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Yearbooks: Not So Embarrassing When They’re Collectible

Remembrances have been around for centuries in the form of scrapbooks containing special things – ribbons, drawings, handwritten stories, dried flowers, even hair. Bound together, these items have a way of keeping memories alive.

A new way of commemorating personal experiences was introduced in 1806 with the publication of the first college yearbook. It was produced by Yale and titled “Profiles of the Class Graduated at Yale College.” There are no known surviving copies of the book. The “Signia,” a yearbook from the 1823 graduating class of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, is believed to be the oldest extant college yearbook. As for the oldest high school yearbook, that honor goes to the 1814 edition of “The Cue,” from Albany Academy in Albany, New York.

It’s not certain what each of these yearbooks contained, but a best guess is that they might have been formatted in scrapbook style and focused only on the graduates.

1877 university scrapbook with remembrances and advertising cards. Images courtesy of Uniques and Antiques Inc., and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Photography would change how yearbooks looked. As early as 1826 or so, a practical image was made from a camera obscura by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce. His View from the Window at Le Gras is considered the earliest surviving photograph. Since yearbooks are all about visuals, Niépce’s invention would change and define the yearbook over time.

Early Photographs

The 1845 edition of “The Evergreen” is the oldest surviving high school yearbook issued by Waterville Academy in New York City. Highlighting its academic and other activities, the yearbook also allowed daguerreotype images to be tipped in by hand.
When the daguerreotype fizzled out by the end of the 1850s, George K. Warren, a photographer specializing in portraits in and around Boston, moved on to the more useful tintypes where more copies could be produced from a single negative – a useful breakthrough. Concentrating on college portraits, patrons bought several copies of their image and passed them around to their friends. Your friends then gave you a copy of their photographs, and after amassing a selection, you could have them bound in a book of your own.

However, yearbooks were only for seniors at college and high school and were quite expensive to produce. This remained the case until the 1870s, when the albumin process made it easier to mass-produce photos.

Gravure Printing

By 1880 or so, printing by the offset process made mass production of books, newspapers, and advertising more economical and commercially available. Utilizing an intaglio process, photographs could be more easily reproduced and rendered in higher quality using a photogravure process. Because such images were produced by hand, it was limited to fine prints.

Princeton University Yearbook of 1899 showing then-new rotogravure printing of half-tone photos. Image courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers Archive

However, it is the rotogravure process that enabled photographs and images to be printed using a rotary printing press. With this process, yearbooks became more widely available, with images and photographs using the half-tone printing process. By 1920, all yearbooks included more than just the graduating class; they also included club activities, sports teams and individual graduate poses.

Lithography

Beginning in the 1930s, high school and college yearbooks became much more affordable for the average family thanks to offset lithography. They began to be produced for graduating classes everywhere.

Availability to Collectors

It isn’t difficult to find 19th-century scrapbooks at auction. Most are filled with clips of newspapers and other items of personal interest, but they contain virtually no photographs or advertising to tell a more compelling story.

Almost all vintage yearbooks that show up at auction are from the beginning of the mass-production movement, which started around 1920. They include individual images, sports activities, clubs, histories, personalities and even advertising.

The Seminole, 1946 and 1947, University of Florida yearbooks. Courtesy Florida Estate Sales LLC and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Collecting yearbooks, particularly those from high schools, is a favorite pastime for fans looking for early photographic depictions of current celebrities. Having an insight on stars and public figures at a time when their personalities were not fully formed adds an interesting dynamic to the individuals we now know.

For example, Neil Armstrong, who, in 1969, became the first man to set foot on the moon was something of a recluse later in life, choosing privacy over the trappings of celebrity. His autograph became harder to obtain, as he refused all requests for his signature. A 1947 high school yearbook that recently sold for $2,050 shows a handwritten signature in capital letters. Very unusual.

Neil Armstrong signed his Blume High School (Wapakoneta, Ohio) yearbook in all caps. The description of Armstrong reads: “He thinks, he acts, ’tis done.” The book sold for $2,050. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Yearbooks provide a snapshot in time that goes beyond the embarrassing senior photo. The advertising in yearbooks, for example, provides a frame of reference for local histories. The activities or clubs that were important at that time may have disappeared, and athletic achievements may have been forgotten.

