Ranking The Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks

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.

A Cornerstone For Collectibility

This series was not about selecting the most valuable or the scarcest, but instead the most collectible American picturebooks. To that end, the first article in the series began with a recap of the Factors Affecting Collectibility for a first edition children's picturebook:

"Note the key factors that impact the collectibility of the books. Each is a high quality story with imaginative or inventive illustrations, therefore the reading public has recurrently purchased the books for decades. Because of this, the books have stayed in print since their original publication and gone into many, many printings. Many of the books have earned a children’s picturebook award, while many of the illustrators have won numerous awards. All of the illustrators have high esteem within the book publishing market place. Many of the book’s characters became franchise characters, where one or more sequels were published, and line extensions have been made into other consumer product areas (i.e. toys, games, dolls, costumes, decorations, etc…). Lastly, many of the books or characters have crossed over into pop culture, either via a TV or feature film adaptation."

The eight major factors contributing to a picturebook's collectibility were reviewed, a rating scaled was introduced, then the journey commenced: selecting the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks. The journey meandered through a "partially logical" selection process, rationales for various books were presented, scarcity discussed, and values assessed. And now fully equiped, the journey turns toward the final stretch, rating the collectibility of the Top 100.

First Edition Cat In The Hat Using an 'A'-to-'Z' rating scale, with 'A' being the most collectible, and confident knowing that every journey into the unknown has to begin somewhere, I began by giving a 'D' to the collectibility of each Caldecott Medal book. I have some familiarity with this somewhere, since it is the same somewhere I used in rating the collectibility of the 23,000 books listed in the Children's Picturebook Price Guide. Setting Caldecott Medal books as the cornerstone for the ratings makes logical sense since their collectibility is relatively well understood.

If the Caldecott Medal book had other factors going for it, such as an exemplary author or illustrator, then the rating could be nudged up a bit. Each of the Caldecott Medal books in the Top 100 list was nudged to and fro, thereby providing a reference point for the assessments for the other books in the list. A cornerstone was established.

Using this relative reference, each Dr. Seuss book was initially rated a notch higher, since, at this stage in the maturation of the hobby, the first editions tend to have a higher demand than Caldecott Medal books. With 'C' as the basis, the first edition Dr. Seuss books were nudged to and fro accordingly.

Once the Caldecott's and Seuss's were studiously rated and nudged, the rest of the Top 100 was similarly fashioned. Over the course of many months the 'to and fro' process was repeated, re-repeated, and re-re-repeated, repeatedly. Eventually the process came to a satifactory landing point, and the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks found their humble little Plymouth Rock.

The process, above, is outlined for the reader to understand that plenty of thought was placed into rating a book's collectiblity. But it was fun. Serious fun.

Collecting first edition children's picturebooks should be fun. But spending hard-earned cash money is serious business, and every collector wants their dollar stretched into the most effective purchasing instrument. It is unwise to do otherwise. Understanding the relative collectibility of a book, the factors which impact it, and having some knowledge for the relative scarcity of the book, are critical to assessing the book's value in the market place. Book collectors cannot simply rely on the booksellers' mechanism of assessing comparables to establish market price.  This mechanism is not reliable for collectible children's picturebooks. More on this in the conclusion to the series.

Nudged Fro and To The Top

First Edition Cat In The Hat Two books nudged all the way to the top of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, receiving an 'A' for Collectibility. Not surprisingly, the Cat In The Hat tops the list as the most collectible American picturebook, with Where The Wild Things Are second. It was a landslide victory. Long ago, both books crossed over into the radar of general booksellers - the first editions are not confined to only children's bookselling specialists. If a mythical general book collector asked my advice on the two picturebooks to add to their collection, these would be the two.

From a collectible perspective, the Cat In The Hat has it all, plus some. A great story, a highly collectible award-winning illustrator, by a highly collectible award-winning author, the start of a publishing franchise, and firmly planted in American pop culture lore (in spite of a horrendous feature film adaptation). And not just in America; the Cat In The Hat is recognizable by hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions, across the globe.

