Wanda Gag First Edition Identification
Millions Of Cats; written and Illustrated by Wanda Gág; Coward-McCann, 1928.
1929 Newbery Honor Book
Children’s Picturebook Price Guide Value – $4000 VG+
“In the fall of 1928 a picture book about a gentle peasant who went off in search of a kitten and returned with millions of cats was published. The picture book was something new in the field of children’s literature. And the artist’s name became a household word wherever small children were found.”
— Rose Dobbs, Horn Book Magazine, Nov – Dec 1935.
We concur with Ms. Dobbs, and consider Millions Of Cats the first true picturebook. (For rationale, please see Children’s Picturebook Price Guide, Chapter 1, Today’s Golden Era Of Picturebooks; Development And Evolution of the Picturebook Market; Beginning of the Modern Picturebook.)
Essential Identifying Points – Book:
Copyright page has five lines, as follows:
Copyright 1928, by
Coward McCann, INC.
All rights reserved.
By the Jersey City Printing Co.
Later printings omitted the last line with the Jersey City Printing Co.
The title page ends with three lines as follows:
PUBLISHED IN NEW YORK by
Essential Identifying Points – Dust Jacket
Front and back dust jacket flaps are blank (white).
The back dust jacket is blank on the first printing (yellow).
The back dust jacket on second state copies have a one paragraph biography on Wanda Gág, followed by an endorsement of Millions Of Cats by Rockwell Kent. This is followed by a one paragraph review of the book by Anne Carroll Moore.
A similar back DJ composition was used on both the first printing of Wanda Gág’s The Funny Thing (1929) and Snippy And Snappy (1931). There are a couple of subtle differences. Wanda’s last name is “ Gag ” on the back DJ of the second state Millions Of Cats, whereas it is changed to “ Ga’g ” on the latter two books. Presumably it was not possible to typeset an “ á ” in 1928. Also, Wanda “was born … in a desolate Minnesota village” on the back DJ of Millions Of Cats, while she “was born … in a small Minnesota town” on the back of the latter two. Apparently New Ulm, Minnesota went through an economic transformation from 1928 to 1929, changing from a desolate village into a thriving small town.
The First American Contemporary Picturebook
The historical importance of the book is underappreciated by the general public, however not so within the bibliophile hobby, as the steep market value will attest. The book is still in print today, which is quite remarkable for a children’s picturebook. How many other picturebooks from the 1920’s are still in print today?
Barbara Bader, in her wonderful opus American Picturebooks, from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, also infers that Millions Of Cats is the first true picturebook. In her second chapter, she provides some historical background on illustrated books and books with pictures, while providing insight into the children’s publishing industry leading and into the 1920’s, then ends the chapter with “All that was needed was a star performer and a big hit—Wanda Gág and Millions Of Cats.”
In Bader’s next chapter, titled “Wanda Gág”, she writes:
If one had to sum up Millions of Cats, pictures and text, in a very few words, form and character would suffice. Form and character fused, yielding folk quality much remarked in Gág’s work. Not only did words and pictures reinforce one another, both benefited by the hand-lettered text: “A child will almost feel that he has made the book”.
In 1928, Newbery Medalist Elizabeth Coatworth put it in poet’s terms,
“The text runs like a streamlet around the very old man and the very old woman and their house that had flowers, and through the hills where the old man walked hunting for a cat, and in and among the millions of cats which he finally found.”
We also own the slipcased, limited edition first printing copy, which is signed and numbered, and came with a Wanda Gág etching. The copyright page includes the “Jersey City Printing” line. This edition was not issued with a dust jacket.