Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2021 Issue

Fireworks for Dr. Seuss

B7f9e99a-0b53-4fa3-af42-f0b7057ce6f8

These are the six titles that have been discontinued by the estate of Dr. Seuss.

Publishing decision ignites furor on many fronts.

 

It was news in February when Hasbro dropped the “Mister” from Mr. Potato Head in a move the company said hoped would make the classic popular toy more “gender neutral.” That announcement caused the internet to perk up its collective ears.

 

But reaction to the sexual orientation of the aging spud was mild compared to the real pyrotechnics that erupted on March 2nd, when the estate to Dr. Seuss declared it would cease publication and licensing of six titles from the Seussian archives. On the drop-dead list were the time honored classics: To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo, as well as McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

 

According to a March 2nd statement issued by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” It went on to say, “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

 

Hurtful and wrong?” Hurtful and wrong!!

  

Well, what exactly was “hurtful and wrong” was a little more difficult to pin down specifically, as was the rationale for ceasing to print the books which already had hundreds of thousands if not millions of copies already circulating through the homes and libraries of the world.

  

Ostensibly the judgement could be applied to a few illustrations scattered through the text that are small but politically incorrect by today’s standards, but stating unequivocally that such extreme measures were necessary brought forth a wide range of reactions, not all of them siding with the estate’s decision. As the news hit the media, the world of popular culture, children’s literature, bookselling, online auctions, and political correctness all went collectively berserk. There was no one, it seemed, who didn’t weigh in on the decision (including your own correspondent here at Rare Book Hub Monthly).

 

Now we all understand that books go out-of-print every day with nary the blink of an eye. But when it comes to spectacular exits it will be hard to beat the withdrawal of these six titles by the venerable and beloved author of children’s books, whose claim to fame includes a host of perennial best sellers for youngsters and a masterful command of other genres including advertising, sculpture, and cartooning, to name a few. And when it comes to popular entertainment and collateral merchandise spinoffs, Dr. Seuss is a very heavy hitter (think pajamas, bedsheets and sneakers, t-shirts, toys and games, video and film specials and the whole rainbow of money making opportunities generated by durable intellectual property) 

 

According to Its Linked In profile, Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a San Diego based company established in 1993. The descriptive blurb states its “global portfolio complements the roster of iconic Dr. Seuss books, and includes films, TV shows, stage productions, exhibitions, digital media, licensed merchandise, and other strategic partnerships.”

 

This is not some small time operation. A recent Forbes article ranked the Seuss’ estate second in value only to the King of Pop - Michael Jackson, in the money making abilities of dead creative celebrities. Or as the magazine wrote, “Sam-I-Am now has a lot more green to go with those eggs and ham. The estate of Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) nearly doubled its income in 2020, earning an estimated $33 million in a very Grinch-like year.”

 

The media site Cinemaholic recently estimated Dr. Seuss’s current net worth is approximately $75 million. This article goes on to say, “Since Dr. Seuss Enterprises is growing bigger every year, it is likely that his net worth will soon surpass $100 million. With more and more of his books being adapted into movies and shows, his financial success has clearly only just begun, and we can expect his wealth to be on an upward trajectory in the future as well.”

 

From a purely business perspective it seemed this was just a routine trimming of the backlist that just coincidentally happened to fall on the author’s birthday and (perhaps unintentionally) sent shock waves through the world of books.

 

And mighty shock waves they were: only two days later CNN reported that 9 out of 10 books on the Amazon bestseller list were Seuss titles adding, “On eBay, the books are selling for $4,000.”

 

On Amazon, copies of "If I Ran the Zoo" start at $939 and climb to $5,000.

 

"The Cat's Quizzer" can be yours for $875 -- or for $1,600, if you can handle a book cover with "very modest rubbing."

 

One listing on eBay -- five of the six discontinued books for $2,500 -- is averaging 63 views per hour. The discontinued books became rare collectibles almost instantly, simultaneously igniting controversy over the enterprise's decision to cease publishing.”

 

And, will wonders never cease, it was just a short time later that both Amazon and eBay issued edicts saying they would no longer sell the discontinued titles, (not that there aren’t ways around that ban). But that bit of holier-than-thou sophistry came only after jillions of internet sellers had offered some perfectly ordinary used books of (up till then) very modest value and made some astonishing gains.

 

Forget “Wall Street Bets, I personally counted over 70 eBay SOLDS for If I Ran the Zoo that exceeded $100 and one outlier with hardly any description (much less a date) that sold for $720 with 57 bids! (Shades of Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds)

 

So pronounced was the upswing that Emily Hetzel of Common Crow Books, an antiquarian dealer in Pittsburgh, wrote on one of the bookish listservs on March 5, “You may want to take note of an interesting phenomenon: ever since the publishers announced that six Dr. Seuss titles will no longer be published... there has been an enormous uptick in sales of those books on online sites. Cheap book club editions and modern reprints of the six titles, which ordinarily could be found in most used bookstores for $5-10 are now auctioning for $200-400,....We were slow off the mark and quickly sold what we had at pre-"ban" prices. No regrets, I guess.”

 

This is an extreme case of how prices can be affected by news or media activity,” she continued. “When movies are made into books, the first editions of those books shoot up in price. When "Titanic" came out, those shoddily printed 1912 rush-jobs on the ship's disaster shot up in price, only to slowly, er, sink over the next years. When an author dies, signed books are snapped up, and even unsigned copies will fly off the shelves, as if the death of an author automatically makes their work a hot commodity: witness how $2 paperbacks of Coney Island of the Mind are still fetching $25 online a few weeks after Ferlinghetti died. One of my favorite books, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, used to be about $100 in a signed first edition from Toronto; now it's hard to find one for under $1,000 because: TV.”

