Lawrence Lowery, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, is a researcher and lecturer in science, mathematics, and children’s literature. He has authored several textbooks, numerous films, articles, television programs, more than 30 children’s books, and two reference books on Big Little Books. Recently, we discussed his Big Little Books collection.
ephemera: You have such varied interests. When did your passion for BLBs begin?
Lowery: I was about seven years old when my grandmother gave me a copy of Mickey Mouse in Blaggard Castle--the story, the shape, format, and feel of the book hooked me on BLBs. But it was about 50 years later that a book display of BLBs brought back the memory of earlier books, and when I discovered that their history was lost, I decided to reconstruct it and wrote several books about BLBs.
ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in finding new items for your collection? How do you overcome these challenges?
Lowery: There are hundreds of BLBs that are easy to attain at reasonable prices. It is the high grade and rare items that are difficult to get. I have over 1,600 BLB items in my collection, so the 2 items I know exist but I don’t have are the ones I am looking for. They may show up anywhere, but are likely to be in someone else’s large collection. Available large collections are few and far between--but I search through each one that shows up. Advertising for the items does not help. In going through large collections, I check each book against the ones I have--it is in doing this that variations are discovered.
Lowery: I have different favorites for different reasons. Of course, Mickey Mouse in Blaggard Castle is a favorite because it had a great story and was my first BLB. Another was the last book to fill in the basic set of BLB titles--it was Nancy and Sluggo--and it is memorable because it completed the set of all the titles.
And I like showing off the Silly Symphonies (link to related eBay auctions) BLB translated into Spanish--it sits in a silver box the shape of a BLB and Disney craftsmen inscribed a Spanish greeting on the box. It was given as a gift to a publisher in Argentina in 1940 when Disney was asked by President Roosevelt to travel to South America as an ambassador to strengthen relationships with the U.S. so as to prevent some of those countries from siding with the Germans before WWII. The book is autographed by the Argentina Publisher and Walt Disney.
ephemera: No wonder it is a favorite of yours. Amazing. What’s your advice to achieving success as a collector?
Lowery: There are two kinds of accumulators--those who love the item for its own sake and those who invest in the item. For the collector, those who love the items, I recommend learning as much as you can about it--the more you know, the more you cherish the item. And I recommend that you define or map out the items you want so as to not become overwhelmed by trying to get everything. Most collectibles seem to go up in value, but cherish each for its own sake and not its monetary sake. For the investors, choose items wisely by looking at trends--always go for high-grade items and store them in ways that will keep them from deteriorating.
ephemera: What resources and tools do you recommend?
Lowery: There are very few reference items related to BLBs. Price guides are of interest to investors, reference guides for collectors. Price guides are filled with errors, missing items, and prices are seldom true to the real market. They become dated quickly--the last BLB price guide was by Larry Jacobs, Big Little Books, a Collector’s Reference and Value Guide. The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide<, includes a section listing prices of BLBs. Reference guides are: Arnold Blumberg’s The Big Big Little Book Book; Lowery’s Collectors Guide to Big Little Books and Similar Books; Lowery’s The Golden Age of Big Little Books, 1932-1938.
ephemera: Thanks, Lawrence. I certainly appreciate your thoughtful comments on the subject of BLBs. Good luck with the new book and all of your collecting endeavors.
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