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Money in the Bank

June 20, 1993|DAN STERN

Thanks in part to the current baby boom, there's a growing appreciation of children's books as works of art and valuable collectibles. Museums, galleries, institutional and private collectors are all beginning to pay serious attention. In 1987 the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York had a show devoted exclusively to pop-up books. This year the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the High Museum in Atlanta both held exhibitions of children's books.

Galleries that sell original art from children's picture books, like Every Picture Tells a Story in Los Angeles (836 N. La Brea), are thriving. Art can be purchased for as little as $90 and as much as $100,000. The work of some illustrators has already seen spectacular appreciation--several pieces from William Joyce's "Dinosaur Bob" (pictured here) have risen in value from $2,000 to $15,000 in the last three years.

The best way to get started collecting children's books is the same way parents do, buying current books. More than 5,000 new children's books are being published each year and new technology continues to improve the quality of art reproduction.

Buy two copies of books that you like--one for you and one for the kids. If you buy a picture book when it first appears, you can have a first edition in mint condition for only $15. Check the copyright page to see if it is a first edition, which becomes much more valuable than later editions as time goes on. Preserving the dust jacket with a cover (available at most used book stores) will protect the book and increase its value by an average of 400% over 20 years.

Getting books signed by authors and artists will also increase the value of the book. At a 1990 auction, signed, first editions of A.A. Milne's four children's books sold for $21,615.; unsigned they sold for $2,750. A signed, first edition of Chris Van Allsburg's "The Z Was Zapped" (Houghton Mifflin: $15.95, 1986) is already going for $100. Get on the mailing lists of galleries and specialized children's bookstores like Children's Book World (10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd.) to see when your favorite authors and artists will be in town. Books of Wonder in Beverly Hills (439 N. Beverly Drive), which sells original art, new and collectible children's books, also offers books that have been signed in their New York store.

If you see a book you like, buy it now. Because of a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that made publishers' inventory taxable, books are going out of print faster than ever.

Try to focus your collecting. Pop-ups and miniature books are among the most collectible. Think about which books are likely to become classics, but above all follow your heart. With a modest initial investment you can build a collection that is useful, affordable, potentially valuable and a lot of fun.

CHILDREN'S BOOKS TO WATCH: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. (Greenwillow: $19.95, 1991); Everybody Poops by Taro Gomi. (Kane/Miller: $11.95, 1993) See review on page 7; Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley. (Little, Brown: $12.95, 1992); I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book edited by Iona and Peter Opie, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. (Candlewick: $19.95, 1992); Tommy Traveler in the World of Black History by Tom Feelings. (Black Butterfly: $13.95, 1991)

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