In addition the Cat In The Hat caused a societal change - the publication of the book changed the way children learn to read in America! This was not a planned change scripted by educators - it was a grass roots change resisted for years by public school administration. Only grudgingly did the grade school primers make way in the classroom for the Cat In The Hat and his Beginner Book kin. Because it changed the world - really changed the world! - the collectibility of the Cat In The Hat is greatly enhanced.

Where The Wild Things Are is another great story from a highly collectible award winning illustrator, written by a highly collectible author, garnered the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for its illustrations, and is part of American pop culture (like Cat In The Hat, it survived the notoriety of a horrendous feature film adaptation). Initially disdained by parents for its dark undertones, Where The Wild Things Are was and is embraced by children.

The book made Maurice Sendak. Yes, he was successful prior to Where The Wild Things Are, having garnered several Caldecott Honor awards, but Sendak was known for his illustrations of other authors' work, notably the Little Bear franchise books and the Ruth Krauss books. After the Caldecott was awarded for Where The Wild Things Are, Sendak had creative equity within the publishing industry to do what he wanted to do. Which he did, obstinately, as the controversial nude illustrations in In The Night Kitchen will attest.

The following orders the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks by Collectibility, and includes the book's Scarcity, along with the ratings in the 'factors affecting Collectibility' discussed earlier in the series. The market price provided is for the first edition book with the corresponding first edition dust jacket, both in Very Good or VG+ condition. .

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
Collectibility Group A + B, Sorted Chronologically

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

Twelve books were given a Collectibility rating of 'B', just a notch below the top pair (in the table, above and below, those with an equivalent rating are sorted chronologically). Savvy readers should be able to build the rationale for the rating for each of these twelve first edition books.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Polar Express nearly made the 'A' Collectible rating. Both books did the 'to and fro' between 'A' and 'B' a number of times. Each book earns high marks along all the factors affecting collectibility, with highly credentialed authors, illustrators, and are waaaaay big on the pop culture scale. But the deciding factor, at least for me, is the slight nudge fro due to the holiday seasonality as compared to Cat In The Hat and Where The Wild Things Are.

The only other book I considered for the top Collectibility rating is Green Eggs And Ham, since it is the bestselling Dr. Seuss book, with over 30 million copies sold. It doesn't quite have the pop culture panache, but this could be too harsh a opinion, since the other factors overwhelmingly sway in the book's favor. Either way, the first edition is highly collectible, and Green Eggs is the third book I would recommend to the mythical general book collector.

The other books were squarely in the 'B's, while Make Way For Ducklings, for a short time at least, was in consideration of an 'C' for overall collectibility. While the story, copies sold, illustrator, author, and Caldecott Medal weigh heavily in its favor, it too lacks a big pop culture punch, which impacts the demand for the first edition. Pop culture popularity brings a character, story, or book to the front-of-mind of millions of people. A small percentage of these people might develop a hankering for a first edition copy (the exact definition for "hankering", an archaic technical bookselling term, is beyond the scope of this article).

Of the fourteen books in the top two Collectibility categories, the collective hankering for a first edition Make Way For Ducklings seems relatively weaker than the rest. Make Way For Ducklings is one of the scarcest picturebooks around, and is required for a collector or institution to complete their collection of first edition Caldecott Medal books. This supports the high valuation. If the story crosses over into pop culture in a big way (i.e. feature film), then its Collectibility will be enhanced.

'C' a Dozen Dr. Seuss Books

Twenty-three books were rated a Collectibility of 'C', with an average value of $3,083, including twelve first edition Dr. Seuss books. This should not be too surprising. In an earlier article, sixteen first edition Dr. Seuss books made the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks. Thus far in today's article, the Cat In The Hat was assessed the top spot, and three of Geisel's books were rated a 'B' for Collectibility. That leaves twelve Seuss books remaining, and "Voilà!"

