Collecting children's books

We are all children at heart and at this time of year what better way to give in to the child inside than dust off those books that gave us endless hours of pleasure in our early years. From the fantastic tales to the beautiful illustrations children’s books are a wonderful thing to collect as they open the door to our imagination, remind us of a care free time in our life and can be the instant connection between generations.

There are many reasons to collect children's books whether it’s for the amusing story line, the charming illustrations or the fact that they catapult back to childhood memories. Any one of these may lead to the purchase of a book which rises in value and can be seen as an investment.

First and foremost - collect something that gives you enjoyment because that way, even if the books don't go up in value, at least you will have derived pleasure from your hobby! Maybe the soft humour of the Winnie-The Pooh books, the hijinks of the schoolboy characters such as Billy Bunter. Maybe the beautiful colour illustrations of artists such as Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham or Kay Nielsen appeal to you. Perhaps you prefer the fantasy worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien or Frank L. Baum's Wizard of Oz. And of course let’s not forget the world war two exploits of Biggles or the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Whatever your taste there is something for everyone in the world of children's books.

Book collectors like First Editions of an author's first book or the first book illustrated by a particular artist. In some instances the first appearances of fictional characters were not in books but in magazines or newspapers. For example, Biggles first appeared in the short story "The White Fokker", published in April 1932 in the aviation magazine Popular Flyer edited by W.E. Johns; Just William stories were first serialised in Home magazine, followed by Happy Mag; and Rupert Bear first appeared as a cartoon strip in the Daily Express newspaper in 1920. Ephemeral items such as those mentioned above are especially sought after as, being so fragile, they rarely survived. 

While first editions are particularly desirable in the collecting world, all books have first editions and the first edition of many, many books remains worthless. An outstanding example of this contrast is in the Harry Potter books of J.K. Rowling. Her first book, Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone, had a print run of just 500 copies and many of these were distributed to libraries. This first printing is now valued between £15,000 and £25,000 while a first printing of the last in the series, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, can be purchased for just a few pounds and will probably never increase in value as the print run was so large. 

Condition is everything, Are the books from your childhood packed away in boxes in the basement or the attic? Humble children's books from years past can be immensely valuable, but only if they are the right edition in the right condition. Youngsters can love a book too much, reading it again and again, which results in extreme wear and tear. Crayon or pen markings, and torn or lost dust jackets will all bring down the value of a book.

Whatever you decide to collect for investment, purchase the best condition copy you can afford. A book worth £1500 in fine condition will only be worth £50 in poor condition and only then if it is a particularly collectable book. Also, bear in mind that a poor condition book will not be so attractive to a purchaser when you wish to sell it on. 

The presence of the original dust wrapper can dramatically increase the value of many children's books. Some examples: the 1881 1st edition of A Day In A Child's Life by Kate Greenaway will be priced at around £100, but with its scarce original dust wrapper the value is increased to around £300. The first Rupert Bear annual, The New Adventures of Rupert, published in 1936, will cost you around £500-£600 unjacketed, but with its original pictorial wrapper will be priced between £1000 and £3000 depending on the condition of the wrapper. A note of caution, beware of "facsimile" or photocopy dust wrappers, these may make a book look good on the shelf but add very little to the value.

Books signed by the author or illustrator are generally more valuable and especially if the book is a limited edition copy or private printing. For instance, a first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, originally priced at one shilling (5 pence today) is valued now at around £5000. The privately printed edition of only 250 copies is worth £50,000 while the second privately printed edition of a further 200 copies is valued at £25,000, a significant return on investment by anyones standards! 

Be prepared to invest over a long period, at least five years and possibly twenty. All of the books mentioned in this article have increased in value over the years and likely will continue to do so, and there are numerous others to look out for. This is where the fun begins, who will be the Arthur Rackham, J.R.R. Tolkien, or Phillip Pullman of the future?

So this Christmas why not dig out a classic copy of a book you once loved, a tale that transported you to far flung lands or promised adventures more exciting than you could ever begin to imagine. Share your memory, share your adventure and give a gift that will offer a world of adventure to the next reader whatever their age! But above all buy the books because you love them, be selective as to edition and condition and the chances are you will, over time, create a library of tales that can be loved by anyone aged from 8 to 80!

Posted on 2 July 2019 in: Auction life

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