Searching for the First Fifty
Newbery Medal Books

by Stan Zielinski

21 May 2014

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Beginning in 1922 the Newbery Medal has been awarded annually by the American Library Association "to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." The Newbery Medal, a writer's analog to the Caldecott Medal, is awarded by the ALA to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picturebook.

The Newbery award began sixteen years before the Caldecott award. Millions of Cats, a landmark picturebook published in 1928, was considered so exceptional the ALA selected it as a Newbery Medal runner-up (now called a Newbery Honor award), a decade before establishing an award for the picturebook genre. Several other picturebooks won Newbery Honor awards in the early 1930's, which likely helped lead to the inception of the Caldecott award in 1938.

This article is a summary of an internet search for first editions of the first fifty Newbery Medal winning books. The search is intended to determine the number of books currently being offered for sale and their average selling price. See the list summarizing the results below. The title hyperlink initiates an Abebooks search for that title. Note that the search does not select "First Edition" or "Dust Jacket" attributes on ABE's search since these are notoriously unreliable. It's a simple search for the book's title sorted from high price to low. Each listing was then examined to ascertain first edition in a first edition DJ. The search was performed late last year, so your current search results might differ somewhat.

The estimated market value and collectibility information are intended for first edition books in a first edition dust jacket.

Most Valuable Newbery Medal Books

Not surprisingly Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (1963 NM) is the most valuable Newbery Medal book found on the market, with five first editions copies ranging in price from $17,600 to $9,100. Four copies of Will James' Smoky (1927 NM) are on the market, with an average price of $5,775, one of which has slight restoration. First edition copies of both books are difficult to find, costly when found, and thereby missing from most private Newbery Medal collections.

The one first edition copy of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (NM 1969) is priced at $2,500, making its average price the third most expensive Newbery Medal book on the market. I don't know if this price and scarcity are an aberration or the norm; I do know this book has now gotten my attention.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (NM 1972) is another rather stubborn book to acquire. Six first edition copies are on the market, ranging from $2,500 to $500, with an average of nearly $1,200. The Don Bluth feature length cartoon has given the book a bit of public notoriety.

Caveat emptor: I have no affiliation to any bookseller, their offering(s), or to the sale of any particular book mentioned on this site. The prospective book buyer must perform their own due diligence concerning the actual book, its issue points, its condition, and the reliability of the bookseller.

Newbery Medal Winners 1922-1971

1921: Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. No copies.

1922: Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. No copies.

1923: Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes. Two copies. Avg. $725.

1924: Tales From Silver Lands by Charles Finger. No copies.

1925: Shen of the Sea by "Arthur Bowie Chrisman." No copies.

1926: Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James. Four copies. Avg. $5,775.

1927: Gayneck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. No copies.

1928: Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly. No copies.

1929: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Three copies. Avg. $1,150.

1930: The Cat Who Went To Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Two copies. Avg. $675.

1931: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer. One copy at $250.

1932: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis. No copies.

1933: Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs. No copies.

1934: Dobry by Monica Shannon. Two copies. Avg. $225.

1935: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. No copies.

1936: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer. Four copies. Avg. $300.

1937: The White Stag by Kate Seredy. Four copies. Avg. $350.

1938: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright. No cpies.

1939: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty. Two copies. Avg. $700.

1940: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry. No copies.

1941: Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds. Three copies. Avg. $475.

1942: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray. Seven copies. Avg. $275.

1943: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Four copies. Avg. $475.

1944: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson> Fifteen copies. Avg. $225.

1945: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski. Four copies. Avg. $675.

1946: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. Six copies. Avg. $200.

1947: Twenty One Balloons by William Pene du Bois. Six copies. Avg. $450.

1948: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry. Four copies. Avg. $200.

1949: Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli. Fifteen copies. Avg. $250.

1950: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates. No copies.

1951: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. One copy at $450.

1952: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. One copy at $175.

1953: And Now, Miguel by Joseph Krumgold. Two copies. Avg. $225.

1954: Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. No copies.

1955: Carry on, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. One copy at $125.

1956: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen. Two copies. Avg. $375.

