First Edition Identification
The Little Engine That Could; written by [Watty Piper, pseud.]; Illustrated by Lois Lenski; Platt & Munk, 1930.
Children’s Picturebook Price Guide Value – $920 VG+
The Little Engine That Could is a story to teach children the value of optimism. Some critics would contend that the book is a metaphor for the American dream. The gist of the tale is a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Several larger engines are asked to pull the train, however for various reasons they refuse. The request is made of a small engine, who agrees to try. By chugging on with its motto “I think I can, I think I can” the little engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain.
Stan is a bit obsessed with identifying the first edition points for this book. We have over 20 copies of the Lois Lenski illustrated version, with dust jackets, published from 1930 to 1949, and have identified 14 different states of the book.
Essential Identifying Points – Book:
Red boards, with front pastedown image; Absence of the word ‘Trademark’ beneath title “THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD”. Later printings included the word ‘Trademark’ beneath the title on both the book and dust jacket.
Fourteen leafs.; Second leaf has box with 9 titles in the “NEVER GROW OLD SERIES”. First title is “The Rooster, The Mouse, and the Little Red Hen“; the bottom (last) title is “The Little Engine That Could”. Beginning in 1937, “Lil Hannibal” was added as the tenth title, to the bottom of the list.
Copyright page has four lines, as follows:
The Platt & Munk Co, Inc.
MADE IN THE U.S.A.
Essential Identifying Points – Dust Jacket:
Front dust jacket similar to pastedown. Absence of ‘Trademark’ beneath book’s title.
Back dust jacket with “BEAUTIFUL ONE DOLLAR BOOKS FOR CHILDREN”. Advertisement for only four Platt & Munk books:
No. 100A. CHILDREN OF OTHER LANDS
No. 100B. MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES
No. 100C. NURSERY TALES CHILDREN LOVE
No. 100D. STORIES CHILDREN LOVE
Last paragraph as follows:
Each book is bound in full cloth, rein- forced, and with picture inlay and jacket in full colors. Each 80 pages. Size 10 ¼ x 12 ¼. Price $1.00 each.
Later editions advertise a higher price, and/or list more than four books.
Both front and back dust jacket flaps are blank. Later editions have printing on DJ flaps.
We are fairly certain that Lenski illustrated the version of the story contained in Volume 1 of the 1920 publication of My Bookhouse, edited by Olive Beaupre Miller. This same illustrated story was also published in a stand alone format as a miniature 2 x 2 ½ grey/green leather book, again with uncredited illustrations (although we are fairly certain it is illustrated by Lois Lenski).
See “In Search of Watty Piper: A Brief History of the "Little Engine" Story”, by Dr. Roy Plotnick, at http://tigger.uic.edu/~plotnick/littleng.htm for a fascinating history of the contentious authorship of this story.