Old Books for Young Eyes

In the post titled Buh-Bye Print Books? I write about the importance of certain books as keepsakes, treasures to be passed down from one generation to the next. An example sits on a small table in my living room: J. Cole, a children’s book first published in 1888. A little over three decades later a reprint was given to my mother, then a first-grader. The inscription, written in the florid hand of the time, reads “Presented to Minnie Dee Bowlin for saying the Ten Commandments perfectly, the first one in class. Harris School, Hillsboro [Texas], 1921. Nona Brennan, teacher.”

The picture on the cover of this 6 x 8-inch reprint – a watercolor of a girl on a swing, her long hair and white dress billowing in the wind – is charming, but the book is missing its copyright and title pages. An Internet search for the author’s name led to Old Children’s Books of Monmouth, Oregon, owned and operated by Truman and Suzanne Price. In less than a minute I had reached Mr. Price on the phone, asked what he knew about J. Cole, and immediately was given the answer: “It was written by Emma Gillibrand and was originally published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.”*

Who said personal service is dead, even when merchant and potential buyer are 2,000 miles apart?

Not every book for sale at  Old Children’s Books is all that old, but all are out of print. To give you an idea of their stock, here are three of the books featured on the home page as of May 2013: Goofy the Clown, a 1977 puppet book from Walt Disney ($15); The Jolly Jump-Ups See the Circus, a pop-up book published in 1944 ($75); and the full-color picture book Our Pretty Birds, a 111-year-old beauty ($95). Book browsers choose from twelve categories, including ABC Books, Fairy Tale Books, and Play Books. The site is also chock-full of other menu options, among them Looking for a Childhood Book (a how-to), Books Nominated by Our Customers, Tips for Choosing Books with Children, and Bargain Basement Books.

A Bright Idea?

I met another children’s book specialist at the Antiquarian Book Fair held annually in Manhattan. A chat with Susan Weiser Liebegott, proprietor of Enchanted Books (over the bridge in Brooklyn), led to the discovery of a mutual love of books from our childhood – those written in the 1930s and ’40s by Maj Lindman and centered on Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr, Swedish triplets whose adventures in Stockholm are the stuff of children’s dreams. (In Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr and the Gingerbread the boys visit a bakery, fall into a vat of gingerbread batter, and cause a stir as they run about Stockholm as gingerbread men.) Not surprisingly, Ms. Liebegott was a fan of the boys’ female counterparts: triplets Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The price of the oldest editions of the Lindman books was so reasonable I decided to buy two or three as birthday gifts for a granddaughter. But a lightbulb flickered on… I could save money and start a tradition in the bargain: Give her a first-edition Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr and the Gingerbread as the collectible and throw in paperback facsimiles of two other Lindeman titles: Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr and the Red Shoes and Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Three Kittens, each a mere $6.95.

When my granddaughter’s elder sister turned six, a book from Enchanted Books was her gift as well: History is Fun (1950), by Munro Leaf, author of more than 40 a children’s books. Supplementing it were two 1992-pubbed paperbacks I found in the children’s section of a neighborhood bookstore: If You Lived in Colonial Times and If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon.

I still give the girls birthday books of like kind – one a collectible the child understands is “special” and is to be treated with care… and two that will entertain and inform but end up in the “ordinary books” pile. And any other book lover could follow suit in one way or another, with the central tenet the same: Introduce kids to rare books and help them build a “vintage library” – a collection that will not only grow in both sentimental and monetary value but may be passed down to their children.

Catch as Catch Can

A potential good source for vintage children’s books is a public library book sale. A few years ago I came across two excellent finds at my neighborhood library, both of which may fascinate any descendants lucky enough to browse them: The American Girl’s Handy Book (1887), a hefty how-to handbook with the subtitle “How to Amuse Yourself and Others”; and The American Boy’s Handy Book (“What to Do and How to Do It”), published in 1913.

* The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), the world’s oldest Anglican mission agency, was founded by English clergyman Thomas Bray in 1698. In 1700, the Reverend Dr. Bray established the Church of England in Maryland.

2 Responses to Old Books for Young Eyes

  • Carol A Hawk says:

    I have a question on a original copy of J Cole Gillibrand. What is the value of a original copy. It was a gift to my 80 year old mother in law father from his grandmother as a child?

    • Fred says:

      Ms. Hawk, either Suzanne or Truman Price (the owners of Old Childrens Books) should be able to answer your question about the J Cole book — or, if they cannot, may point you someone who can. Just email your question to shprice@oldchildrensbooks.com. And good luck!

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