Mar 112011

Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks –

A series of articles to select the Top 100 Collectible American 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.

Myopia, Objectivity & Self-Serving Interests

The list of Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks is my myopic perspective and not intended to be definitive, instead purposed as a vehicle for learning. Hopefully the vehicle fulfilled its purpose.

I am equally hopeful the reader has confidence in the objectivity of the books selected. While one cannot be entirely objective when rating subjective criteria, one can be entirely objective with motive for personal gain. Admittedly myopic, the Top 100 is not self-serving – I did not promote books which I own nor demote books I do not. Similarly I did not inflate or deflate the estimated market prices for first edition picturebooks I own or do not.

Of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, after twenty years of collecting more than 4,000 first edition picturebooks, I have sixty-four of the chosen ones in my collection. It is doubtful I will ever attain first edition copies of every book on the list. Sigh … Simply put, I don’t have the resources available to purchase the high dollar books, and the days are long gone of finding loose books in the wilds of eBay. At today’s estimated market prices, it would cost between $184,000-to-$240,000 to purchase every book on the list in at least VG/VG condition.

Money can’t buy what it can’t find.

Since one-third of the books are not currently offered for sale, it would take some level of perseverence to acquire each book on the list. Bless the ones who try, may their treasure hunting lead to good fortune. If someone engages a book scout to acquire the books, please – PLEASE! – provide me with a running account of the results.

Wading Into The Tide

From the introduction to this series of articles: First Edition Dr. Seuss

“[…] it is important to understand that booksellers make pricing decisions, while book buyers make valuing decisions.

Booksellers make pricing decisions based primarily upon the asking prices for comparable books currently in the market, sometimes research the history of comparable books sold, mixed with their experience associated with the book’s particulars (i.e. author, illustrator, genre, and so forth). While this is an oversimplified synopsis, suffice it to say pricing a book is more art than science. Buyers of collectible books are aware of ‘the art of pricing’, therefore understand the why’s and wherefore’s for a particular book’s offering price.

Obviously it is easy to assess whether the price is a fair price relative to comparable books on the market. But is it a good value? Since buyers of collectible books have limited resources – money – they must deploy it effectively. Effective purchase decisions are based upon more than whether a book is fairly priced relative to comparables, and instead weigh this price against the value of the book in the context of other elements. To help readers establish their own context, this series of articles will develop the list of Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks and explain the rationale for each book’s inclusion. After the list is completed, the reader should have a good understanding for the context I use to classify most first edition picturebooks. “

If the reader remembers only one thing from this series of articles, it is important to understand that booksellers make pricing decisions, while book buyers make valuing decisions. Related to this, from the previous article in the series:

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.

A future article will analyze the current pricing methods for first edition collectible American picturebooks. While most readers have some familiarity with book pricing in today’s market places, suffice it to say, the market for collectible children’s books is thinly traded, with little transparency and with just a sliver of historical data, vulnerable to manipulation, and dominated by market makers with vested interests in the outcomes. NASDAQ it is not. This is not to say the current system is crooked or cronyistic, just slanted a bit.

When a bookseller makes a pricing decision it is for the here and now. Book buyers must not only weigh this ‘here and now price’ against the book’s fair market price in the here and now, but also weigh the potential future price of the book in the there and when. If the current offering is by-passed, then what might the price be in some future hence? While this question smacks of appreciation, depreciation, and – OH MY GOSH! – investment considerations, it is what it is. Regardless if there is a yearning passion for ownership of a book which trancends the mere mortal boundaries of our current frail physical form, for humans with monetary constraints, an investment-type mindset must be employed when making purchase decisions regarding first edition collectible picturebooks.

This is not to say that first edition collectible picturebooks are good investments. This would be imprudent to say for the sake of personal liability. To be clear, I am not saying that first edition c
ollectible picturebooks are good investments.

Instead, I am suggesting that book buyers must assess the current market price of a book, against the potential future value of the book, in order to efficiently expend their limited  precious resource, which is cold hard cash. One aspect of this assessment is the value of the book in relation to the current market price, which is why it is important for the book buyer to have their own valuing strategy. I hope this series helps the reader with the tools to make this assessment.

The other key component of the assessment is the window of when – the time component. It makes a big difference whether the consideration is for one month hence, or one year, five years, or ten. Deferring the purchase adds risk to the decision, especially for scarce books. Scarce books tend to get scarcer over time (let’s not confuse ‘scarce books’ with ‘books perceived to be scarce’ – these are two very different animals), as the limited supply is absorbed into collections, never resurfacing again for sale. Never at least in our frail physical lifetime.

The supply of a first edition collectible picturebook will ebb and flow over time. The demand for a first edition collectible picturebook will ebb and flow over time. It is left to the reader to decide when to wade into the tide.

It Is Done

The Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks have been selected. Not the most valuable, or the scarcest, instead the most collectible.  The eight major factors contributing to a picturebook’s collectibility were reviewed, a rating scaled was introduced, then the journey commenced selecting the books. The journey meandered through a “partially logical” selection process, rationales for various books were presented, scarcity discussed, values assessed, then finally each book’s collectibility was rated.

It, is done.

For those who persevered through this series of articles, thank you for your time and consideration.

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