Wild Things: Maurice Sendak memorabilia
Maurice Sendak ( June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012) is one of the best loved children’s illustrators and authors of the last 50 years. He pioneered a completely new way of writing and illustrating for and about children, that has remained fresh and inspiring to generations.
Since the publication of his groundbreaking Where the Wild Things Are in 1963, Sendak has been both widely adored and the subject of some controversy – a heady combination that seems designed to entice collectors.
There are really two main Sendak items that people collect: his books and his illustrations. These achieve higher prices every year as his legacy continues in the wake of his death, signed first editions and signed original illustrations fetching up to tens of thousands at auction. However, there are also options for garden variety collectors on a smaller budget wanting to capture a piece of Sendak’s magic, such as the posters he designed.
About Maurice Sendak
In Sendak’s obituary in the New York Times, Margalit Fox described how he ‘wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche’.
His work evokes complete escapism, the necessary use of imagination to overcome the fear and anxiety of childhood. He sends his child protagonists on wild and thrilling adventures, and does not shirk from inking in fearsome monsters.
His honesty and refusal to lie to children has endeared him to many children and adults. He was the first children’s author to present the psychology of childhood anger and frustration being worked out through a beautiful and imaginative process, quite revolutionary to the way that children’s books were written thereafter.
His critics say that his books are too frightening, grotesque, and metaphorical, and his 1970 book The Night Kitchen was widely banned for the nudity of his child protagonist. Despite this, all his works continue to be loved by his adult fans and by generations of children across the world.
Sendak ‘cultivated an image as a curmudgeon’. He was notoriously cranky, grumpy and outspoken, roaring his terrible roar and gnashing his terrible teeth like one of his Wild Things. He was also ferociously sharp, witty and wicked, and incredibly kind to all his child fans, never neglecting to respond to a single letter they sent him.
Sendak’s best known book is Where the Wild Things Are (1963), for which he received the Caldecott award. First editions of this, especially signed examples, invariably fetch the highest prices at auction for Sendak.
It was followed by the controversial In The Night Kitchen (1970), and then Outside Over There (1981), these three books forming a trilogy.
Other popular Sendak works include The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960), The Nutshell library (1962), and Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1967). Bumble Ardy (2011) tells the story of an orphaned pig who gives himself a riotous birthday party.
A good option for a new collector, or one on a budget, is to focus on books other than Where the Wild Things Are. The Nutshell Library for example is a set containing four short stories, Alligators All Around (An Alphabet), Chicken Soup with Rice (A Book of Months), One was Johnny (A Counting Book) and Pierre (A Cautionary Tale). The whole set regularly sells at auction for less than $200, in contrast to to the several thousand often achieved by Where the Wild Things Are.
The aforementioned books were both written and illustrated by Sendak. There are numerous other books written by other authors which Sendak illustrated, adding his marvellously distinctive illustrations to the works of great writers for both children and adults. The first book Sendak illustrated was Atomics for the Millions (1947), a science textbook written by his high school physics teacher. This, again, is another path a collector could choose to follow, collecting Sendak-illustrated works which are often valuable and desired more for his illustrations than for the words.
First editions, and signed first editions, will almost always be more valuable than later and unsigned editions. Sendak often accompanied signatures and inscriptions with a small sketch.
Books are also more desirable when they possess their original dust jackets, particularly Where the Wild Things Are. Many first printings of this book were recalled to add a medal sticker to acknowledge the Caldecott Award in 1964. Examples are more valuable if they come from the original printing and do not possess a sticker – thus proving that they retain their original dust jackets and are more rare in this state.
As with all books, always collect the best condition you can afford. Especially with modern first editions, value can vary hugely dependent on condition, particularly dust jacket condition.
Sendak was more prolific as an illustrator than as an author. His unique drawings were commissioned for everything from other writers’ books as mentioned, to posters, postcards, and advertisements.
Original illustrations by Sendak, whether for his own authored books, other books, adverts, signed tokens for fans, or just doodles for no apparent reason, are extremely sought after by collectors.
Once again, it is drawings related to his best-loved work Where the Wild Things Are which attract the most attention. Original sketches or watercolours of Wild Things fetch the highest prices at auction, for example an original backdrop landscape created for the book sold for $62,500 in 2009, and two watercolours of Wild Things sold for $24,000 in 2006.
Original illustrations not related to Wild Things are much more affordable, available at prices in the hundreds or less rather than the thousands. Generally a collector should focus on drawings accompanied by autographs, as this helps to authenticate the item as a genuine Sendak.
Collectors should enjoy Sendak illustrations, rather than collecting merely to watch their value rise as an investment. A perfect example is a story Sendak recounted himself, about sending a child an original drawing of a Wild Thing as a response to little Jim sending him a drawing. Sendak received a letter from the boy’s mother, which read: ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it’. Sendak took this as the highest form of complement.
Signed posters featuring Sendak designs are a fantastic option for collectors. They are not originals, so do not carry the same value, and are not as elite and unattainable as books. Yet he designed some wonderful posters for all sorts of things, from posters advocating literacy and book reading amongst children, to literary and art events, such as the New York Is Book Country series of posters, the Reading Is Fun poster, the Imagination Celebration poster, even posters advertising opera performances at the Houston Grand Opera.
Signed posters can be found at very affordable prices, and unsigned posters at even less. As items of ephemera, these posters will inevitably become more rare with time, so it is worth purchasing them as soon as possible.
A book was published in 1988 which collected together images of posters designed by Sendak, entitled: ‘Posters by Maurice Sendak’. This book is a useful reference for a Sendak poster collector, and first editions of it are becoming popular in their own right.
Where to find Sendak collectibles
The Rosenbach Collection in Philadelphia houses the majority of original Maurice Sendak illustrations and manuscripts – over 10,000 Sendak related objects, including drawings, preliminary sketches, manuscript materials, photographs, proofs and rare prints. Their shop sells books and prints signed by Sendak, as well as unsigned books, prints, toys etc.
Otherwise Sendak collectibles can be found at auction, through reputable book dealers, and on the internet through platforms like eBay.
Interest in Sendak has risen, as it often does, in the wake of his death in 2012. His legacy and popularity have continued as his books, illustrations and posters have become limited. As such a significant, powerful and controversial children’s author and illustrator, his popularity with collectors is bound to sustain.
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