From a collecting perspective, first edition children’s picturebooks are under appreciated by the general population, in part due to the familiarity of the books—“I used to read that when I was a child!”—which propagates the notion the books are common collectibles. The books are common, the first editions are not.
Still, the market prices of first edition picturebooks remain modest. Because of this, the hobby is reasonably inexpensive to practice. The price of ‘buyer’s remorse’ is not too costly—the consolation is owning a nicely illustrated first edition picturebook. Another positive aspect to this ‘general under appreciation’, is inexpensive first edition picturebooks can still be found, idled, on bookseller’s shelves across the country.
The collectible picturebook market is very demand oriented--value and collectibility of a book is determined foremost by the number of people exposed to the book, and the deep interest of a portion who will want to own a first edition copy. Vast numbers of adults were exposed to picturebooks as children; in the U.S., we have a collective conscious around books that helped us learn how to read.
Because of this, the hobby of collecting children’s picturebooks is highly accessible, and does not require years of personal research to come to an understanding of a book’s beauty, collectibility, and value. Most of us have already undertaken years and years of personal research, during our elementary school years and younger. We learned to read through picturebooks, which transformed us, to then read to learn.
Rarity, in and of itself, will not drive value. Popularity and demand will.
The value of any collectible item is an economic balance between the supply and demand within the hobby. The supply depends upon the original production quantity, less the number damaged or discarded over time.
The demand for the collectible is impacted by different criteria, factors particular to the item in question. Since the supply side of any collectible is fixed after its production, then the heaviest impact on the appreciation of a collectible over time are the factors which impact demand.
Every collecting hobby has some key factors that determine an item’s collectibility and value. For example, with comic books, a hobby with a highly established valuation method, value is determined by the comic’s title, the characters involved, the writer & artist, the story, whether it introduces new characters, the publisher, the age or era, the supply, and the condition of the book. All of these items affect the collecting population’s demand for the particular issue, which in turn, determines the comic book’s price within the market.
Similar factors could be enumerated for coins, stamps, baseball cards, Disneyana material, and Pez dispensers. So, similar to any collecting hobby, illustrated children’s picturebooks have several key factors that determine their collectibility and value.
Before discussing the key factors to collectible children’s picturebooks, we should pause to consider the prerequisites for a book to have any collectibility or value. In the case of illustrated children’s picturebooks, the prerequisites are no different then of book collecting in general: a book’s identification as a true first edition and the condition of the book.
As you become increasingly involved in book collecting, it will become vital that you are able to assess and identify contemporary first editions from most major publishing houses. To get started in this endeavor, refer to the web page Identifying First Editions for information on identifying first editions from some popular children’s book publishers.
Similarly, as your interest in the hobby grows, it is important that you understand how to assess or grade a book’s condition. Book Grading provides information about generally accepted book condition guidelines.
One could argue that the two prerequisites, first edition identification and a book’s condition, should be included as the most important key factors affecting a book’s collectibility and value. If this argument sets you at ease, then fine, for it matters not how one categorizes the influences on a book’s collectibility and value, just so we agree upon some common understanding of the influences.
The collectible contemporary children's book market is evolving and maturing, although the hobby has not yet reached adolescence. The factors that affect a book's value and collectibility are not solidified within the hobby. The current state is Caldecott and Seuss-centric, synchronous with 'mainstream' collectible books, in that every bookseller KNOWS they have value. However I believe the hobby will mature into something significantly different.
With this in mind, we've identified six factors which affect the collectibility and value of a contemporary children's picturebook. The six factors are a starting point for dialogue within the hobby, which will create some controversy and discourse. Over time, this collaborative tension will lead to evaluation and evolution of the factors generally accepted to affect a book's value and collectibility. Eventually these factors will become solidified within the hobby.
The six factors are intimately connected, so it is difficult to individually describe one without intermingling the description with the other factors. One factor will invariably impact other factors. Not one to retreat from a challenge, we will try nonetheless.
The astute collector can leverage this period of development by focusing on books not yet held in high regard within the collectible picturebook market. Develop your list of factors currently under weighted in the market, and target those books (with personal aesthetic appeal, of course).
Stan Zielinski, author of the Children's Picturebook Price Guide, is a serious collector having fun with fun books.
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