Little Golden Books: Remember the Magic
By Steve Santi
From the August 1995 of Toy Collector magazine by Krause Publications
Authors note: This is as it appeared in 1995 and if you've been collecting for a while you'll notice the values have changed since this writing.
Years ago, as a child parading around supermarket aisles, you may recall stopping suddenly to notice a familiar flash of gold at the end of the aisle.
You race towards it, you stop. Without even looking around, you grab the book with the shiny gold-binding off the shelf and sit down in the way of the oncoming shopper's traffic. Do you even hear the screeching of shopping cart wheels? No, you just found your new Little Golden Book.
As your mother pleads with you to get up off the floor, you look up with puppy dog eyes and say, "Mommy, please buy me this book!"
This phrase was heard by millions of mothers during the 1940s' 60s. For a mere 25 cents, Mom would have a few moments of quiet. But the final peace would come at nap time, as the child was read the story before falling asleep...
It was all part of the magic of Little Golden Books.
In 1941, the idea of an inexpensive children's book that a child could call his own was conceived. In a deal between Western Printing and Simon and Schuster, 12 Little Golden Books were released in October, 1942.
Because they were to cost only a quarter, these books met with initial skepticism in the publishing field. This view didn't last long because the books became an overnight success. Over 150,000 copies of the first 12 titles were printed in the first three months, and over a billion books have been printed in the last 50 years in over 42 countries.
Librarians, too, were skeptical. They generally held a poor opinion of these books, questioning their literary value. At 25 cents, however, Little Golden Books were the first children's books inexpensive enough to be sold to all Americans, not just the affluent. Their success grew steadily, and over 1,300 titles have been printed in the last 50 years.
The first Little Golden Books contained 42 pages until paper shortages during World War II forced a reduction of pages. After the war, the books returned to 42 pages until around 1948, when they were reduced to 28 pages. In late 1955, the books were printed with 24 pages, the current standard.
Little Golden Books are so familiar because almost everyone has either read them or were read them as a child. While collectors look for these small pieces of childhood memories, many of the "collectors" are simply parents and grandparents looking for lost stories of the pasts, wanting to share them with their children and grandchildren.
Collecting Little Golden Books, like any collectible, can be as expensive or inexpensive as you wish. Scouring flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores, you can find most of the titles for 25 cents - $1.00.
You may want to pick, up duplicates of 25 cent cover-priced books that can be latter used to trade for what you need. You may pay $5 - $20 for $40s – '50s titles at antique and collectible shops. When buying from dealers, be aware that some titles were printed in 42-, 18 and 24 page editions. If you see a 24-paged edition of Little Black Sambo for $50, you may want to hold out for a 42-page edition for maybe a little more.
Some books had only one printing while others have had 26 or more, but there is no standard for depreciating a book for editions. You'll learn this while you're looking for books for your collection. As more dealers consider Little Golden Books Collectible, books in average condition are being priced higher.
One important caution: never rely on copyright dates to determine print dates. Most companies that printed these types of books never changed copyright dates for reprinting. You can identify early Little Golden Books by looking on the copyright page for a reprinting date, or by looking at a letter printed on the bottom right comer of the last page (inside the back spine) (A = 1st). You may not want to pay a premium price for a book that isn't the original edition. Many dealers, however, will price their books according to copyright dates that could be 40 years earlier than the actual printing.
Most Little Golden Books fall in the $3 range today, in mint condition, but values can vary by subject. Books illustrated by Eloise Wilkin whose cherubic children have become very collectible, fetch a higher value then other books of the same period. Her early books from the 1940's sell for $10 to $20 for a first edition, with a few selling for $35. TV westerns, Hanna Barbera cartoons, Wizard of Oz (1950s), and Disney titles range from $12 to $20. If you get lucky and find any paper doll Little Golden Book for under $25, you've found a deal. Little Golden Books were first issued with dust jackets, and those in good condition can sell for $30+, depending on the title.
Collectors of various memorabilia often seek Little Golden Books to complement their collections. There are Little Golden Books for western collectors featuring ring Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, along with TV shows like Cheyenne and Gunsmoke.
For cartoon collectors, there's Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Dennis the Menace, Dick Tracy, Gay Puree, Fireball XL5, and Beany and Cecil, to name a few. Doll collectors were not forgotten with Tammy, Ginger, Betsy McCall, Pepper, Barbie, Charmin' Chatty, and paper doll books. Collectors of 1950s' 60s TV shows will find Captain Kangaroo, Rootie Kazootie, Cleo, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and more.
Puzzle collectors can also find puzzles on the back covers of about 15 titles. Disney collectors must have at least one of the 180+ Disney titles (first printed in 1944). Books even contained Kleenex, Texel Cello Tape, Johnson & Johnson Band Aids, International Harvester Trucks and American Airlines Astrojets to cut out and construct. Still other books contained records.
Little Golden Books delight with their variety of illustration styles and colors and the huge number of titles offered. Some of the more original and unusual titles include The Paper Doll Wedding (1954), Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather (1951), Ukelele and Her New Doll (195 1), Ookpik, the Arctic Owl (1968), and Noises and Mr. FlibbertyJib (1947).
The success of Little Golden Books also spawned other toys, such as boxed puzzles, made from the books' cover art, produced in the early 1950s. Playskool also made tray puzzles. In 1972, Golden produced a four tray puzzle boxed set. A Little Golden Game was released in 1977 by Western Publishing.