1957: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith. Five copies. Avg. $250.

1958: Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. One copy at $400.

1959: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold. Two copies. Avg. $275.

1960: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. Two copies. Avg. $350.

1961: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. Two copies. Avg. $225.

1962: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Five copies. Avg. $12,900.

1963: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville. No copies.

1964: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska. One copy at $350.

1965: I, Juan De Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. Two copies. Avg. $150.

1966: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. Six copies. Avg. $150.

1967: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. One copy at $2,500.

1968: The High King by Lloyd Alexander. Four copies. Avg. $250.

1969: Sounder by William H. Armstrong. Four copies. Avg. $275.

1970: Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars. Two copies. Avg. $275.

1971: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O'Brien. Six copies. Avg. $1,175

Collectibility of First Edition Newbery Medal Books

There is a passionate base of collectors for first edition Newbery Medal books; have a look at the thoughtful dialogue on the various Mock Newbery blogs and websites dotting the internet landscape. As would be for any set of books, this passion varies, running from lukewarm to very hot for any particular book within the set. All of the first edition Newbery Medal books have solid demand within the market.

All of the Newbery Medal winners are still in print. Since the Newbery Medal is awarded by the American Library Association - comprised of librarians who are the de facto managers of the school libraries - it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that the designated book will be read by a lot of school children. Similar to the ALA's Caldecott Award books, Newbery award books are ensured to be stocked at libraries and on the recommended read list of tens of thousands of school teachers and librarians.

I'm not going to comment on the relative literary merits of the Newbery Medal books on this site. One, I'm not qualified to make such commentary, and two; there are a multitude of others on the web who do so more proficiently and eloquently.

However I will comment on the relative collectibility of first edition copies of Newbery Medal books.

For American picturebooks I've created a set of factors which affect the book's collectibility (with first edition state and a book's condition being pre-requisites, rather than factors). For Newbery Medal books it shouldn't be too difficult to outline a similar set of factors.

By definition, each Newbery Medal book has won an award. In the case of contemporary American children's literature, each book has won the award, which is a big positive for collectibility.

A second consideration is the total number of copies sold, which is an indicator of whether children actually like the book, and of the book's ongoing popularity. With respect to value, the total number of copies sold should be considered in the context of the total number of copies in the first print run. The first print run of Newbery Medal books is relatively small, for the most part, compared to the total number of copies sold. This, coupled with decades of destructive attrition for the older Newbery's, is another big positive for collectibility.

A third consideration is the long-term eminence of the author. Did they have other successful children's books? Did they have longevity in the business? Was the Newbery Medal book early or late in their publishing career, or the start of a franchise? For example, Will James notoriety, for better or worse, contributes positively to the collectibility of Smoky (NM 1927). For most of his life Will James was celebrated as a great American cowboy, only to be discovered late in life to have fabricated his cowboy upbringing, found to be a Canadian with urban roots.

Lastly, consider whether the book crossed over into pop culture. The pop culture aspect is frivolous when compared to the literary merits of the book, however does affect the overall awareness of the story, which impacts the potential demand for the first edition and the market price. Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (NM 1923) has higher popularity due to the motion picture starring Rex Harrison, which does impact the price of first edition copies.

Fourteen Pieces of Unobtanium

Of the fifty books surveyed, first edition copies of fourteen Newbery Medal winners are not currently offered for sale. Obviously the bookseller with one of these fourteen would have some significant pricing power.

First Edition Newbery Medal Books In Absentia

1922: Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

1923: Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

1924: Tales From Silver Lands by Charles Finger

1925: Shen of the Sea by "Arthur Bowie Chrisman"

1927: Gayneck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji

1928: Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

1932: Young Fu of The Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis

1933: Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs

1935: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

1938: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

1940: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

1950: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

1954: Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong

1963: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville

The first two Newbery Medal winning books are very difficult to find with their dust jackets. Of the two, Story of Mankind (NM 1922) is probably a little less scarce than Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (NM 1923). The other Newbery Medal winners from the 1920's are extremely difficult to find.

