Top 100 Picturebooks - Scarcity

Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks - Overview

A series of articles to select the Top 100 Collectible Children’s Picturebooks, providing the rationale for each books' inclusion, with an objective of providing readers with the context for valuing first editions within the genre.

Within the hobby value is a combination of scarcity and collectibility: very scarce and very desirable lead to very valuable. Scarcity is a function of the number of copies in the first printings and the subsequent attrition over time due to natural causes. Collectibility is more elusive, outlined heretofore as a complex intermingling of eight rated factors.

The Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, Redux

In the previous article I completed the selection of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, and a list was provided with the books grouped along the selection strategies.

The following lists the Top 100 books in chronological order, includes the ratings for the factors, a single line summary of the rationale for the book’s selection, along with the estimated market price. The market price is for the first edition book with the corresponding first edition dust jacket, both in Very Good or VG+ condition.

To assist with printing the list has been split into two parts.

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
Sorted Chronologically

Part A, 50 Books
To view the list in high resolution, click on the graphic, below.
Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

Part B, 50 Books
To view the list in high resolution, click on the graphic, below.
Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

In a later article I will provide the list sorted by market value, along with some summary statistics related to illustrator, author and such. Today's topic is scarcity.

The Precarious Balance: Scarcity and Demand for First Edition Picturebooks

First Edition Caldecott MedalAs most experienced book collectors and booksellers know, the scarcity of a book has a major impact on its value in the market. Scarcity in and of itself does not drive value, but instead value results from a combination of scarcity and demand. For books, the supply-versus-demand equation is synonomous with the scarcity-versus-collectibility equation. Scarcity represents the collective supply for the first edition book, while collectibility is the collective demand.

There are two different aspects of scarcity to be considered:

  1. The existence of all first edition copies, inclusive of private & public collections; and
  2. Only consider those first edition copies which are on the market.

While the latter is of the utmost concern to the book collector and the bookseller when pricing a book within the current market, the former must be considered, if only slightly, when making a collectible book purchase with investment concerns. Since most librarians currently do not know how to correctly identify first editions of contemporary American picturebooks, it is problematic to query libraries/institutions using Worldcat to understand the population statistics for such books. Still, keep this in mind as the hobby matures. Eventually, libraries will house first edition collections of Caldecott Medal books, Seuss books, and the like, so querying Worldcat while not be as futile.

Regarding #2, above, I performed a rudimentary search for first editions of each of the Top 100, using Via Libri and ABEbooks, to get an estimate of how many were currently on the market. These searches occurred in Jan/Feb of 2011. In addition to getting an estimated count of the first editions on the market, it also allowed me to check the prices of books against the values I assessed is this series of articles.

When valuing the 23,000 books for Children's Picturebook Price Guide, I used a 10-to-1 scale in the database to rate a book's scarcity, with 10 being the most scarce, and 1 being the most common. I used a similar rating scale for the scarcity of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks. The following table provides the definition for each of the scarcity ratings for books in the Top 100:

Scarcity
Rating
Editorial Description
For First Edition American Picturebooks
10 A first edition copy is not usually on the market - surfaces less frequently than once per year. Demand for first edition copies far exceeds supply, therefore prospective buyers cannot be very selective about price or condition. Very few comparables so booksellers have leverage to set price.
9 A first edition copy is not usually on the market - surfaces once or twice per year. Demand for first edition copies far exceeds supply, therefore prospective buyers cannot be very selective about price, and only somewhat regarding condition. Just a few comparables, so booksellers have leverage to set price.
8 A few first edition copies are usually on the market. Prospective buyers can be selective about price and condition, even though demand for first editions exceeds supply. Still a "seller's market", however comparables are readily available, so booksellers have to be price/condition competitive.
7 Several first edition copies are usually on the market. Comparables are readily available, so booksellers are price/condition competitive. Nearly a healthy marketplace. Demand exceeds supply, therefore more prospective buyers than booksellers. Booksellers still have more market leverage than book buyers.
6 First edition copies are uncommon, although there are many copies usually on the market. Booksellers are price/condition competitive. A healthy marketplace, with a good balance of buyers and booksellers: an equilibrium between copies being bought by collectors (and taken off the market) and 'new' first editions being offered.
Note: This scarcity rating table is specific to first edition American picturebooks. Readers might apply this or a similar scarcity rating method to other genres. I don't know other genres sufficiently to know whether this method applies, or not, therefore apply delicately, and at your own risk.

The Scarcity ratings I give to books is not based upon the results of a rudimentary book search of the current market place. Rather the Scarcity rating is based upon my twenty years of collecting experience:

  • Looking for books for years in all sorts of nook and crannies in book stores across the country
  • Searching through catalog upon catalog from numerous childrens book specialists
  • Oodles and gobs of daily, weekly, and monthly internet searches
  • Searching through auction upon auction of reputable auction house book sales.

The reader should recognize the current era is early in the evolution of the picturebook collecting hobby, so the general public, the general bookseller, and the general book collector do not yet know of the substantial value of first edition American picturebooks. The substantial value is not generally accepted knowledge. This helps to explain the relative dearth of first editions on the market. And this also explains why first edition Dr. Seuss books ARE available in relatively good numbers - general booksellers and general book collectors KNOW they have value, therefore have radar on for  'first edition Dr. Seuss' when they are scouting for books.

