Hi everyone! I hope you had a great weekend. We’ve been pounded with snow here in the northeast–one foot on Thursday and another yesterday–with delicate, downy snow flakes. You can’t deny their beauty.
Today I wanted to talk about a collectible that has almost universal appeal: vintage Little Golden Books (LGBs). If you didn’t own one or two as a child, then you borrowed them from the library, or listened as your teacher read one aloud, or perhaps you discovered them in your pediatrician’s office while waiting for a check-up, like I did(!).
Avid collector’s seek earlier editions, while those who collect for the love of it enjoy any edition in decent shape because the books bring back childhood memories and make them feel good.
Bright and colorful, produced with varied enough topics and characters to please any child, LGBs bring a smile to just about anyone’s face. I find them fairly easily at garage sales and thrift stores for a dollar or less. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks about how to figure out their desirability and value on the vintage and antiques market.
Simon & Schuster published twelve LGBs in 1942; each cost just 25¢. These first twelve titles, issued with blue spines and dust jackets, included: Mother Goose, Three Little Kittens, Bedtime Stories, The Alphabet A-Z, Prayers for Children, The Little Red Hen, Nursery Songs, The Poky Little Puppy, The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, Baby’s Book, The Animals of Farmer Jones, and This Little Piggy. First edition examples with their DJs range in value from $250-600. Yikes.
The Golden Book of Birds has the early blue binding that the publishers used until 1947, when they introduced the first version of the gold spine.
LGBs were developed as a cheap alternative to more expensive children’s books selling at the time for $2-3.00 each. The dramatically lower price of 25¢ made them available to almost any child, not just the more well-to-do. The price remained fixed until 1962, when the publisher raised it to 29¢. LGB prices can usually be found on the upper right hand corner of the cover.
When trying to determine whether you own a first edition, one clue to look for is a letter hidden in the lower right corner of the last page. Sometimes you have to pull the back cover up a bit to spy the letter. “A” means first edition–like this edition of The Sky–“B” means second edition, and so forth. The publishers used this [odd] method until 1970.
Each book title received a number, which can usually be found next to the price or opposite the price in the far left top corner.
Many copies of LGBs have a list similar to this one on the back cover or inside the back cover. One way to tell if you have a first or later edition, is to see if there are any books with higher numbers than yours. Cleo, #287, is followed by only one book, Three Little Kittens, #288.
This edition of the book was likely published the same year (1957), so yes, Cleo is a first edition. If you found a number of books with higher numbers and later copyright dates, then you know you don’t have a first edition.
[Note: The long list of titles that follow the Three Little Kittens, starting with Circus Time (#A2), reflect a different numbering system used for special books, like Disney. If you were to check #D51, Sleeping Beauty, you would find a 1957 copyright.]
In the 50’s, the publisher developed several volumes that contained interactive features, like Circus Time with it’s rotating wheel (above), and other volumes with puzzles or paints. Many well-known illustrators collaborated with LGBs, including Tibor Gergely, the artist responsible for Circus Time. Available.
No one could have anticipated the wild popularity of LGBs. Before long, big names like Disney and television shows like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and Bozo the Clown each became the subject matter of an LGB. In fact, think of a kid’s show and very likely, it has a corresponding LGB.
It didn’t take long for Disney to jump onto the LGB bandwagon. In 1944 Simon & Schuster published the first Disney book, Through the Picture Frame, and the Disney-LGB relationship continues to this day. This first edition copy of Ben and Me, worth about $10-15.00, makes the 37th Disney LGB. In 2011, a 1950’s edition of Donald Duck’s Adventure, with a Walt Disney signature, sold for $900 at auction. Crazy! Available.
As mentioned above, after about 1970, the publisher began putting the copyright dates and printing numbers on the title page.
Both Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon fame) and Richard Scary (Busytown fame) have published numerous LGBs. In fact, Brown wrote The Color Kittens, published in 1949. The copy you see here, however, is a much later edition. Available.
Over the years, the LGB back cover has varied quite a bit. Here are a handful to give you an idea. On the far left you see a fairly early back, listing just twenty-five books. (The black marks are due to aging.) The example on the far right reflects a much more modern back cover.
Over 2 billion copies have been published since 1942. Interested buyers can find loads of them at thrift stores, where vintage copies can be purchased for as little as 10¢, usually no more than $1.00, at flea markets, for upwards of $2-3.00, and at antique shops, for higher depending on the edition and condition of the book. Serious collectors like to find copies in very good to excellent condition and typically will not pay much for those in poorer condition.
Today, new LGBs sell for $2.99-4.99 a copy, and they are still an excellent value. But I guess the old ones, like this one about how a rhinoceros learns to make friends, will always be my favorite. Available. Which is your favorite?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down LGB lane and have picked up some valuable information that will help you with your buying (and/or selling). Happy hunting!
The LGB, The Pokey Puppy, with sales of 15 million,
is the most popular children’s book of all time.
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Antique Trader, Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Little Golden Books
Collecting Little Golden Books (store)
ebay Collector’s Guide, Your Guide to Buying First Edition Little Golden Books