Yearbooks are plentiful; in fact, the supply is overwhelming. There are about 17,000 to 25,000 or so high schools in the United States. If each school produces a yearbook with an average of about 500 students or so per graduating class, that could mean about 8.5 million to 12.5 million yearbooks published per year and that’s not including colleges and universities. Most yearbooks continue to sell at auction in the $10 to $30 range. A premium is paid for any that contain a student who later became famous, whether an actor, politician, athlete or other public figure.

Examples of albumin photo processing are seen in this 1870 West Point Officers yearbook. Image courtesy of Alderfer Auction and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Additionally, yearbooks now encompass more than just colleges and high schools. Military graduating classes such as boot camp, specialized training, and naval tours all have their individual yearbooks commemorating the class or event. Businesses also have created yearbooks for anniversaries and yearly conferences, and so do sports teams. The New York Mets have issued a yearbook annually since 1962.

The New York Mets baseball team has issued yearbooks since 1962. Image courtesy of Baker’s Antiques and Auctions, and LiveAuctioneers Archive

Lastly, unlike other collectible categories, there are no specific price guides for yearbooks or organized collecting associations. However, there is no shortage of collecting opportunities with yearbooks. They encompass art, culture, language, advertising, and personalities. They also tell the story of printing and photography. That’s what makes collecting yearbooks a fascinating and long-lasting avocation – one year at a time.

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Sources:

Konkle, Bruce E., A Preliminary Overview of the Early History of High School Journalism in the U.S.: 1775-1925, University of South Carolina-Columbia, 2013

Yearbook History: https://photoographybriana.weebly.com/yearbook-history.html; NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/06/03/127412786/yearbooks

About George K. Warren, J. Paul Getty Museum:

http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/2878/george-kendall-warren-american-1834-1884/

Firsts by noted authors featured in vintage book auction Aug. 22

First editions penned by many of the 20th-century’s greatest authors, including George Orwell’s 1934 Burmese Days, Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women and Jack London’s Call of the Wild – all three with dust jackets – are featured in a book auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

‘Junkie,’ William S. Burroughs, first edition, first printing, softbound, bound dos à dos with Maurice Helbrant’s ‘Narcotic Agent,’ Ace Book Inc., New York. Estimate: $1,200-$1,500. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 book auction May 9 recounts the Civil War

America’s foremost historians recount the American Civil War in a large collection of books on the subject that will be sold Wednesday, May 9, by Jasper52. Leading the charge is Margaret E. Wagner’s 752-page book titled The American Civil War: 365 Days, which features more than 500 items drawn from the collections of the Library of Congress.

The American Civil War: 365 Days’ by Margaret E. Wagner, first edition, published by Harry N. Abrams, hardcover, 752 pages. Estimate: $25-$50. Jasper52 image

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Reprise for bestsellers via Jasper52 online auction April 11

Modern first editions are featured in an online book auction that will be conducted Wednesday, April 11, by Jasper52. Bibliophiles can examine and purchase classics by Joseph Conrad, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, John Steinbeck and many more.

Tom Robbins, ‘Still Life With Woodpecker,’ first edition, signed by the author with dust jacket. Estimate: $200,$300. Jasper52 image

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5 Authors of Young Adult Fiction You Should Know

Growing up can be glorious, exhilarating and difficult—and that might very well be just one day. For generations, writers have explored this most complex, yet all too relatable topic, in the genre of literature commonly known as Young Adult Fiction, or simply YA.

The past couple of decades have been a boon to this genre of literature. Global YA sensations include series such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Shadowhunter Chronicles, and singular top-sellers including A Fault in Our Stars, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, The Book Thief and most recently The Hate U Give, captivating audiences of all ages, backgrounds and regions.

First edition of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,’ author’s presentation copy inscribed by J.K. Rowling to the family of her daughter’s nursery school chum, one of only 500 copies printed in 1997. Sold for about $140,738 at Bonhams in November 2017. Bonhams image

However, these modern-day reflections of the accomplishment and angst that often accompany the period of life between childhood and adulthood are part of a legacy of literature that helped generations of people through the most trying times. Do vintage classics including Charlotte’s Web, The Outsiders, The Catcher in the Rye, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ring a bell?

