Old Books Can Be Worth More Than a Good Read

Big Little Books were popular children’s books in the mid-20thCentury.
Photo credit: Jimmy Garcia/EJ’s Auction & Appraisal.

Recently, we auctioned a large collection of Big Little Books, which were popular children’s books in the mid-20th Century. First published in 1932 by Whitman Publishing Company, these small, compact books featured stories based on movies, comic strips, radio shows and children’s classics. Our consignor’s collection had included close to 100 books featuring Mickey Mouse, Dick Tracy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Popeye, Flash Gordon, Donald Duck, Little Orphan Annie, Tarzan, and many other iconic characters.

This first-edition, 1933 Mickey Mouse Big Little Book sold at auction for $6,000.
Photo credit: Jimmy Garcia/EJ's Auction & Appraisal.

The star of the auction was a first-edition, 1933 Mickey Mouse Big Little Book that realized $6,000. While most of the lots sold for a few hundred dollars, this book stood out to bidders because of its rarity, good condition, and original packaging.

There are several factors that make a book collectible, including:

Primacy: The key reason our consignor’s Mickey Mouse book did so well at auction was because it was a first edition book. But primacy goes beyond first editions and first printings. Bidders also value the first time a crucial character or setting is introduced, and even the first book printed in a certain location.

Condition: As with most collectibles, condition plays a big role in how collectors value antique and vintage books. Bidders often examine the quality of the book’s cover, dust jacket, binding, individual pages, printing, illustrations and other elements of the book.

Provenance: Collectors are interested in who owned and read the books. Author signatures, inscriptions, and bookplates add value because they provide evidence of ownership. A book owned by a famous historical figure, dignitary, celebrity or other high-profile person will have more value to bidders. One example that comes to mind is U.S. Senator Eugene Hale’s guest book that we sold at auction for $1,200. It contained hundreds of signatures from guests who visited his home “The Pines” in Maine between 1889 to 1919. But even if the book’s journey did not include anyone famous, bidders will value a record of ownership.

Nostalgia: Some collectors like to bid on books that bring back memories of their childhood or teenage years. We see this a lot with comic books and children’s books, but bidders also collect other types of books for nostalgic reasons, including vintage cookbooks.

Scarcity: One common misconception is that scarcity equals rarity. There could be a limited amount of a certain book available in the market, but that alone does not make them valuable. There needs to be a demand for the book. Like most collectibles, value increases when there is a high demand but scarce supply.

There’s nothing wrong with donating books to your local library sale. But take some time to examine your collection or consult with an expert to make sure you’re not donating a valuable book that could be worth much more than a good read.

Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale. Contact him at erik@ejsauction.comwww.ejsauction.com or 623-878-2003.


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