 

A broader discussion of the surge and its impact on the book trade followed in Fine Books Magazine Blog . Among other things it quoted Dr. Philip Nel, distinguished professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University, who said to Esquire about a copy of On Beyond Zebra being offered online for $1,500: “‘Unless that's a signed first edition, I wish them luck. There are so many of these books in print that the imagined scarcity the marketplace seems to be creating is truly imaginary. I imagine some opportunists will manage to make a buck off of this. But if you want a decent used copy of one of these books, they're not scarce.”’

  

A very different reaction came from the National Coalition Against Censorship which issued its own statement including the comment, “We must draw a line between criticizing texts and purging them. If we remove every book that is offensive to someone, there will be very little left on the shelf.”

  

Not far behind soaring monetary values and accusations of censorship came the political fallout as the now out-of-print titles brought mostly right wing accusations of “cancel culture.” Some high profile voices decried the actions as an example of applying new (and to them offensive) “politically correct” norms. But, as Chris Volk, of Bookfever.com in Ione, CA noted,” It is ironic that conservatives, who supposedly believe that businesses have the right to make decisions like this, are the ones complaining.”

 

Or as my dad was fond of saying: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

 

Reach Susan Halas at wailukusue@gmail.com

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Bibliothèque littéraire<br>Hubert Heilbronn<br>11 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Breton, André. <i>Nadja.</i> Paris, N.R.F., Gallimard, 1928. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> [Stendhal, Henri Beyle dit]. <i>Le Rouge et le Noir,</i> chronique du XIXe siècle. Paris, Levavasseur, 1831. €20,000 to €30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Dumas, Alexandre. <i>Les Trois mousquetaires.</i> 1844. 8 vols. In 4. Paris, Baudry, 1844. €30,000 to €50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Mallarmé, Stéphane -- Edgar Allan Poe. <i>Les Poèmes d’Edgar Poe.</i> Bruxelles, Edmond Deman, 1888. €18,000 to €25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Le côté de Guermantes II. Sodome et Gomorrhe I. [and] Sodome et Gomorrhe II.</i> Paris, N.R.F., 1921 et 1922. €20,000 to €30,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mariette (Pierre-Jean). <i>Traité des pierres gravées / Recueil des pierres gravées...,</i> 2 vols., 1750. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> [Bryant, Jacob & William Cole]. <i>Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus, [Marlborough Gems],</i> 2 volumes, [privately printed, 1780-83], £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Caylus (Anne Claude Philippe, Comte de). <i>Recueil d'Antiquités Egyptiennes, Estrusques, Grecques et Romaines,</i> 7 volumes, Paris, 1756-67, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Devonshire Gems. <i>Duke of Devonshire's Collection of Gems,</i> privately printed, c. 1790, [one of 8 copies], £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Goltz (Hubert). <i>Le Vive Imagini di tutti quasi gl'Imperatori,</i> Antwerp, 1557, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Manuscript. <i>An Explanation of Dassier's Medals, by Charlotte Hanbury,</i> c. 1795-1800, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Paoletti (Bartolomeo and Pietro). A collection of 300 plaster cameos presented in 7 leather-bound double-sided faux book boxes, Rome, c. 1820, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mayer (Luigi). <i>Views in Egypt, from the Original Drawings, in the Possession of Sir Robert Ainslie,</i> London: Thomas Bensley for R. Bowyer, 1805, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Blaeu (Willem Janszoon & Johannes). <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Atlas novus, pars quarta</i> [England and Wales], Amsterdam: Johannem Blaeu, 1648, £6,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Reuter (O.M. & Mela, A.J.). <i>Finlands Fiskar. The Fishes of Finland,</i> 12 parts (complete), Helsingfors: G.W. Edlund, 1883-93, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Lunardi (Vincenzo). <i>An Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England,</i> 2nd edition, London: Printed for the Author, 1784, £700 to £1,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> North America. Jansson (Jan). <i>Virginiae partis Australis et Floridae partis Orientalis,</i> circa 1641. £400 to £600.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. The Rocky Mountains. Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in English]. <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated faithfully into English.</i> Rheims, 1582. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in Latin]. <i>Biblia latina.</i> Venice: Franz Renner of Hailbrun [Heilbrunn], 1483. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822). Autograph letter signed ("P. B. S."), to Charles Ollier. Florence, Italy, 15 December 1819. “MY PROMETHEUS IS THE BEST THING I EVER WROTE.” $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> RAMSAY, David (1749-1815). <i>The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina…</i> Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BINDINGS]. MUIR, John (1838-1914). <i>The Writings of John Muir.</i> Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916-1924. 10 vols. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [CHICAGO] -- <i>Park & Guide Map of Chicago.</i> Chicago: Jas. Van Vechten, 1873. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [ALLEN PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). <i>Romeo and Juliet.</i> Greenbrae: Allen Press, 1988. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BEMELMANS, Ludwig (1898-1962). Pencil drawing on paper. 247 x 198 mm, sight, matted and framed. Showing a child shooting at a baby's balloon. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [LOGAN ELM PRESS]. HARVEY, Rebecca. <i>Any Number of Things.</i> Ohio State University, 2013. Single sheet paper scroll. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BINYON, Laurence (1869-1943). A small archive of letters and pamphlets. $200 to $300.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions