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.
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.
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
As 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
The next article in the series will provide various perspectives on the value of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks.
© Stan Zielinski
© Stan Zielinski. Author of the Children's Picturebook Price Guide
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