Our Top Five collectible children's books

Children's book publishers Puffin published a list of 70 of the best and best-loved children's books of all time this week.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, unquestionably one of the best loved books in the world tops the list off. Famously George W Bush specified it as his favourite book from childhood, even though he was in his twenties when it was published, as comedians were keen to point out.

Several of Roald Dahl's works also feature strongly on the list. Children's books are remembered long into adulthood, and hence potentially very valuable and collectible. Here, we look at five of our favourites:

Dr Seuss's The Cat in the Hat

A true legend in the United States, Dr Seuss's The Cat in the Hat was created partly in response to a challenge in Life magazine for certain children's illustrators. The magazine article argued that the first books used to help children read were not lively enough.

The first book featuring The Cat in the Hat, based around words that a child would be learning at that age appeared in 1957, and has now been adapted to musical stage, the movie screen, video games and fairground rides.

Senator Leader Harry Reid even referred to the zany stories in the Senate, mainly in comparing the degree of mess the House was making over a bill.

A first edition, first issue of the first and second Cat in the Hat books sold for $2,868 at Heritage in 2009. Amongst the first edition collectors of The Cat is Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle-Gellar.

Collectors interested in American classics may wish to check out this Charles Schulz (Peanuts) portfolio which is currently available.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling


A still more recent classic, subject to many adaptations is Harry Potter. The first editions of the first books Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, especially those including J K Rowling's signature, are increasingly valuable - potentially a good investment.

One of these is on the market at the moment.

Winnie the Pooh - A A Milne

A British classic which later received the Disney treatment was A A Milne's Winnie the Pooh. In fact, the honey-obsessed everyman (or everybear) has quietly been used to illustrate all kinds of ideas and emotions over the the years - including the ideals and attitudes of Taoism.

Winnie the Pooh Map
Winnie the Pooh map
(Click to enlarge)

Some of the most valuable Pooh collectibles are the illustrations by E H Shepard, as with saw with the drawings of a Hundred Acre Wood map and Pooh's heffalump dream at Sotheby's last year - bringing over £100,000 between them - and more recently an illustration sold at IAA.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

Another classic series concerning the lives of animals out in the wild was written by Beatrix Potter - though the animals were somewhat less soft-toy like, and their interactions with humans very different.

This perhaps reflects Beatrix Potter's interest in the natural world, which had a much less soft-focussed side to it, and she is also celebrated as a capable scientist. Regardless, her stories about smart-jacketed rabbits and frogs with fishing rods have earned her her own museum and recognition around the world.

First edition warne Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter
First edition of Peter Rabbit

Last year, Profiles in History auctioned a very special example of her most famous work, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The first edition (published by Warne, to whom Potter was engaged before his untimely death), the copy has been specially inscribed by Potter in pencil thus:

"To 'Princess' Eileen on Peace Day Brougham Aug 23, 1919 From the authoress - with love from Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter"

There is also handwritten text on the inside of the cover explaining the book's special status:

"This volume is one of two, which were specially bound. The other copy was presented 15 years ago to a little Prince sometime known as 'David'".

Alice in Wonderland/Alice through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

Shy Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson probably had no thought of preserving the story when he told a young Alice Liddell a tale in which the heroine, also named Alice, chases a rabbit into a strange and wonderful world. It was just to keep her amused on a picnic.

The 10 year old Alice was captivated however, and insisted he write it down. From that point on the fame of Alice's Adventures Underground (the title was tweaked a little) was inevitable, as was the follow-up of Alice through the Looking Glass.

Dodgson published under the name Lewis Carroll, and the works are amongst the most quoted in the English language. The history of the manuscript of 'Alice's Adventures Underground' shows the significance attached to Carroll's works in the Western world:

Alice sold the text shortly before her death in 1928, and it was bought by an American for the equivalent of $75,000.

Some years later a group of American bibliophiles banded together to re-acquire the manuscript and present it to the British nation, in gratitude to "a noble people who held Hitler at bay for a long period single-handed". It is now in the British Library.

Alice's own signed first edition of Alice Through the Looking Glass is still in private hands, however. It appeared at auction in December last year priced at $150,000.


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