2012-05-31 / Opinions


Rare children’s books are good investments

The technical term for children’s literature is “juvenilia.” This category has a long and illustrious history. It boasts of some of the truly great writers who could have done equally well in several other genres.

For brevi t y ’ s sa k e we limit this column to a handful of 20th-21st century authors who have made indelible imprints on this vast field and a brief view of other aspects of juvenilia.

We begin with Helen Bannerman and her 1899 first edition of “Little Black Sambo.” Only five years ago an excellent first edition of this often controversial book could be acquired for $10,000; the same copy today, even in a recession, will fetch about $16,000. Bannerman got the notion for this charming, fanciful story about a boy from India during a journey she made from the UK to India. Even editions as late as the 1920s through the 1930s can frequently command $200 - $500.

Fast-forward to the most recent dozen years. For once this columnist/ bookseller got caught napping with the advent of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal Harry Potter series. Her works have been printed in greater numbers than any other children’s writers in history. According to Forbes’ magazine, she became the first billionaire writer in American dollars.

A galley proof of her “The Prisoner of Azkaban” – dated August 7, 1999 – was offered for sale as far back as three years ago for $499,816.79. A signed set of her key first editions, each of which is signed, will range in retail from $115,000-$150,000 depending on condition. This series includes: “The Philosopher’s Stone,” “The Chamber of Secrets,” “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” “The Goblet of Fire,” “The Order of the Phoenix,” “The Half-Blood Prince,” and “The Deathly Hallows.”

A collector with the foresight to have purchased all her writings in several multiple copies at the outset in signed, first UK editions would be a multi-millionaire! Unbelievable? But true!

Now hear this: it may not be too late for the new collector/investor to join the action. It’s been rumored that Rowling may do another Harry Potter book; she dispels the likelihood of such an event but at the same time says she will never say never. If it happens, take this best advice ever from this column – ready your checkbook for an advance order from your favorite bookseller. The cost will likely range from $29.95 to $32.95.

To briefly depart from the theme of Juvenilia, be reminded that Rowling’s first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy,” has a worldwide publication date of September 27.

Now return briefly to the early 20th century and Beatrix Potter – a contemporary of Helen Bannerman – and most famous for the Peter Rabbit stories. “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” (privately printed in 1902 and limited to 200 copies) will currently sell for around $100,000. Many of her later books are within the price range of an average investor, but virtually all of them are increasing in value. We advise serious investors to acquire any of Potter’s books that you can afford.

We believe that owners of certain series of books will in the long term be rewarded as investors. Included are “The Rover Boys” series; “The Tom Swift” series; “The Bobbsey Twins” series; “The Hardy Boys” series; “The Boxcar Children” series; “The Junie P. Jones” books and “The Nancy Drew” series. Some individual books, within these series, are often within range of the modest pocketbook.

A final recommendation for today is Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows.” This magnificent 1908 work when found with an ultra-rare original first issue dustjacket will top $100,000. Without the jacket it drops in price by thousands of dollars. For the “umpteenth” time, hear this advice: Avoid investing in rare books (if published with a dustjacket) without the dust cover. Good buys at modest prices can sometimes be acquired in first thus editions with varying illustrators. A first thus edition is a non-first which appears for the first time in a format totally different from the first edition.

More juvenilia ”buy” advice in the next two columns.

(If you have any questions about this article or about resources in the local community you can contact the author, Rev. Glen Kohlhagen, at the Washington Presbyterian Church at 706-678-7511. Rev. Kohlhagen facilitates a bereavement group sponsored by Wills Memorial Hospital on the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. in the hospital library/conference room.)

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