Note that the limited edition of Gayneck, The Story of a Pigeon (NM 1928) is not so limited in the market. The limited edition was published in a print run of a 1,000 copies after the book won the Newbery Medal award. There are plenty of these limited editions on the market while there are no first edition copies available. As with most limited, signed, numbered editions, the attrition rate over time is dramatically less than those of regularly issued titles.

Call It Courage (NM 1941) is especially difficult to find in first edition state with a first edition dust jacket, as is Meindert DeJong's Wheel on the School (NM 1955). Wheel on the School has cross-collecting appeal since it has embellishments by a young Maurice Sendak. The Sendak books published prior to his popularity explosion in 1964 have much more collecting appeal than his later works, the demarcation event being of course the 1963 publication of his Where the Wild Things Are.

Scarcity of First Edition Newbery Medal Books

There are six Newbery Medal winning books with only one copy on the market, and eleven books with only two first edition copies on the market. On the balance this skews heavily toward a seller's market for these seventeen titles, an example being the one first edition copy of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968 NM) offered at a rather immodest $2,500.

In total there are two or less first edition copies on the market for thirty-one of the first fifty Newbery Medal books; therefore there are three or more available copies for only nineteen of the first fifty Newbery Medal books.

Three books were available in surprisingly large quantities. There were 15 first edition copies of Rabbit Hill (NM 1945), average price of $225, and Door in the Wall (NM 1950), average price $250, along with 14 copies of Julie of the Wolves (NM 1973), average price $150.

I don't know whether these survey results are typical since I haven't been consistently querying the market long enough for these first fifty Newbery Medal books. My focus has been primarily on first edition books absent from my Newbery Medal collection. I do have sufficient experience with American picturebooks to provide a 1-to-10 scarcity ranking without a high risk of making an embarrassing mistake. I am not so inclined for Newbery Medal books.

A Collector's Perspective for First Edition Newbery Medal Books

The bookseller prices a first edition book according to the comparables on the market, auction and sales records, along with their experience in the business. On the other hand, the market value for a first edition book is the balance between the scarcity, or supply of the book, and its collectibility or demand. The bookseller prices the book, while the book collector values a book.

As a collector, I must leverage my limited resource - the money budgeted to buy books - to purchase the most value with the least expense. In short, get the most bang for the buck. The book collector's perspective has a different time horizon than the bookseller. The bookseller has to price a book for the here and now, while the book collector has to decide whether a book should be bought now or in the future, since there are usually many other alternative purchasing opportunities.

While assessing a book's collectibility, consider the contribution of the Newbery Medal with regard to other aspects impacting the book's desirability. The Newbery Medal is certainly not superfluous to the book's collectibility - it is too prestigious an award - however, the book has other strong merits. For example some of the books are sought after for "the usual" reasons: the book's literary merits, overall popularity, author's eminence, copies sold, and so forth. On the other hand, some of the books are pursued in the collector's market due principally, perhaps solely, to the Newbery Medal accolade. This difference should impact the valuation in the long run.

There are exceptions, however; in general, it should be noted there is a large drop-off in collector interest and market price for Newbery Honor books compared to Newbery Medal books.

With the above in mind, some random comments on the results of this survey:

All the first edition Newbery Medal books are highly collectible.

The fourteen books not found on the market are probably scarce. Time will tell.

Take a thoughtful look at each of the one-sies and two-sies.

I've only seen one 1st/1st copy of Call It Courage (NM 1941).

Wheel on the School (NM 1955) will continue to be a "tough get" due to cross-over appeal of Maurice Sendak illustrations.

For four of the books, the author is better known as an illustrator than a writer: Daniel Boone (NM 1940) by James Daugherty; Rabbit Hill (NM 1945) by Robert Lawson; Strawberry Girl (NM 1946) by Lois Lenski; and Twenty-One Balloons (NM 1948) by William Pene Du Bois. All four books have high cross-over appeal with picturebook collectors.

Notice there are numerous obscure titles among the Newbery Medal winners, books which don't yet have high awareness in the general bookselling market. This could be an opportunity for the astute book collector.

I'll begin posting first edition identification points for Newbery Medal books in the near future at

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark


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