Back in 1988, at the very beginning of my bookselling odyssey, I placed a small advertisement in our local paper to purchase old and rare children’s books. I received a single response from a gentleman who had acquired his neighbor’s collection following her death and was interested in selling the lot. His neighbor, an elderly woman who had never married nor had children, had purchased a single copy of each Little Golden Book (LGB) as it appeared, starting in 1942, read it once, and put the pristine volume on a shelf, never to be read again. It was a nearly complete collection with special editions featuring jigsaw puzzles, band-aids, Kleenex tissues, paper dolls, adhesive tape and dust jackets, as well as a nearly complete run of standard Little Golden Books, from number 1 through number 600.
I purchased the entire collection (much to my wife’s chagrin) and was delighted to rediscover of so many of the titles. I was born in 1947, smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boom, and these were the books I had as a youngster…these were the books I learned to read with. Really! I remember the moment I broke the code, four years old and awake in bed at night and looking at The Golden Egg Book (a Big Golden Book), a personal favorite and a story my parents had read to me over and over again. Studying the words, something clicked, and I suddenly understood the connection between letters and sounds, sounds and words, and words and story. I could read!
As an adult, I brought a different sensibility to my new collection and an interest in understanding the place of this remarkable series of books in publishing history. Prior to the introduction of Little Golden Books, picture books for children were expensive, even by middle class standards (most retailed for between $1.50 and $3.00 apiece), and were very often given to kids at Christmas and for birthdays. It took a serendipitous combination of circumstances, events, and individuals to give birth to the Golden Books empire: Georges Duplaix and Lucille Ogle at the NYC-based Artists and Writers Guild; Western Printing and Lithography in Racine, WI; Simon and Schuster publishers in New York; and an influx of tremendously talented (and hungry) illustrators and writers from Europe just prior to the advent of World War II.
Utilizing a binding method first developed in Europe, the French-born Duplaix proposed a series of twelve books of uniform structure, staple-bound and featuring 42 pages of color and black and white illustration. Each title was printed by Simon and Schuster in an edition of 50,000 copies (ten times the number of a standard children’s launch from a premier publisher such as Harper and Bros.) and was priced at just 25-cents, well within the budget of families of modest means. Astoundingly, the first printing of 600,00 books sold out almost immediately and more than 1.5 million Little Golden Books were sold within the first five months of 1942.
Part (and only part) of their success was merchandising. While standard booksellers stocked children’s titles sparingly (and usually in anticipation of the holiday rush), Simon and Schuster promoted the Golden Books line to potential retailers who had never before handled kid’s books: drug stores, news stands, grocery stores, and toy stores. Parents who had few books in their homes and who had been reluctant, perhaps, to enter a bookstore, now had easy access to attractive (and educational!) children’s books at venues they regularly visited at a price they could afford.
In addition to pointed promotion, Little Golden Books offered a sturdy, quality product produced by outstanding writers and illustrators. It’s amazing to examine a list of LGB contributors and see how many are regarded as major players in the field of 20th century children’s literature: Margaret Wise Brown, Gustaf Tenggren, Richard Scarry, Edith and Thatcher Hurd, Garth Williams, Eloise Wilkin, Tibor Gergely, Mary Blair, Elizabeth Orton Jones, Alice and Martin Provensen, Feodor Rojankovsky and many more.
Just a few years after the first twelve titles appeared, initial printings for new Little Golden Books had skyrocketed to 150,000 copies each. From a collector’s viewpoint, this raises the question: “Just how rare are Little Golden Books?” There’s no easy answer to that one. Like any children’s books published in the 1940’s and 50’s (and especially those thought to be ephemeral due to format and price), there are fewer and fewer collectible examples to be found on the open market. The key word here is “collectible.” Dust jackets from earlier titles tend to be lost. Various inserts (decals, paper dolls, jigsaw puzzles) are almost always missing. Simple bindings suffer wear and bruising. In addition, the intended audience for many Little Golden Books trends very young…active crayoners, page-tearers, and droolers. All things considered, it’s amazing that any LGBs survived in collectible condition!
Over time, the price of Little Golden Books changed from 25-cents (from 1942 through the early 1960’s) to 29-cents (through the late 60’s) to 39-cents (through the late 70’s) and so on. The subject matter changed too, from classic children’s stories adapted from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, to television and comic strip adventures, to Walt Disney-related titles, to contemporary culture. Formats expanded as well: Big Golden Books, Giant Golden Books, DeLuxe Golden Books, Little Golden Records, Ding Dong School Books, Golden Funtime Books, Little Little Golden Books, and more.
Collectors have multiple resources at their fingertips. On the web, a good timeline of Little Golden Books can be found at:
as well as a solid introduction to LGBs at:
and an expanded Wikipedia link at :
There are several useful guides to collecting Little Golden Books. I like both Rebecca Greason’s Tomart’s Price Guide to Golden Book Collecibles (Radnor, PA: Wallace-Homestead, 1991) and Steve Santi’s Collecting Little Golden Books (Iola, WI, Krause, 2003). Both were published some time ago and price estimates are therefore questionable, but the bibliographic information is voluminous and solid in both.
Finally, anyone interested in Little Golden Books should own a copy of Leonard S. Marcus’ Golden Legacy (NY: Golden Books, 2007). Published in celebration of LGB’s 65th anniversary, Marcus fills this wonderful tribute with an extensive history, profiles of authors and illustrators, cultural commentary, and incredible illustrations.