04 March 2008

Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat, 1957.

Dr. Seuss. [Theodor Seuss Geisel.] THE CAT IN THE HAT New York, Random House, New York, 1957.

Current Selling Prices
$2500-$10000 /£1250-£5000

Dr Seuss's breakthrough book. The story behind it is well known but bears retelling. In May 1954, Life magazine published a report by John Hersey on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because the books that were being offered them were boring. This was known as the'Johnny Can't Read' controversy. Hersey wrote:-
'...In the classroom boys and girls are confronted with books that have insipid illustrations depicting the slicked-up lives of other children. [Existing primers] feature abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls....In bookstores, anyone can buy brighter, livelier books featuring strange and wonderful animals and children who behave naturally, i.e., sometimes misbehave. Given incentive from school boards, publishers could do as well with primers.'
Reacting to this Dr. Seuss's publisher got up a list of 400 mostly one syllable words that he felt were essential and asked him to cut the list to 250 words, and write a book using only those words. Six months later Geisel was still staring at the word list, trying to find some words that rhymed...when he was almost ready to throw in the towel, there 'emerged from his jumble of sketches a raffish cat wearing a battered stovepipe hat.' Geisel checked his list—both hat and cat were on it. Nine months later, using 220 of the words given to him, he finished 'The Cat in the Hat'. The book was a huge success. Its popularity led to the founding of the Beginner Book division of Random House in 1957 with Geisel as president. Dr Seuss was not exactly unknown already and had produced many popular children's books, he had also had a success as a graphic artist and produced the artwork for the famous 1930s 'Flit' adverts. (see below)

He had started out as an academic and ended up at Lincoln College, Oxford in the late 1920s trying to get his Ph.D in English Literature. Legend has it that in classes there he used to doodle in the margins of his notes and a young girl, noticing these drawings, said he would do better as an artist than a dusty old academic. He married her and they ended up in a fine mansion at La Jolla, California where he was a neighbour of Raymond Chandler (and Ronald Reagan.) The name Dr. Seuss was chosen ironically because of his father's hopes that he would one day be a Doctor Of Philosophy. In the family it was pronounced as in 'voice' but it is popularly spoken to rhyme with 'juice.'

Ascertaining a true first. It should have the numbers 200/200 (a price) on the front flap of the d/w and with no mention of the "Beginner Books" series on the rear panel. Watch out for facsimile jackets - unscrupulous sellers have been known to substitute the 1985 facsimile dust jacket on the first edition book.  The only difference between the 1985 facsimile DJ and the first edition DJ is the phrase "Printed in U.S.A." on the bottom back flap of the facsimile. Also the jacket's freshness and newness should be a giveaway unless some wily person has aged or distressed it--all the tricks in the book, as it were. I am indebted to the invaluable Children's Picture Book Collecting site for this tip and much other information. The book itself should be in one signature (aka gathering) 2nd issue and later printings have three signatures. Some sellers mention that true firsts have unglazed (not laminated) colour pictorial boards.

VALUE? The highest auction record was achieved in the Falktoft sale in 2001, a pleasing $9000 + the juice, this was for a copy described as having 'a few creases & tiny tears to edges.' It can be found on the web in some profusion with copies from $1000 to as high as $16000 for a very sharp example. Many sellers proclaim its rarity. Unremarkable copies sans d/w sell for only a few hundred dollars or less--the jacket is de rigueur. There are about 25 firsts for sale including the occasional signed presentation copy -almost all signatures are in the edition known as the 'third variant' -i.e with the price 195/195 on the front flap. Dealers are asking between $4000 and $5500 for these.

Auction records show it to be in a gentle and possibly temporary decline, but another high profile result might perk it up. There may be an element of overkill in the current market but it will remain as a landmark book and is still read with delight by today's children. Last word to the bewhiskered wise man of Hampstead - novelist/ ex-dealer and author of 'Children's Modern First Editions" Joseph Connolly, he wrote -'This extraordinary writer has done more to foster literacy in children than most because he manages to combine lunacy with sanity, fun with learning, and quality with exuberant readability."


Anonymous said...

Hey I have a 1957 hard cover edition of Boys life magazine Its every month 12 issues from 1957

its amazing if you see the ads that are in it and the prices for things it has very old cartoons also in it

what might the value be or where would i be able to find a value for it


Richard Pryor said...

I've been surfing the net to find info on this...I made a miraculous find...I'm a comic book collector and found a true first of THE CAT IN THE HAT in my boxes of comic books...my parents must have purchased it for me in1957...yes, it is one signature, matte boards, true dust jacket...now the kicker is the dust jacket was in a book protector and it is bright and glossy and near perfect..around a 98/100 rating..yes, I know what to look for; this is not a 1985 jacket...this is one of those true garage treasure finds...I'm going to be searching for the best way to sell this and would appreciate any help... you can reach me, Richard Pryor, at my email: nostalgiabooks@hotmail.com I sell on eBay under the nostalgiabooks name. Whew what a rush, and some book collector is going to get a spectacular (I can't believe there is any better DJ than this one!) book.

Anonymous said...

I Richard. I also find The Cat in the hat 1957 and I want to know if you are selling your book and, if yes, how much? I've found 18 others books of this collections and I want to know what to do with this.

JulieSeuss said...

I am interested in selling my copy of The Cat In The Hat. It has the 195/195 price, which tells me it is not a 1st state.

However, it does meet all other 1st edition identifying points, including all the right information on the back DJ cover. I'm guessing it is a '1st edition, 3rd variant' copy, but the only confusion I have is the circle around "FOR BEGINNING READERS" on the front cover and DJ is in red, not black. If you are interested in buying this and/or can clarify its edition, please comment here. Thank you.