As the hobby matures and more people become aware, forgotten things in attics will be remembered and found, surfacing first editions to the market. This dynamic will continue for years and years to come. Book collectors will enter the hobby; libraries and institutions will build collections; booksellers will become aware, and first edition picturebooks will be traded. In twenty years, we will have an improved  perspective on what is scarce and what is not. Until then, well ...

Scarcity, Obtaining & Unobtanium

Many people think money can buy everything. I'm here to tell you it can't.

True enough, money could obtain Unobtanium, the mysterious metal in James Cameron's mythical world of Avatar, the movie. But money cannot buy true unobtanium - books which are not offered for sale in the market place.

The estimated market value of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks is $237,000 in very good condition. Unfortunately, if you have the good fortune to have $237,000 to spend on the Top 100, you would not be able to amass a complete collection, since thirty-two of the books are not currently being offered for sale. Thirty-two of the Top 100 are not currently offered for sale! Thirty-two pieces of unobtanium.

The following is the list of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks ranked by Scarcity, with 10 being the most scarce. The list is sorted from most scarce to least scarce, and chronologically within each rating (i.e. the six '10s' are sorted chronologically). Also included is a one-line Comment of the book's scarcity.

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
Ranking The Scarcity

Part A, 50 Books
To view the list in high resolution, click on the graphic, below.
Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

Part B, 50 Books
To view the list in high resolution, click on the graphic, below.
Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

Granted, money cannot buy everything, but it can buy books. If a good book scout were commissioned to purchase each of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, I think within a year, through hard work and diligent pursuit of leads, they would be able to acquire most of the books on the list, even the unobtanium ones. Most.

I think the imaginary book scout would have to get lucky to uncover a first edition Curious George or Goodnight, Moon for sale. Also Eric Carle's the Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? would be difficult gets; not because the two are so rare, it's just that market prices are currently too low to bubble first edition copies to the surface. I think some supply exists for both books. I think.

The imaginary book scout would be busy finding each of the Top 100, and especially so the Unobtanium 32. It is likely that $237,000 would not be sufficient to purchase the complete collection, since many of the books are priced in a seller's market (see the table, above). When there are no or few competitive & comparable books on the market, the bookseller holds the keys to the kingdom. When this is the case, the price can be unpredictably steep to enter the castle.

Do I think the Unobtanium 32 and other contemporary American picturebooks are so very scarce? No, I don't. It's ridiculous to think that first editions of David Wiesner's 1993 Caldecott winning Tuesday are scarce. The fact that none were offered for sale at the time I did the search could be a quirk of timing. Or maybe booksellers have the book in stock and just haven't listed it yet. Or more likely, some people have a first edition copy they are willing to sell, they simply don't like the current price they have to sell it at. The booksellers need enticement. At some point, prices will increase - Enticement, enticement! - and the supply will emerge.

Scarcity Ratings and Assessed Value

Reiterating an earlier point, most experienced book collectors and booksellers know the scarcity of a book has a major impact on its value in the market.  The following table summarizes the average value of the books within each Scarcity rating.

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

As one would expect, the six first edition books with a Scarcity rating of '10' have the highest average value at $10,833 per book. The twenty-three with a '9' have the second highest average value of $2,591 per book.

There looks to be a relationship between scarcity and value. Please note that this is for a sample of 100 books of similar form and function - first edition collectible American picturebooks. The scarcity-vs-value relationship cannot be extrapolated to books outside of narrow definition of book population. For example, one could not conclude that a children's chapter book with the relative scarcity of '8' would have a valuation predicted from the above table - the children's chapter book would have an entirely different valuation method.

Scarcity, The 10's & 9's

Some comments on the scarcity ratings:

  • Six picturebooks were given a scarcity rating of '10', meaning the first edition book is not normally on the market and only comes up for sale every couple of years. Each of these is very, very difficult to acquire. Only two of the six picturebooks are currently on the market. Good luck acquiring these for your children's book collection.

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

  • Twenty-three books were given a scarcity rating of '9', meaning a first edition copy is not usually on the market and surfaces only once or twice per year. Several of these books might be more scarce than I believe so could migrate into the 'most scarce' category. Books to consider include Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel, Katy And The Big Snow, Little Toot, The Carrot Seed, and Journey Cake, Ho!.

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

  • Readers might be surprised to see The Little Engine That Could on the list. For years, it was thought the first edition point is the listing of titles on the front free endpaper of the book, with eight titles ending with TLETC. This was found to be incorrect, as this book was discovered on four different issues of the dust jacket. In my twenty years of collecting picturebooks I have seen only two true first edition, with blank DJ flaps and advertising 'BEAUTIFUL ONE DOLLAR BOOKS FOR CHILDREN' on the back dust jacket. Time will tell if the scarcity should be a '10'.
  • Millions of Cats is another book where the accepted identification point, with 'By the Jersey City Printing Co' on the title page, was found to be incorrect. This same book has been found on three different issues of the dust jacket. The true first edition has a blank back dust jacket.
  • As I mentioned above, the two Eric Carle illustrated books, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and the Very Hungry Caterpillar are very difficult to find in first edition, especially for books of moderately recent vintage.
  • Shel Silverstein's beloved classic The Giving Tree is very difficult to find in first edition, again especially for a book of moderately recent vintage. The dust jacket price IS required to identify the true first printing ($2.50 on front flap)

The next article in the series will provide various perspectives on the value of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks.





© Stan Zielinski
A serious collector having fun with fun books.


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