Before then, children’s books of the 1930s and 1940s were generally large, cumbersome and expensive. They were selling for $2-3 each when a loaf of bread cost just ten cents!
While looking for new book ideas for the children’s division of Western Publishing Company, Georges Duplaix came up with the concept behind Little Golden Books - small, colorful, durable, affordable books made just for kids. The marketing concept behind Little Golden Books was different as well. Instead of just being sold in bookstores, Little Golden Books were sold in grocery stores, train stations, five-and-dimes - places children and parents were likely to be shopping together.
Simon & Schuster first published the series, with Western Printing and Lithographing Company in Racine, Wisconsin doing the printing. The Little Golden Books were printed in September 1942 and for sale in stores in October. One and a half million books were sold in just five months.
With an initial series of twelve titles each having a print run of 50,000 copies, the first Little Golden Books were priced at a very affordable 25 cents each. Each book consisted of 42 pages, with 28 pages printed in two-tone color and 14 in four-tone color, a tactic which helped the publisher save money.
The first twelve books published in 1942 were:
Three Little Kittens by Masha
Bedtime Stories by Gustaf Tenggren
The Little Red Hen by Evelyn M. Begley
Nursery Songs by Leah Gale
The Alphabet from A to Z by Leah Gale
The Animals of Farmer Jones by Leah Gale
This Little Piggy and Other Counting Rhymes by Phyllis Fraser
A few facts:
The eighth book in the initial Little Golden series, The Poky Little Puppy, ranks today as the best-selling children’s book of all time with over 14 million copies sold.
The first price increase for Little Golden Books occurred in 1962 when they went up to 29 cents.
By 1967 more than 200 individual Little Golden Book titles had sold 1 million copies each.
In the 1970s, a Little Golden Book cost 59 cents. In 1971, the popular Sesame Street title The Monster at the End of this Book was published, and in 1974 Little Golden Books about Barbie made their debut.
The 1980s marked the 40th anniversary of Little Golden Books, and in 1986 the One Billionth Little Golden Book was printed and sold with a price of 89 cents.
On the 50th anniversary, the books were retailing for around $1.99, and the company reported that they had sold one and a half billion Little Golden Books.
By the 60th anniversary, over 1,200 unique Little Golden Book Titles had been released as well as the reprinting of the popular classic titles.
Collecting Little Golden Books:
One of the most endearing and special characteristics of the Little Golden Books that was different from other books at the time was the endpapers declaring “This Book Belongs To:” This gave children a sense of ownership and agency at an especially difficult time as the country was just coming out of the Great Depression and had entered World War II. Many families could not afford to buy books for their children, and if they did they were certainly not written in. But the Little Golden Books, at 25 cents, with their sturdy cardboard covers, were meant to be owned and inscribed by children.
However, this means that it is quite a difficult task to find a first edition Little Golden Books without an inscription, doodles, scribbles, and other toddler-related marginalia. The most collectible copies are in mint condition.
Identifying First Editions:
Although the series originated with Simon & Schuster publishing, over the years multiple companies have taken over the brand. Random House acquired Little Golden Books in 2001. Little Golden Books are currently published by Penguin Random House and they retail for $4.99.
Little Golden Books did not adopt a number line until 2001 so identifying an early first edition can be complicated. Generally, Little Golden Books have the initial publishing date printed on the copyright page, so if the edition you have was published in 1942 but reprinted in 1992, it would still say 1942.
The Little Golden Books printed through 1947 have the edition printed on the first pages. After 1947, letters were used to mark edition, A being first, B being second, and so on. From 1947 to 1970, one letter near the spine in the lower right corner noted the edition. From 1971 to 1991, they were printed with a series of letters on the first few pages of the book to identify the edition - the letter farthest to the left indicates edition number. Between 1991 and 2000, Roman numerals were used to note the year printed, followed by the letter A if it was the first edition, and R if it was a ‘revised’ edition.
It’s been over 75 years since the first Little Golden Books were released, and since then over 1200 titles have been published. Penguin Random House shows 573 titles still in print on their website today.
Some of the Most Popular Titles in the History of Little Golden Books are:
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey: The best-selling children’s book ever is a story about a curious little puppy that is always poking about, which on most days is rewarded with getting all the dessert to himself. The moral of the story is a little confusing because the poky puppy gets a lot of desserts, while the puppies who are behaving only get a share of the last portion. It’s also pretty long if you’re trying to read it to a three-year-old, but the illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren are cute, and that, as well as the nostalgia, has kept the book popular for over 75 years.
Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself by Margaret Wise Brown: This story was written by the author of Goodnight, Moon and illustrated by Garth Williams, famed for his illustrations for Charlotte’s Web and the Little House on the Prairie series. It is about a dog named Crispin’s Crispian who belonged to himself. He gets a little happier when he finds a boy that belongs to himself, too, who invites him to live at his house.
The Saggy Baggy Elephant (1947) by Kathryn Jackson: The third most popular Little Golden Book was illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, the illustrator of The Poky Little Puppy. The Saggy Baggy Elephant has sold around 7.5 million copies. The poor elephant is teased by other animals for how he looks until he finds others who look like him!
The Monster at the End of this Book (1971) by Jon Stone: Written by one of the original Sesame Street series writers and producers, The Monster at the End of this Book stars the lovable and furry old Grover, who begs the reader not to keep turning pages because there is a monster at the end of the book. A beautiful tribute to typography and teaching the art of suspense, it is a delight to read to wee ones.
Tootle (1945) by Gertrude Crampton: A free-spirited engine goes against the rules of not leaving the rails to race with horses and smell the daisies. One of the best selling Little Golden Books, Tootle has sold over 8.5 million copies.
Scuffy the Tugboat (1955) by Gertrude Crampton: An adventurous toy tugboat wants to swim in the river but soon discovers the bathtub is the best place for him. Scuffy The Tugboat has sold over 7 million copies.
The Little Red Caboose (1953) by Marian Potter: This tale was illustrated by Tibor Gergely, a Hungarian American artist who illustrated many children’s books, including Tootle and Scuffy the Tugboat. The Little Red Caboose tells the story of a caboose who wants to be as important and popular as the big strong engine in front but in the end, finds his own importance.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Although this tale was originally published in 1939, Little Golden Books released a special edition of the classic story of Madeline in 1954.
Some other books and resources of interest:
The Poky Little Puppy, I Can Fly, The Sailor Dog, Scuffy the Tugboat, Wonders of Nature, The Three Bears, A Day at the Seashore, The Blue Book of Fairy Tales, I’m a Truck, I Am a Bunny, The Whispering Rabbit, and Katie the Kitten, along with a poster highlighting the history of Little Golden Books.
This boxed set contains five classic Walt Disney Little Golden Books originally published in the 1950s and 1960. Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and His Spaceship, Scamp, Cinderella’s Friends, Little Man of Disneyland, and The Lucky Puppy will delight children ages 2 to 5 as well as collectors of all ages
Five Sesame Street Little Golden Books are collected in a keepsake slipcase. My Name Is Elmo, Elmo Loves You, Elmo’s Tricky Tongue Twisters, The Monsters on the Bus, and the timeless classic The Monster at the End of This Book for children ages 2 to 5.
Muldrow is a long-time editor of Little Golden Books, draws wisdom from numerous book for this humorous and insightful read.
Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books by Leonard S. Marcus and Collecting Little Golden Books’ A Collector’s Identification & Price Guide by Steve Sant
Additional Resources can be found at http://www.littlegoldenbooks.com