By the early 1950s, parents, educators, and publishers had become concerned with the prevailing reading problems and boredom associated with word-recognition (look-say) school primers, such as the Dick-and-Jane series. Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was challenged to create a book, utilizing a specific word list, that first-graders would not be able to put down. The result was The Cat in the Hat, a continuing best-seller in children’s literature since its publication in 1957.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) had been a popular children’s author long before the appearance of The Cat. Born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, his first foray into the field – And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street – had been turned down by 27 publishers before finally appearing in print in 1937. It was an immediate critical and popular success, and over the ensuing two decades, Geisel produced a dozen more books (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who, etc.), interspersed with his work as a political cartoonist, an illustrator for several major magazines and advertising campaigns (Flit, Standard Oil, etc.), and as a writer for the United States Army animation department.
The 1960s and 1970s saw Geisel’s increasing involvement in animation for the small screen – who can forget Boris Karloff’s narration of the perennial holiday classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – and numerous other projects, but the books remained his first love, and by the time of his death in 1991, Geisel had written and illustrated over sixty books, and remains to this day one of the most popular of children’s authors, having sold an estimated 600 million copies.
His books are also extremely popular among collectors.
Children’s books are generally “well-loved” – dog-eared, drawn-in, torn, soiled – so it is often difficult to find copies that are in very good or better condition. This is especially true of first editions that, in many cases, possess damaged dust jackets, or have lost them entirely. Some first editions of Dr. Seuss’ books are among the priciest in children’s literature, with many in VG+ condition (with dust jackets) selling for around $9000, while first editions of And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street in VG+ (with dust jacket) can fetch $12,000!
Of course, you don’t have to have deep pockets to be a Dr. Seuss collector. Geisel’s nom de plume and characters’ images have graced everything from postage stamps and magazine ads to jelly glasses and thermos bottles. Most fall into the quite-affordable under-$50 range, but some are either rare or cross-collectible, like the 1930s-era Dr. Seuss/Esso Oil promo jigsaw puzzle that recently sold online for $177.50; the Dr. Seuss/Naragansett Lager&Ale beer tray that fetched $165; and the 1970 World of Dr. Seuss/Aladdin vinyl lunch box with thermos that garnered a final bid of $107.50. (The metal version could have fetched up to three times that amount!)
Interested in learning more about Dr. Seuss collectibles? Check out the resources, below, and
Children’s Picturebook Price Guide, 2006-2007: Finding, Assessing, & Collecting Contemporary Illustrated Books, by Linda Zielinski and Stan Zielinski
Encyclopedia of Collectible Children’s Books, Identification and Values, by Diane McClure Jones and Rosemary Jones
First Editions of Dr. Seuss Books: A Guide to Identification, by Helen Younger, Marc Younger, and Dan Hirsch (Pricey, but considered one of the most authoritative on the subject. Your library may have a copy.)
The Advertising Artwork of Dr. Seuss – UC San Diego Library – Comprehensive collection of Geisel’s work for Flit, Ford, Standard Oil, more.
Dr. Seuss Museum – Located in Springfield, Massachusetts, Theodor Geisel’s hometown. Yes, there really is a Mulberry Street.
Seussville – Official Random House site offers news and a newsletter, games and activities, facts about the author, more.
Identifying and Valuing First Edition Dr. Seuss Books – Provides a variety of tips for identifying first editions.
Identifying First Editions (The New Antiquarian) – Very helpful general guide from the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America).