10 February 2007

Little Black Sambo. Helen Bannerman. 1899

Helen Bannerman. LITTLE BLACK SAMBO. Grant Richards, London, 1899.

Current Selling Prices
$8500-$13000 £4000-£6500 Want level 75 - 100 Very High

The fourth Dumpy book. Dumpy books were still going until recently but this is by far the most valuable. Only 500 were printed. Written during the author’s journey to India. Her intention was to present the tale and its charming pictures to her children, who had remained at a Hill Station while she travelled with her husband- an army doctor. It was an immediate hit with them and a friend took it the next year to Grant Richards who bought the copyright for £5, something of a bargain. Its success is partly due to the attractive and innovative format, and also its vivid no nonsense 27 colour illustrations. Although often accused of racism ( the title doesn't help) it was something of a break from former stories featuring black children in that it portrayed the character as clever and resourceful rather than an impassive simpleton as so often before. Endless editions have appeared with different illustrators, moveables, pop ups, cut outs, miniatures, parodies and paint by number jobs.

VALUE? Fairly vulnerable little book with Victorian gutta percha binding so that the spine often needs replacing or strengthening. Also it tends to have been read, handled and chucked about by young children, who along along with 'fire, water, librarians and servants' must be numbered among the enemies of books. Fine copies are highly prized, 2 decent copies on ABE in late 06 at over $10K with the highest at a slightly stroppy but not absurd $15,500. In Feb 2007 another one has appeared with 2 others in so-so condition. Bit of an ebay favourite where even late reprints are fought for in mortal combat. In terrestrial auctions a decent copy hit $12000 in 1996 and several have breasted $6500. The US 1901 ed from Stokes is not be sneezed at, occasionally commanding over $1000. In terms of scarcity the net has revealed it as being difficult but not impossible; the toppermost dealer in this subject Justin Schiller wrote: "Should a census eventually be attempted, there would probably be fewer copies located than of the notoriously rare and suppressed 1865 Alice."
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