“These are old, valuable children’s books,” people will frequently tell me, handing off a box of children’s books which are at least old. I suppose it’s just the way a person thinks. “This third grade math textbook is from 1854! And look how beat-up it is! It must be old and valuable!”
The fact is that there aren’t so very many grade school math textbooks which are now valuable, no matter how old they get.
Then there are the people who drop off a garbage bag which is starting to break where the corners of the books are poking through. “Whew! Glad this bag made it!” the donor tells me. “It’s just a bunch of old kids’ books my dad had.” Unless I have time to look at them then and there, the chance that some fifty dollar books will be sorted into the Children’s section and priced at a dollar before I get there runs high.
So how DO you tell a high-priced children’s book from the usual kind? You go by some of the same rules as adult books. Does it smell of mold? Is it signed? Did someone have a special conservation case built for it? (This was my only clue once to a third grade math book which I NEARLY sold for five hundred dollars.)
Some rules are the same for adult and children’s books, but are more important in the juvenile category. Does it have a dust jacket, for example?
A lot of books have been published WITHOUT dust jackets, and for those this is irrelevant. But any hardcover book which was issued with a dust jacket is going to be worth a little more WITH the jacket. A lot of people don’t like dust jackets, and for many years it was felt to be more fashionable to have hardcover books without jackets on your shelves. This is one reason The Great Gatsby is worth, oh, nine or ten times as much with the jacket still intact.
But for some adults and most children, that jacket is just a nuisance. It’s the first thing that gets thrown away, so we can read our book without that jacket wrinkling or sampling under our grubby hands. For this reason, any children’s book more than, say, sixty years old, that still has its jacket, is worth a bit more. (It may turn a one dollar book into a two dollar book, of course, but it can also turn a fifty dollar book into a five hundred dollar book. There’s more to it than JUST the jacket.)
Is there any extra illustration? We loved to make our books our own by grabbing our crayons and making Christopher Robin’s coat orange, and coloring Piglet red. This artistic expression, alas, lowers the price of the book, especially if the young reader was one of those who just scrawled scribbles and squiggles all over random pages. A name in the front, no matter how crudely done, is not so bad, especially if the person included something like “My Birthday, 1923”, which will help you make sure of the book’s date. (And remind me to tell you some time about that book where a small girl had laboriously copied her name—Frances Ethel Gumm—just inside.)
Are parts of the book supposed to be movable? Do they still move? Anything extra made the book more interesting but how that interest played out makes a big difference. Pop-up books in which the pop-ups are torn aren’t as valuable; books which included punch-out toys at the back are missing value if the toy is also missing. Some of the rarest Little Golden Books are the ones the child was instructed to cut up: any copy where the scissors came nowhere near the pages are of extra value. The same goes for those little books which included a brand name giveaway: a copy of Dr. Dan the Band-Aid Man which still has its Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages, or the one where Little Lulu (of the Saturday Evening Post) showed you how to do magic tricks with Kleenex (of Kimberley-Clark) if it still has its little package of facial tissue are premium items.
In all of these cases, age DOES also play a part. A book which has kept its original dust jacket intact since 1923 is more impressive than one which has stayed in place since 1967. A Slottie Book which still has its punch out and put together toy intact from 1947 is worth something, but not a tenth of one percent of what a Wizard of Oz Waddle Book from 1934 is if it still has all the build-it-yourself fun which came with THAT.
Of course, the Wizard of Oz worked some magic on the price. I can’t tell you ALL the secrets in one blog.