Collecting, Identifying, and Valuing First Edition Childrens Books

Describing and Grading the Condition of A Collectible Book

Childrens Picturebook Price Guide The value of a first edition book is extremely dependent upon its condition. The difference in value between a particular first edition book in "Fine" versus "Very Good" condition can be as much as 50%. Because of this, an accurate description of a book's condition is vitally important to collectors and booksellers.

Many bookselling and book collecting associations include a statement in their charter or creed related to providing accurate descriptions of books. Because of this, buying a book from an association, such as an ABAA member, carries a greater degree of confidence.

Due to the importance of condition, a fairly uniform approach toward book grading has been adopted by the book collecting industry. AB Bookman's Weekly, a now defunct book collecting periodical, created and endorsed a set of book grading terms which over the years have come to be accepted as an industry standard.

Most books on book collecting provide good information on how to properly assess the condition of a book - the roots can generally be traced back to AB Bookman's Weekly. The same can be said for the reference material available on many of the book collecting or book association's internet sites, although many do not give due credit to AB Bookman's Weekly.

Commonly Used Book Condition Terminology

The following are grading terms based upon the AB Bookman's Weekly:

Book Grading Condition Guidelines
Condition Description
As New is to be used only when the book is in the same immaculate condition in which it was published. There can be no defects, no missing pages, no library stamps, etc., and the dustjacket (if it was issued with one) must be perfect, without any tears.
Fine approaches the condition of "As New," but without being crisp. For the use of the term "Fine" there must also be no defects, etc., and if it has a small defect, or looks worn, this should be noted.
Very Good can describe a used book that does show some small signs of wear - but no tears - on either binding or paper. Any defects must be noted.
Good describes the average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present. Any defects must be noted.
Fair is a worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title, etc. (which must be noted). Binding, jacket (if any), etc. may also be worn. All defects must be noted.
Poor describes a book that is sufficiently worn; that its only merit is as a 'Reading Copy' because it does have the complete text, which must be legible. Any missing maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.
Ex-library must always be designated as such no matter what the condition of the book.
Book Club must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.
Dustjacket In all cases, the lack of a dustjacket should be noted if the book was issued with one.

Variations Of Terminology

Michael Hague Teddy Bear Virtually all professional bookselling associations and reputable booksellers use the above book grading terminology, most with some minor variation or another. Some practices are becoming more common:

  • It has become a fairly prevalent to denote "As New" as "Mint" - the terms have become nearly synonymous.
  • Many booksellers have adopted a "Near Fine" term to denote books with a single minor defect that keeps it from being "Fine."
  • Many booksellers have adopted a plus or minus sign ('+' or '-' ) to the terms to provide increased granularity to the grading scale.

For instance "VG+" or "VG-." To our knowledge, a standard has not yet been wholly agreed upon within the industry regarding the clear meaning of these gradient descriptions, therefore one should come to know the individual bookseller to understand completely the application to the particular book.

Ex-Library Books

Books that have been circulated in public libraries, "Ex-library" or "Ex-lib" books, as they are generally referred to within the hobby, have very little collectible value, even if they are first editions. These books will often have a library card pocket inside the book, and a card catalog identifier glued to the outside of the dust jacket at the spine. Sometimes the pocket has been removed or the page containing the pocket has been sliced from the book, but in either case the collectibility of the book is not positively affected by the removal.

We will not put forth an estimate as to the value of first edition books with library markings, since they only have value when a buyer (demand-side) can be found. There are very few collectors who pursue "Ex-Lib" first edition books. Because of this, the demand for such books is extremely low, and given such a thin marketplace, it's fruitless to make an extrapolation for the book's marketplace value. First edition ex-library books are not considered collectible within the hobby.

Dust Jackets Required

First edition books without dust jackets, when one was originally issued, have a greatly reduced market value, however they do have some collectible interest. Our experience indicates that the value for a first edition book, without its dust jacket, is about 10%-to-20% of the value of the same book, in similar condition, with the dust jacket intact. Even worn or damaged dust jackets add significant value to first edition picturebooks.

First Edition Books The dust jacket's presence has more importance within the children's picturebook hobby than for book collecting in general. This is because the artwork selected for the dust jacket cover is one of the most important marketing decisions made by the book's creators and publisher. In many cases, the initial retail purchase decision of a picturebook is made entirely due to attractive or interesting cover artwork. The old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover!," does not necessarily apply to children's picturebooks. The same cannot be said for books in general.

The lives of picturebook collectors' are complicated by the fact that many dust jackets of picturebooks are discarded almost immediately upon purchase, since they often interfere with the child opening and reading the book, or are torn asunder through the enthusiastic enjoyment of the book by the child. This general trend only increases the value of the first edition books with intact dust jackets, since the existing supply-side quantity is diminished.

In many instances, the dust jackets serve to fully identify the book as a genuine first edition. This is especially true on Dr. Seuss books and other Random House offerings, but is also true of other picturebooks. The dust jacket often has the price on the top right or bottom right of the front flap, information which could be vital to identification as a true first edition. Sometimes the front or back flap might contain a listing of previously published titles by the author or illustrator that are essential to proper identification as a true first edition book.

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


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