Once Upon a Time

Rare children’s books from famed bookseller Justin G. Schiller up for auction in Heritage’s December sale.
Imaged by Heritage Auctions, HA.com

A first edition of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), estimated at $20,000 and up.

For a collector and seller of children’s books, it makes sense that a passion for juvenile literature would begin as a child, but it’s rare that a childhood obsession turns into a lifelong career. Yet that’s exactly what happened when Justin G. Schiller fell in love with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and began collecting various editions at age eight. By the time he was twelve, he had founded the International Wizard of Oz Club and began buying copies for others and reselling them.

“Children’s books were being neglected amongst other collectibles when I was growing up,” Schiller said. “Just as everything has hills and valleys and ups and downs, children’s books were often pushed to the side and no one took them seriously but me.”

However, Schiller persisted, and interest in rare children’s books grew. He eventually founded Justin G. Schiller Ltd., which is now the oldest antiquarian book firm in the U.S. continuously specializing in rare and collectible children’s books.

Imaged by Heritage Auctions, HA.com

A first edition of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), estimated at $20,000 and up.

Today, Schiller is known as an esteemed trader, who has helped build some of the most impressive collections of children’s literature ever amassed, such as that of Lloyd Cotsen, former CEO of Neutrogena, whose 60,000-70,000 volumes were donated to the Princeton University library. He also worked with Betsy Beinecke Shirley, whose collection of children’s books were donated to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Schiller built his reputation on buying the very best material available and working with selective clients; however, he said much of the care he has spent on his trade stems less from the position of bookseller and more from a sense of guardianship for the rare books that have come into his possession.

“I’ve bought back books I’ve sold after a collector dies,” he said. “I’m very consistent, because I feel I’m protecting them. I was an only child, and these books are also only children that need to be protected.”

This year, however, Schiller’s shop is closing. Though he notes he won’t entirely be removed from the book trade, he does say the shop’s expansive collection must be sold. These items will be sold by Heritage Auctions on December 16. Lots in the sale will include rare works from prominent children’s authors dated across several centuries.

Fittingly, one prominent item from the sale is a first edition with first state text and plates of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), estimated at $20,000 and up.

Another offering is a copy of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876) with multiple presentations to the Drury sisters, who were friends of Carroll’s, estimated at $10,000 and up, as well as a 6" x 6" original ink and watercolor image by Beatrix Potter, called Dancing to the Piper, which is estimated at $50,000 and up.

Also up for sale will be a presentation copy of Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Grosse Ausgabe (1837) by the Brothers Grimm from Wilhelm Grimm to fellow German writer Amalie Hassenpflug, estimated at $50,000 and up.

“While these books are being sold, I’m not abandoning collecting or collectors or the urge within me to collect,” Schiller said. “But I do hope our books will find good, deserving homes.”