2012 includes the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of the USA(GSUSA), an organization that has been publishing handbooks for its members since literally before the first-ever Scout meeting in Savannah, Georgia in 1912. So there are plenty of old Girl Scout handbooks floating around antique and secondhand stores. Maybe you even have one gathering dust in your basement! But what is it worth?
Introduction to Appraising Girl Scout Handbooks: When You Need to Put This Blog Down and Consider a Professional Appraisal
Putting a price on collectible books is an art. If knowing what your vintage Girl Scout handbook is worth is Serious Business (for instance, if you’re planning to insure it as part of a collection or trying to sort out your estate), you should speak to a professional. As far as I know, there are no collectible-book experts in the U.S. that specialize in Girl Scout handbooks, and the folks at the Girl Scout Museum run by the national headquarters do not give price estimates. Your best choice for a professional valuation is therefore a person who specializes in early-20th-century Americana.
(Some resources for finding a qualified appraiser are available in the Resources section at the end of this post. Please keep in mind that I do not endorse (or not-endorse) any particular appraiser. This information is merely to give you some idea where to start in getting a professional appraisal.)
What’s My Girl Scout Handbook Worth? – For the Rest of Us
If you just want to know what your vintage Girl Scout handbook is worth for your own amusement, or because you’re considering selling it and want to know what a fair price would be, read on! In Part 1 of this post, we’ll start with some general principles on appraising books. In Part 2 (a separate post), we’ll look at what some early editions of Girl Scout handbooks have been offered – and purchased – for recently.
Part 1: General Tips for Determining A Book’s Value
Like all collected books, the value of a Girl Scout handbook depends most of all on its condition.
Ideally, your vintage Girl Scout handbook will be in pristine, just-left-the-publisher condition. It will have bright, clean covers with no fading, creases, chips, cracks, tears, smudges, scrapes, writing, or sticky price tags. Its pages will be clean and crisp with no marks or dirt on the edges and no handwriting anywhere. The spine will have no looseness, creases, or cracking, and all the pages will be firmly attached to the spine. If the book came with inserts, like an equipment catalog, the inserts will still be in their original location and their original fresh-from-the-printer condition.
Ideally. But these are Girl Scout Handbooks. They were designed to be used by busy, active children in situations ranging from quiet libraries to back-country survival hiking, and so most of the surviving handbooks – no matter how recently they were published – look like they belonged to busy, active children who enjoyed some back-country survival hiking with them. Although the pristine look is ideal, it’s almost impossible to find in any Girl Scout publication. (Unless, of course, you’ve just ordered it from the National Headquarters.)
Therefore, handbook collectors understand that they aren’t always going to be able to find a book in pristine condition. Generally speaking, Girl Scout handbooks can still be considered “collectible” if they have any of the following defects:
- dents in the edges of the cover or smushed-in corners (known to collectors as “bumped” corners or edges)
- a Scout’s name, identifying information, etc. written inside the cover or on the “this book belongs to” page in pencil only (ideally light pencil)
- badge completion dates and signatures on the appropriate pages, also in pencil only
- a loosened spine (known to collectors as “shaken”), as long as the covers are still firmly attached and the individual pages are still firmly attached to the book
- light soil or brown stippling (known as “foxing”) on the page edges when the book is closed.
- any of the above, except softcover handbooks should not have loose or “shaken” spines. Spines on both types of handbooks should not be creased or cracked, and the book should not flop open to any particular page when opened.
- If the handbook is spiral-bound, all the pages should still be firmly attached to the spiral binding – none should be torn partway off.
Books in this condition are still usually considered “collectible” by most collectors and will still fetch prices pretty near the top of the range for any particular edition. (For more specifics on price ranges, see the upcoming Part 2.) Books with more serious problems – torn or creased pages, drawing or writing in ink or crayon, cracked spines, and so on – may be saleable, but for a lower price.
A Girl Scout handbook is not collectible if it has any of the following problems:
- missing, torn, or illegible pages
- pages mended with Scotch tape, or items attached to the book (like leaves collected on a hike or CPR completion cards) with Scotch tape or glue
- liquid damage of any kind
- mold or mildew
- torn, creased, broken, or missing covers or parts of covers
Some collectors generally refer to copies in this condition as “reading copies.” A “reading copy” is so called because reading is all it’s good for – that, and maybe lining a birdcage. If the mangled handbook in question happens to belong to you or to a beloved family member or friend, by all means keep and cherish it – but don’t expect it to be worth anything to a collector.
(For more information on evaluating the condition of collectible books, see Firsts’ Quick Reference Guide to Grading Books.)
Part 1a: My Handbook Has Writing All Over It. Is This a Problem?
For most collectible books, yes. For Girl Scout handbooks, sometimes.
Handbooks published from the 1970s to the present were specifically designed to be written in, and many girls marked their achievements in the margins of earlier handbooks. Writing that limits itself to filling in the blanks or to the date a particular badge requirement was finished shouldn’t hurt the value of the handbook too much, as long as it’s in pencil and doesn’t obscure any of the text. Significant amounts of writing, drawing, and doodling do hurt the value of a handbook, however, especially if the marks are in something that can’t be erased.
In rare cases, writing may actually increase the value of a handbook. How does this happen? Well, handbooks owned by notable figures – like founder Juliette Gordon Low or long-time Scout and actress Marlee Matlin – increase in value if these personages have written in them, as long as you can prove that the person who did the writing is who you claim they are. (Authenticating handwriting is a skill in itself, and one that is far beyond the scope of this post.)
Part 1b: Rare Books and Scarce Books
Condition, condition, and condition are the top three considerations for a collectible book’s value, and Girl Scout handbooks are no exception. Once you’ve assessed your handbook’s condition, however, you’ll also want to add in one more factor before you start guessing at a price: how hard to find is this book? Is it rare, or is it scarce – or is it common as dirt?
Professional book collectors and dealers use the words “rare” and “scarce” to mean specific things. A rare book is one that a professional dealer will see only a few times in hir lifetime. For instance, there are about 37 copies of the Gutenberg Bible still in existence, and they’re all in museums – that’s a rare book. Rare books fetch top prices, and professional collectors usually know how many of them exist – and who has them – at any given moment.
Scarce books aren’t as unusual as rare books. They’re difficult to find, and the average collector might spend years trying to find one. But professionals will see a dozen or more copies of a scarce book in their lifetimes, and there are enough of them floating around that most professionals won’t be able to name every person or institution that has one.
Currently, to the best of our knowledge, there are no rare Girl Scout handbooks. A copy of the 16-page pamphlet Juliette Gordon Low created as the first handbook for the first-ever troop would be rare, if any copies still existed. But no copy has surfaced in decades, so it’s a pretty fair bet this book no longer actually exists.
Several scarce Girl Scout handbooks do exist, however. Among these are Hoxie’s How Girls Can Help Their Country, published in seven editions from 1912 to 1917. The Mariner and Wing Scout handbooks published in the 1940s are also scarce (and they’re bordering on rare in some parts of the country). Scarce handbooks fetch the highest prices.
Part 1c: Edition Versus Impression
Nearly all the Girl Scout handbooks were printed in either multiple editions or multiple impressions – or both. What’s the difference?
An edition is a new version of the same book. Editions usually involve some kind of change. For instance, the first commercially-published handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country, went through seven separate editions. One edition changed the cover from hard to soft; another added additional information in the book itself; another added an equipment catalog in the back. And so on.
An impression is an individual print-run of the same book. Unlike editions, no changes are made between impressions. The 1947 handbook went through at least seventeen impressions in the years it was used.
When it comes to both editions and impressions, earlier is better. A first edition, first impression is worth more than a later edition, impression, or both.
Part 1d: Why Is Putting a Price on Girl Scout Handbooks So Hard?
Collectible books are a hard market to pin down, $$$-wise, and Girl Scout handbooks are even harder. That’s because only a handful of people actually collect Girl Scout handbooks, each member of the handful has specific books or editions zie is looking for. You can estimate a price by looking at a book’s condition, edition, and so on, but what you can ultimately sell a Girl Scout handbook for depends on which collector you’re talking to more than it depends on any other factor.
For example: I personally own multiple copies of the 1912 handbook, How Girls Can Help Their Country (which is why I use it as an example so often here). Therefore, I’m not likely to pay top dollar for another copy of this book, unless it’s in considerably better shape than the copies I already own or is a first or second edition (the hardcover editions).
However, a collector who has searched for a copy of How Girls Can Help Their Country for several years without success, and who desperately wants a copy of this books, might pay top dollar for a copy, even if it’s a later edition or is not in tip-top shape – just like I, who have never seen a single Mariner Scout publication, would be willing to barter at the high end of the scale for a Fine first edition.
This doesn’t mean that Girl Scout handbooks are impossible to price, just that it takes some work. If you’re trying to insure a collection, split it fairly among your heirs, or simply appreciate the value of what you have, understanding how Girl Scout handbooks (and other collectibles) are priced is key.
In Part 2 of this series (upcoming), we’ll look at what various editions of the Girl Scout handbooks have sold for recently – and what you might reasonably expect your copy to sell for today.