Legendary List: One of the most extensive lists of “best of the best” in YA was compiled by Time magazine: http://time.com/100-best-young-adult-books/

In no specific order, we’ll look at five authors of Young Adult Fiction whose contributions to literature provided voices of truth for millions of young people. These works also afford those with a passion for literature and collecting the unique opportunity to amass a library of references that speak volumes and can become a cherished collection.

—Judy Blume: Born in 1938 and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, with her husband, where they operate the nonprofit Books & Books @ The Studios. She’s the award-winning author of 29 books including the revolutionary YA works Freckle Juice, Blubber and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Her first book was published in 1969. Her books dealt with topics not often discussed with young adults of 1970s America. Subjects including teen sex, birth control, bullying, body image and death.

In addition to selling more than 85 million copies of her books, which include versions in 32 languages, Blume has long been an active advocate of the National Coalition Against Censorship, according to information on judyblume.com.

—John Greene: Born in 1977 in Indianapolis, Ind. He is an award-winning novelist specializing in YA fiction. To date, he’s authored five books and co-authored an additional two, with two of his books (A Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) transformed into feature films. In an uncommon, but innovative move, Green teamed up with fellow YA author David Levithan (New York Times best-selling author of Every Day and Invisibility) to co-author the series Will Grayson, according to Green’s official site, www.johngreenebooks.com. Another element of his body of work is viewable via YouTube. In the virtual universe, he teamed up with his brother, Hank, more than a decade ago to communicate primarily through video blogs at vlogbrothers.com on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers). The brothers also developed the program Crash Course (https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse), which features vlogs where the subjects of history, literature, economics, biology, chemistry and government, among others, are discussed. Each program is led by an expert in the field. At present, the Crash Course channel has 7.4 million subscribers, and the vlogbrothers greet a community of 3.1 million subscribers on YouTube.

YA Perspective: “The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth,” responded David Levithan, author of Every Day, in an article appearing in The Atlantic. “Even if we’re not the same as the characters we read, they are all dealing with things—issues of who they are, who they should be, what they should and shouldn’t do—that we all deal with, in their own ways. With The Hunger Games, even if we will never be in Katniss’s shoes, the decisions she makes make emotional sense to us—even when she makes the wrong ones.”

—Jason Reynolds (1970): In his own words this Brooklyn-based writer plans to: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS. Based on the sales of and accolades surrounding the 11 books he’s written, it appears he is on target with his goal. Graduating from The University of Maryland, College Park, he’s earned a litany of awards in the nine years since the debut of this New York Times bestselling author’s first novel. He’s the winner of a Kirkus Award, Walter Dean Myers Award, an NAACP Image Award, and several Coretta Scott King honors. This is in addition to being named a Newberry Award, Printz Award and National Book Award honoree, according to his author’s page at the site of his publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Jason Reynolds ‘As Brave as You,’ published in 2016, is a Kirkus Award finalist, Schneider Family Book Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award winner. It is the story of two young brothers from Brooklyn who spend the summer with their grandparents in Virginia. Simon & Schuster image

Among the YA books Reynolds’ has written is Ghost, All American Boys, Long Way Down, For Every One, and As Brave as You.

—J.K. Rowling (1965): Is a native of Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of an aircraft engineer for Rolls Royce and a science technician in the chemistry department at Wycedean Comprehensive, where Rowling received her education, according to information obtained at her site. Her first book came together when she was 6, and at the age of 11, she had penned her first novel: a story about seven diamonds and their owners.

Following her graduation from university, she worked in London, and her career included work as a researcher with Amnesty International. The idea for Harry Potter was perceived in 1990, and in the course of five years’ time Rowling developed the entire series. She taught English for the next several years until her first book was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 1997. In 2001, Warner Bros. debuted the film version of the first book, which was followed by eight more films recounting the series, ending the final film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which was released in 2011.

Although Rowling began as an author of children’s literature, the Harry Potter series had evolved to such a point that, by the publication of the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), her work was classified as young adult fiction, as well.

—J.D. Salinger (1919-2010): Another native New Yorker, Jerome David Salinger was not a successful student, and ultimately was sent to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Later he took evening classes at Columbia University, where he met Whit Burnett, a professor who ultimately helped Salinger get his work published.

