Sunday, January 6, 2008

Irvin and Me

If you've ever wondered how to identify first editions of award-winning books, you might want to track down NEWBERY AND CALDECOTT AWARDS : A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FIRST EDITIONS by Irvin Kerlan, M.D. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, this book provides a detailed description of first edition points for every Newbery and Caldecott book up through the 1949 winners KING OF THE WIND and THE BIG SNOW. I've always dreamed of updating this volume from 1950 to the present.

Irvin Kerlan (1912-1963) was an M.D. who worked for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, DC and was an avid collector of children's books. The Kerlan Collection -- a children's literature research library located at the University of Minnesota -- is mecca for children's book enthusiasts. One of these days I'll write a blog entry about taking a double-decker train out to Minneapolis to visit this collection.

Because Dr. Kerlan's book is now out of print, you might have to borrow a copy or interloan a copy from your library. There are also a few available for purchase on internet used book sites, though they are selling for about $75. Several years ago I tried to purchase a signed copy of this bibliography on eBay, but somebody outbid me at the last minute. A few days later, I found an unsigned copy of this book for sale -- in its original dustjacket AND slipcover (the copy on eBay didn't have a slipcover; I didn't even know the book came with a slipcover!) on an internet site. The pictures above show the cover of the volume, as well as the title page and the frontispiece, which was drawn by Caldecott Medal winner Leonard Weisgard.

I owned the book for several months and used it all the time. I got over my disappointment that I didn't have a signed copy. I did wonder, as I do with all my used book purchases, who once owned this beautiful copy. Another collector? A librarian? Then one day I picked up the book and it flipped open to the back pages. I noticed something was written upside down on the back endpaper. I turned the book over and read:

That's right...I not only had a signed copy of this book, but it had once belonged to Leonard Weisgard, the very person who had provided the frontispiece!

As I always say, so often we just happen to stumble upon our most treasured books.

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