Antique and vintage children's books



2015-06-26 11:14:36

Antique children's books are books written specifically for children, dating from the 18th century to the mid 20th century.


The earliest known book created purely for children is thought to be the illustrated children's encyclopedia Orbis Pictus, written in Bohemia in 1658 by Jan Ámos Komenský. Up until the mid-18th century the majority of books for children were educational, offering lessons and religious moral teachings.

The book that changed children’s books forever, achieving widespread popularity, was Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault published in 1697, containing such enduring classic fairy stories as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots and more. These tales have been re-told and re-imagined endlessly ever since.

In 1744 John Newbery published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, the first book children's volume written for pleasure reading outside of a school environment. He ran a London bookshop from 1745 to 1767, and published a wide range of children's titles.

The 18th century saw changing attitudes to children and education, along with rising levels of literacy, and publishers dedicated to children's titles appeared across England. Along with educational books such as Alphabet books and volumes on nature, children's fiction was dominated by moral and cautionary tales.

Illustrations became more common, and several artists became known for illustrating children’s literature, such as Kate Greenaway, Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane. Around 1800, assembly lines were created for hand coloured images, generally with young people or children working on them. Several would sit around a table, each with a different colour on their brush, and fill in the designs. These engravings were then pasted into the books.

Improving printing techniques in the 19th century saw the development of illustrated children's books, and fairy tales found huge popularity. These stories were born from the traditions of oral storytelling and had roots dating back hundreds of years. They had first been collected and printed by writers in the French court of Louis XIV, but by the 19th century authors such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen were re-writing them for a young audience for the first time.

The 19th century also saw a number of children's books which are still in print today, from celebrated writers such as Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling. The second half of the century also saw children's book illustration become an art form in its own right, helped by the advances in colour printing.

By the 20th century the market for children's books expanded and became far more sophisticated. Books for younger children were heavily illustrated, ranging from the work of Beatrix Potter to the Dr Seuss books of Theodore Seuss Geisel. Other notable and collectible 20th century children's authors include Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows), J.M Barrie (Peter Pan), A. A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh), C. S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and J.K Rowling (Harry Potter).


The most popular children's titles for collectors are first or rare editions of titles which have stood the test of time and are still in print. However, finding good condition books can often be difficult as many copies have been read over and over by children, then passed down to younger siblings.

Many collectors will choose to focus their collection on a particular subject, such as early ABC books or childrens encyclopedias, whereas others may concentrate on the work of a single author such as Alan Garner.

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