He was drafted during World War II, during which time he began working on chapters of a book featuring the life and experiences of young Holden Caulfield. According to Biography.com. In 1951, Salinger’s work was published as The Catcher in the Rye. Although it is now regarded as an example of classic young adult fiction, early on it received its share of criticism and calls for censorship, as well as praise. It went on to sell 65 million copies. However, it also became part of the story involving the tragic assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered Lennon, had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and said the reason for the attack was spelled out in the book.

Young Adult Fiction Fact: The Harry Potter series has sold more copies than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK. (Source: BookRiot.com)

As history has proven, there are always stories to be shared and lessons from which to learn. Some of the most poignant, relatable, influential and inspiring are those told through the experiences and eyes of young adults.

Bygone bestsellers, first editions good reads at Feb. 13 auction

Bibliophiles will have an opportunity to acquire some of the best 20th-century literature in a comprehensive book auction that visually and textually spans various historic endeavors, iconic memoirs and cultural wonders. Jasper52 will conduct the online auction Tuesday, Feb. 13, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

Margaret Atwood, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ 1986, signed first printing with tipped in book card from Houghton Mifflin, near fine condition (close to new). Estimate: $400-$500. Jasper52 image

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Jasper52 auction Dec. 19 delves into U.S. military history

Volumes of military and political history of the United States are revealed in a Jasper52 book auction taking place Tuesday, Dec. 19. Subjects range from firsthand accounts of the Spanish American War by newspaper correspondents to an intelligence report on alleged assassination plots involving foreign leaders. The latter item contains a card inscribed: “With my compliments, Barry M. Goldwater,” the Arizona senator who ran for president in 1964.

An illustration from the three-volume set of ‘Peter Simple or Adventures of a Midshipman,’ by Capt. Frederick Marryat (1972-1848), published by E.L.Carey & A. Hart, Philadelphia, 1934. Estimate: $150-$200. Jasper52 image

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Books: From a 17th Century Koran to a Jeweller’s Book of Victorian Hair Patterns

Books on art, history and dozens of disciplines – more than 300 lots – are offered in a Jasper52 online auction Saturday, Oct. 21. Titles range from a 17th-century handwritten manuscript Koran to a pattern book on Victorian woven hair jewelry. Many of the books cover the spectrum of antiques and collectibles.

‘Tolstoy’s Works,’ by Count Lev N. ‘Leo’ Tolstoy, 1904, Limited No. 304 of 1000, Deluxe Edition, 24 volumes. Estimate: $1,000-$1,500. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Broaden Your Horizons in This Book Auction

Art, architecture, design and history come together in this week’s comprehensive book auction. The curated collection of books visually and textually spans various artistic periods, historic endeavors, iconic memoirs and cultural wonders. No matter your interest, you will uncover an invaluable story to broaden your horizons. Take a look at a few highlights from this curated sale.

One of the oldest and most valuable books in the auction is a hardbound volume of papers by 17th-century British philosopher John Locke relating to money, interest and trade. The book is the first collected edition of Locke’s most important economic papers, which was published in 1696. It is estimated at $8,000-$10,000.

‘Several Papers Relating to Money, Interest and Trade … ’ by John Locke. First Collected Edition of Locke’s most important economic papers. London: Printed for A. and J. Churchill, at the Black-Swan in Pater-Noster-Row, 1696. Estimate: $8,000-$10,000. Jasper52 image

 

Another Renaissance man of the 17th century was Sir Andrew Balfour, whose first edition Letters Written [sic] to a Friend… Containing Excellent Directions and Advices for Travelling thro’ France and Italy is highly prized. Published posthumously in 1700 by the author’s son from his father’s original manuscript letters, the book has firsthand advice on what to see and do in England, France and Italy, with special attention to buying natural history books. The first edition, first state volume offered in this auction is estimated at $1,000-$1,2000.

‘Letters Writen [sic] to a Friend … Containing Excellent Directions and Advices for Travelling thro’ France and Italy … ’ by Sir Andrew Balfour, first edition, first state, Edinburgh, MDCC [1700]. Estimate: $1,000-$1,200. Jasper52 image

Sportsmen can relive the time of the great French Hunts of the early 20th century in Baron Karl Reille’s famous book La Vénerie Française Contemporaine. This profusely illustrated book, with its text drawings and music scores, numerous full-page color plates, is filled with anecdotes and, often amusing, comments. This important work presents all the hunts existing in France at the time, with each hunt illustrated by the author. It has a $4,000-$4,500 estimate.