Four Caldecott Medal books nudged up into this category: Animals Of The Bible, Little House, Jumanji, and Tuesday. While not notoriously famous among the general population, Animals Of The Bible earned the high Collectibility rating due to winning the first Caldecott Medal, and is therefore a landmark for collectors of such books. Demand for first edition copies remains consistent. In retrospect, because of its subject matter, Animals Of The Bible is nearly a nostalgic curio - doubtful the American Library Association would select a Christian themed children's book in today's environment of religious neutrality. Ironically, since a library association bestowed the award upon the book, one could anticipate a time in the future where elementary school librarians quit stocking the book.

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
Collectibility Group C, Sorted Chronologically

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

'D' Is For Difficult Assessing

First Edition Caldecott Medal Thirty-one books were given a Collectibility of 'D', see below, with an average value of $766, including fourteen first edition Caldecott Medal books. Five Caldecott Honor books nudged up into this category. That's quite a nudge for a first edition Caldecott Honor book to be considered collectibly on par with a Caldecott Medal book.

Looking at the list of five, Blueberries For Sal, Journey Cake, Ho!, A Very Special House, Strega Nona, and Garden Of Abdul Gasazi, one can see these are a special group of books. The two Robert McCloskey books are scarce, and all his books are quite collectible since he won two other Caldecott Medal awards. A Very Special House is an early Maurice Sendak book written by Ruth Krauss, a highly collectible author. Garden Of Abdul Gasazi is Chris Van Allsburg's first book, garnering the illustrious Honor award - of course his second book, Jumanji, won the Caldecott Medal. And lastly, first editions of Strega Nona, the first in a franchise, are scarce.

Several scarce first edition books are in this category, including Little Toot, Katy And The Big Snow, The Carrot Seed, Journey Cake, Ho!, and Marcia Brown's Cinderella, each with a Scarcity rating of '9'. Since there is little market data to rely upon I was conservative in valuing these books; potentially they could be valued much higher. Pat The Bunny and Runaway Bunny are also difficult to value.

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
Collectibility Group D, Sorted Chronologically

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

The 'E'nd

Thirty-two books were given a Collectibility of 'E' with an average value of $538. Staying with the same theme used throughout this series, the twelve Little Golden Books are kept together as one group, although if assessed individually, Poky Little Puppy would be in category 'C', and Three Little Kittens would be in category 'D'. Their value reflects the higher demand for the first editions over the other LGB's in the group.

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
Collectibility Group E, Sorted Chronologically

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

First Edition Cat In The Hat Two of the Beginner Books, Put Me In The Zoo and Are You My Mother?, were issued in 1960 synchronously with Green Eggs And Ham, the three books marketed as the first Beginning Beginner Books (See photo to the right, with advertisement proclaiming "For BEGINNING Beginners"). Green Eggs targeted early readers with a reading level ready for 50 words, while the later two targeted early readers with a 100 word vocabulary. The success of these three titles eventually led to the creation of Random House's Bright & Early Books in 1967.

First editions of all three books will have Beginner Books as the publisher, with Random House as the distributor, on both the copyright page of the book and the dust jacket. See the top photo on the right.

In 1960, at the time of their initial publication, Beginner Books was bought by Random House, and become a Division of the parent company. Later that year, the dust jacket was changed to reflect published by "Beginner Books, a Division of Random House", as in the bottom phot on the right. 

Even though the DJ was changed to reflect the change in ownership, the copyright page of the book still reflected the original issue. One could assume the books remaining from the initial print run were given new dust jackets. Therefore the first issue book WITH the first issue dust jacket is available in lower numbers than the publisher originally planned.

Collectibility & Scarcity, the Final Values

Any thoughtful bookseller or book collector would assume increasing collectibility would result in increasing value, other things being equal. Similarly, they would assume increasing scarcity would result in increasing value, other things being equal. I cannot guarantee 'other things being equal', only that the following table summarizes the value of first edition American picturebooks, in Very Good condition, along the lines of collectibility and scarcity.

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books

While there are some slight discrepancies in the relationship of increasing value with increasing collectibility and increasing scarcity, by and large the table validates the assumptions. Whew!

The next article will bring the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks series to a close.





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


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