What Vintage Children’s Book Collectors Collect
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.
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.
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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