‘La Vénerie Française Contemporaine’ by Baron Karl Reille, 1914: Adolph de Goupy, Paris. Famous early 20th century book about hunting in France, profusely illustrated. Estimate: $4,000-$4,500. Jasper52 image

 

Also from France is a first edition of The Decisive Moment: Photography by Henri Cartier Bresson, published in English by Simon and Schuster in 1952. The book, which features a cover illustration by Henri Matisse, contains 126 photographs by the pioneer of street photography. With losses to the surface of the book’s spine, it is estimated at $300-$400.

‘The Decisive Moment: Photography by Henri Cartier Bresson,’ first edition, 1952: Simon and Schuster & Verve Publication. Estimate: $300-$400. Jasper52 image

 

The most recent book in the sale is a first edition of Carlos Diniz’s Views of Venice II, which was published in 2000. The volume is illustrated with 10 full-page color reproductions of his paintings of Venice, and one large foldout plate, which is also in color. Carlos Diniz (1928-2001) is recognized as one of the most important practitioners of architectural illustration in the 20th century. He is known for his work with many Pritzker, Gold Medal and pioneering architects of the 20th century.

‘Views of Venice II,’ by Carlos Diniz, first edition, 2000, Santa Barbara, Calif., illustrated with 10 full-page color reproductions of Diniz’s paintings of Venice, and one large foldout plate also in color. Estimate: $200-$300. Jasper52 image

 

Moving to America, a scarce special edition of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie And Rocky-mountain Life by Francis Parkman is prized for its Frederick Remington illustrations. The remarkably clean example in the auction features the beautiful blue, red, black and gilt decorative design on cover cloth and gilt design on spine. It carries a $500-$600 estimate.

The Oregon Trail, Sketches Of Prairie And Rocky-mountain Life’ by Francis Parkman, first editon of the Frederick Remington-illustrated special edition. Little, Brown and Co. Estimate: $500-$600. Jasper52 image

Children’s Books: Investing in Nostalgia

Do you remember the books you loved as a child? It’s a solid bet that at least a couple of your childhood favorites are also the favorites of collectors, and with good reason. We can all relate to the experience of having books read to us at bedtime, and later, taking pride in learning how to read those books ourselves.

Baum, L. Frank, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first edition, first state of the text and first state of the plates, octavo, Geo. M. Hill Co., Chicago and New York, 1900. Green morocco slipcase. Auctioned Dec. 16, 2009 for $53,100. LiveAuctioneers / Profiles in History image

We spoke with two experts in the field of collectible books: Helen Younger, founder of Aleph-Bet Books, Inc., and Catherine Payling, MBE, director of Waverly Rare Books, a subsidiary of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, to get their take on the children’s book market. In speaking with them, we learned that juvenile literature is a solid niche within the greater realm of book collecting and has been so for quite some time.

As Payling observed, the market “has been relatively stable during and after recent economic upheavals and broader changes in patterns of collecting.”

Echoing those sentiments, Younger, who has been in the collectible book business since 1977, pointed to the availability and affordability of children’s books as reasons for the continued interest among collectors.

“In the world of collectible books, children’s books, in general, are not among the most expensive – they can be a little more attainable.”

In building a collection of children’s books, keep these points in mind: edition and rarity; condition, desirability, and the potential impact of changing trends.

Lot of three titles signed by Maurice Sendak, illustrated, and authored by Ruth Krauss, “Somebody Else’s Nut Tree And Other Tales From Children,” “A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions,” and “Lullabies And Night Songs,” published in 1971, 1952, and 1965, respectively. Sold for $250 at auction June 1, 2017 through Waverly Books. Waverly Books image

For example, Payling said, “If there should be a dust jacket but one isn’t present, then a book without one is [considered] comprised. Is the book signed by the author or the illustrator? Is there interesting provenance?” All are important factors with respect to desirability.

Addressing condition, Younger outlined the standards many reputable dealers use in assessing books:

  • Good: Shows wear, tears, soiling, and perhaps the dust jacket is missing
  • Very Good: The book is in nice condition, although it may show age to some extent. It is clean and presents nicely.
  • Fine: Although it may not look as it did when brand new, it has no defects, it is clean, and nothing is missing.
  • Mint: The book is flawless.

