustrator. Some collectors like to collect these titles to compare the illustrations.
<i>Cherry Ames, Department Store Nurse</i>, is one example of a collectible juvenal series.

Vintage Children’s Books

By Liz Holderman

Children’s book collectors cover a very wide spectrum of interests, collecting many different sub-genres within the field, and often couldn’t be more different in terms of their personal favorites. Here are just a very few areas of collectibility.

Juvenile Series

By far, the largest collecting group includes those who seek juvenile series books from the past. The most popular are the stalwarts from the 1920s to 1960s: Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, Rick Brandt and others. But there are literally hundreds and hundreds of vintage juvenile series, some dating back to the early 1900s. Some series had short runs of only a few titles; others went on for many decades with scores of titles. The volume and diversity is enormous, with juvenile heroes solving mysteries and uncovering secrets in a variety of adventure settings—as students, nurses, flight attendants, ranch hands, scouts, scientists, motorcyclists, radio technicians, athletes, aviators, inventors and many others.

Popular juvenile series titles were usually released in multiple formats over the years, with varying bindings, dust jackets, editing and illustrators as the years progressed. Some vintage juvenile series collectors want only the earliest format of the series. Others want the particular format they read as a child (like the “green spine” version, for example). Still others want every single variant issue, including all the different revisions and even the international editions. Some collectors care little about condition and just want to amass as many titles as possible; they take particular pride in inexpensive discoveries and revel in the hunt. Other collectors limit their library and will only buy first editions or selected books in very fine condition with fine dust jackets.

Classics by Different Illustrators

Another collectible area includes classic titles by various illustrators. Many popular books were reprinted hundreds of times by different publishers. Some of the more famous ones were illustrated by scores of artists who wanted to put their own inventive interpretation on a favorite story. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Water-Babies, Little Women, Hans Brinker and the like have been illustrated time and time again. Some books, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, did not contain any pictures when they were first published, but became so beloved that one cannot imagine them now without accompanying art.

Collectors of this sub-genre like to compare the drawing styles and usually have a favorite artist. It is especially fun to see which different scenes from a book are selected for interpretation. When collecting all of the artists for a particular classic, it is often difficult to find first editions (which may have had sub-par illustrations by an unknown artist before the book became famous). It is also difficult to find old books by common reprint publishers, who often issued many variants and sometimes didn’t even credit their journeyman illustrators. For common folk classics like Robin Hood, which have no copyright, the entire list of possible versions is not even known.

Award-Winning Books

Children’s titles that have received book awards are also often collected, with Newbery and Caldecott winners being the most popular. Right after a book has received an award, a distinguished sticker is usually placed on the dust jacket during the next publishing run. Some collectors seek these designated books, while others seek the first edition of the book instead, which was always issued prior to the award. The first editions were usually issued in a smaller run and are therefore harder to find.

All the Rest

While these are just a few examples of the areas of collection for antique children’s books, there are dozens of other interests as well. Many collectors look for all the books by a particular author, including early hard-to-find titles and stories written under past pseudonyms. Some collect only limited edition bindings with embossed leather and gold trim. Others seek autographed, inscribed or association copies. And still others collect a mixed variety whose subjects are in particular areas of interest—such as books on dolls, horses, dogs, holidays, ethnic groups, cooking or travel. But all collectors share one thing—a love of the imagination, creativity and magic in vintage illustrated juvenile and children’s books.

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  1. william falkenstern says:

    Have a book andersons stories cover reads the little seamaid first edition published by george routeledge and sons 1883 back cover seamaid on dolphin with spear front cover reads andersens stories with prince and seamaid. Fine condition minor chipping, any info?

  2. Micki McDougall says:

    Hi, I am an empty nester, looking to sell my collections.
    I have 190 plus Golden Books 1940-1960. I have a list of these available Let me know if interested.
    Thank you

    • Gayla Baker says:

      I collect little golden books and would be interested in your collect. Thanks Gayla

  3. Monica Frank says:

    I have a couple of children’s paper back books that were published by Brown Watson A Division of General Book Distributors Ltd and printee in Holland. No date of publish but from there cost and picture illustrations it looks to be from the 50’s or 60’s. Trying to fins information on them. There is a printed signature Sabate’s on them. Both in excellecnt condition except one someone doodled on the back page.


  4. M LaBossiere says:

    Do you have the Golden Book of Biology?


  5. Mark says:

    I’m looking for a series of children’s books circa 1950s-60s. The were hardback bound books with covers, I believe were embossed similar to an encyclopedia. I think that they were beige and brown. They came in a set of aprox. 10 books, and were very expensive looking. They were the type of books that a family would pass down to kids and grandkids. Unfortunately, my mother gave them to the Goodwill because they were “dust-collectors”. Please help me! I’ve looked online and am going crazy trying to remember the name of the series. Thanks!

    • jame says:

      Perhaps that series would be the Child Craft books affiliated with World Book.

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