The Top 100 Collectible Children's Books

by Stan Zielinski

14 March 2011

Introduction and the Marquis 25

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Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks - Overview

A series of articles to select the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, providing the rationale for each book's 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.


Taken as a whole, the Collecting Children's Picturebooks website provides collectors and booksellers with the context for specific first edition picturebooks within the collectible children's book market. This context is based upon the intermingling of two primary ingredients, the relative scarcity and the relative collectibility of the book.

The relative scarcity of a first edition book is a function of the demand and supply equilibrium in the market.

The relative collectibility of a book is a potpourri of Factors Affecting Collectibility, which were first described in Chapter 2 of the Children's Picturebook Price Guide. From Chapter 2:

Note the key factors that impact the collectibility of the books. Each is a high quality story with imaginative or inventive illustrations, therefore the reading public has recurrently purchased the books for decades. Because of this, the books have stayed in print since their original publication and gone into many, many printings. Many of the books have earned a children's picturebook award, while many of the illustrators have won numerous awards. All of the illustrators have high esteem within the book publishing market place. Many of the book's characters became franchise characters, where one or more sequels were published, and line extensions have been made into other consumer product areas (i.e. toys, games, dolls, costumes, decorations, etc…). Lastly, many of the books or characters have crossed over into pop culture, either via a TV or feature film adaptation."

Experienced book collectors and booksellers have an idea of the relative scarcity and relative collectibility of a book, therefore understand its context within the market and within the hobby. This information lets them make an educated estimate for the value of the book, and depending upon which side of the ledger they reside, either purchase or sell the book at a fair price. As an experienced book collector I continually make context based buy-side decisions. To expand upon this, 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. Understandably the Top 100 will be my myopic perspective - it is not meant to be definitive and instead just a vehicle for our use.

Criteria for Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks

Selecting the books would be easy if market value was the sole criteria. The 25,000 books in my picturebook database could be sorted by value and the hundred most valuable selected. Easy as pie, but not especially insightful.

Instead, the basis for selecting the Top 100 picturebooks are the six Factors Affecting Collectibility (numbered, below, for reference purposes only, not meant as a prioritization), with two other factors thrown in.

  1. Aesthetic Quality of the Illustrations and the Story

  2. Eminence of the Illustrator

  3. 1st - Early - Late in the illustrator's body of work.

    o Is the book a notable illustrator's first work?

    o Is the book early in their career?

    o Is the book late in their career?

  4. Collectibility of the Author

    o Are the author's first edition books desirable in the children's book collecting market?

  5. Book's Illustration Awards

  6. Copies Sold / High Printings

  7. Franchise Books

  8. Pop Culture

The reader might ask, "Why add the complexity of eight factors to the selection process?" A valid question. Selecting the Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks is wrought with subjectivity. There is simply no way around it. To help reduce this subjectivity, I rated each book from 10-to-1 in each of the above eight factors.

Understandably there is subjectivity rating each book for each factor. However subjectivity across eight factors is an improvement over rating the book's 'Collectibility' as a single comprehensive value, since making a mistake in one of eight factors has a lower impact on the end result. Considering the eight factors together improves the quality of the subjective Collectibility rating of a first edition picturebook. A tedious process, but one which I thought would reduce the subjectivity of the selections and improve the overall result.

The mathematicians among the readers are clamoring for a weighting of the eight factors, thereby providing the opportunity for a calculated Collectibility. While technically possible, and fairly easy to do, at this time I do not want to debate the relative worth of the aesthetic story versus the illustrator's esteem versus the copies sold and so forth. It probably is a worthwhile discussion, which will be tabled for the present.


The domain of this list is Contemporary American Picturebooks - picturebooks published in the US from the beginning of the contemporary genre - the 1927 publication of Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats - to present day. In addition, the books must be issued with dust jacket. The estimated values provided are for first edition books with dust jackets.

Overall Outline

Over the course of the series of articles I will sequentially build the list of Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks. This series should be viewed in total. During the course of this series the reader might not understand the rationale for a book or a rating, however additional details will be provided in subsequent articles. The intention is to provide the information in logical digestible steps. Once the series is complete the reader should understand the rationale for each book.

Important aspects of this understanding are the analysis after the Top 100 is selected. These articles will order the Top 100 by value and by scarcity, and also group by illustrator and author, providing the reader with additional context. Finally the Top 100 will be sorted by overall Collectibility, the amalgamation of the eight factors.

The general outline for the process:

  • Part 1: Build the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks
  • Part 2: Scarcity, Obtaining & Unobtanium
  • Part 3: Various Views of Valuation
  • Part 4: Ranking The Unrankable
  • Part 5: Epilogue

Building The Top 100

The Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks will be put together in a sequence of partially logical steps. Clearly a sequence of partially logical steps is logically no different than partially illogical steps. Suffice it to say the following sequence of steps segments the Top 100 into smaller digestible bites. Selecting the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks in a single undertaking is overwhelming, both for the selector and for the reader.

The partially logical steps:

  • No-Brainers - The Marquis 25
  • Nearly No-Brainers
  • Key Caldecott Medals
  • Beginner Books and the Early Readers
  • Almost Nearly No-Brainers
  • First 12 Little Golden Books
  • The Debatable Eight


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