Not only is understanding differences in condition helpful when considering the purchase of a book, it is often the key factor in determining price when selling a book.

For example, as Younger pointed out, Aleph-Bet might list a copy of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat with a high price tag, but that might be because it’s a first edition, first printing, in mint condition.

Wells, Carolyn, illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith, “Seven Ages of Childhood,” first edition, NY: Moffat Yard 1909, tan gilt cloth, round pictorial paste-on, 56 pages. Cloth slightly darkened on edges from inoffensive cover stain, occasional foxing, VG. $400 through Aleph-Bet Books. Aleph-Bet Books image

As with most collecting interests, experience and time are the best teachers, according to Payling and Younger. Learning how publishers denoted first editions is an important practice, Younger added.

“It truly takes time to learn the aspects of children’s books, and to complicate things further, publishers were not consistent with how they denoted first editions,” she explains. “Some may say ‘first edition,’ some may have a number code or a combination, and some may have the date of publication on the title page and the copyright page, while some may not.”

Payling, who recently purchased a copy of Miskoo the Lucky by Mary Fairclough – one of her favorite books from childhood – recommends the following measures to gain valuable knowledge about children’s books:

  • Acquire some good-quality reference books on your specific area of collecting interest, whether it is by country, century, author and so on, and use them to help make buying decisions.
  • Learn to identify variations in condition.
  • Learn about current market prices from online resources, especially recent auction results, whose price database is free of charge.
  • Check out auction houses and their auction catalogs.

Also, attending book fairs and visiting the shops and sites of businesses specializing in rare and collectible books are all methods for amassing knowledge that will prove helpful in efforts to acquire children’s books, Younger advised.

Beginners may find it advisable to define the focus of their collection.

“Blue-chip authors, such as L. Frank Baum, Dr. Seuss, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl are always sought after,” said Payling. “People are often motivated by childhood memories, so we see buyers looking for children’s titles popular when they were young.” Illustrated books are also highly desirable.

Younger points to children’s books published in the mid-20th century as being the current “sweet spot” in collecting. However, some lesser-known interests are gaining attention.

Milne, A.A., “Winnie the Pooh (And) The House at Pooh Corner,” Russian first edition, NY: Dutton 1967, cloth, 221 pages. Top edge rubbed, otherwise VG+ in frayed dust wrapper with a few mends on verso. $125 through Aleph-Bet Books. Aleph-Bet Books image

“Right now, we’re seeing the popularity of Russian children’s books growing,” she said. Early 20th-century Russian children’s books are distinguished by their consistently high quality of printing, illustration, and presentation. Plus, they reflect the characteristics of an evolving society.

Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, many of the books displayed lush treatment and robust illustration – a “frills and fantasy” presentation – said Younger, who formerly worked as a librarian and fosters a life-long appreciation for books. After the Revolution, children’s books, much like Russian society of that period, were stark, direct, and more focused on being utilitarian.

Another aspect of collecting to bear in mind is changing trends, Payling said. For example, values of Harry Potter books are not as high today as they were at the peak of Potter-mania.

Collecting children’s books can be rewarding, but like any type of book collecting, it requires a time investment. It pays to learn as much as possible, study market activity, and over and above all, to allow one’s own sense of nostalgia to serve as the primary guide to purchases.


About the experts:

Catherine Payling, MBE, M.A. Oxford University, was born and raised in the United Kingdom. She spent 10 years working in prestigious executive roles in London, and 15 years in Rome, Italy, where she served as curator/director of the Keats House Museum. Catherine has resided in the United States since 2011. She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and is married to Duncan Wu, the Raymond Wagner Professor of Literary Studies at Georgetown. Catherine has a personal collection of books, and she and her husband are lifelong collectors of fine and decorative art.

Helen Younger co-owns Aleph-Bet Books in Pound Ridge, New York, together with her husband, Marc. Her love of books began when she was a child and continued to grow as she traveled through Europe following her high school graduation. She became a professional librarian and, in the mid-1970s, established a book-selling business upon the suggestion of her mother-in-law, who organized estate sales. Helen has been a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America since 1982.