Little collectibles sometimes have big appeal - and value

By Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?January 25, 2014 

Q. Some of my Big Little Books were collected when I was young and some I've acquired more recently. I love them and think other people would be interested in knowing about them. Can you give us all some background and a few values? -- Fern in Kennewick

A. As far as "old things" go, Big Little Books are fairly recent. They wereintroduced in 1932 by Whitman Publishing of Racine, Wis. Small and compact -- usually about 31/2 inches wide and 41/2 inches tall -- they were up to 400 pages and featured plenty of illustrations.

The first book was The Adventures of Dick Tracy. They were wildly popular from the start. That success led to competition and soon other companies including World Syndicate Publishing, Lynn and Van Wiseman were bringing out their own small book lines.

Early Big Little Books emphasized action adventures -- like Captain Midnight, Ace Drummond and King of the Royal Mounted. Many other titles featured cartoon characters such as Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny. They also focused on comic strips, popular movies and radio shows.

In 1938, the name changed to Better Little Books and Whitman's line lasted longer than anyone else's -- with production ending in the 1960s.

With a huge number of titles and characters and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) printed -- these books aren't hard to find. Building a collection of rare titles in excellent condition will, however, take some effort.

Most Big and Better Little Books received their share of use and abuse. The average one has condition problems. Expect scuffing on the covers and many have splits up the spine or loose covers.

Condition and rarity are the primary price drivers. There is an active national collector's club and identification and price guides have been published.

In "fine" condition, rare Big Littles (as collectors call them) can bring hefty prices. A 1934 Betty Boop in Snow White will set you back up to $300. Buck Rogers And The Planetoid Plot is valued at $100 and the original Dick Tracy is now worth $1,000. They all sold for 10 or 15 cents when first issued.

Those are the nose-bleed prices. Most Big Littles, in average condition, will bring between $5 and $10 today.

The three books illustrated here are all in good condition, with these values: Donald Duck, $12.50; Inspector Wade and the Feathered Serpent, $7.50; and Gang Busters Step In, $8.50.

Q. These are from my grandmother's button box. She wasn't a collector of buttons, just held on to things that were useful in her sewing. I've always thought they might be special. What do you think? -- A.J. in Kennewick

A. Clothing buttons are fascinating to tens of thousands of collectors around the world. Materials, styles and categories of buttons are nearly endless and some are highly valuable.

The buttons date to about 1900, and the primary material is tortoise shell. Probably on a coat or cloak of the latter part of the Victorian era, they are a little more than an inch in diameter. Collectors would classify them as "big."

Inlaid with mother-of-pearl (the flying bird) and painted details (some of the leaves), these are desirable and are valuable. They are in very good condition. A fair market price would be $25 each.

There is a network of button collectors around the world. In America, the National Button Society, established in 1938, has about 2,500 members.

There is an active Washington State Button Society with clubs around the state, including one here in the Tri-Cities.

The National Button Society has a wealth of information on their website -- www. nationalbuttonsociety.org.

Internationally, the society's annual convention, show and sale draws people from around the world. In 2012, the sessions were held during a full a week in Portland. The show is staged in a western state about every four to six years.

For information on the Tri-Cities Button Club, call Kathy at 542-0109.

-- Terry K. Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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