1880 book on Fisk Jubilee Singers & their songs
  • Reader asks about “Wild Things” book signed by Maurice Sendak
  • Reader asks about Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are”
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    Auction Finds

    Readers ask about Fisk Jubilee Singers and Sendak books

    Friday at Auction Finds is readers’ questions day. I try to guide readers to resources to help them determine the value of their items. I’m not able to appraise their treasures, but I can do some preliminary research to get them started. So, these are market values based on prices I find on the web, not appraisal for insurance purposes that I suggest for items that have been determined to be of great value.

    Today’s questions are about the value of a book about the Fisk Jubilee Singers and scribblings in Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

    Fisk Jubilee Singers and book

    “The Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers With Their Songs,” 1880, and a photo of the singers from the book.


    I have an 1880 copy of “The Story of the Jubilee Singers.” It is yellowed and aged, the cover is a bit worn. Is this worth more than historical/sentimental value?


    The reader had come across a blog post I wrote a year ago about a copy of this book – fully titled “The Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers With Their Songs” by J.B.T. Marsh – that I had bought at auction. It was a chronicle of the Jubilee Singers, formed soon after the Fisk Free Colored School was founded in 1866 to educate formerly enslaved Africans. The book also contained songs, along with a personal history of each member and its pianist/singer. It seemed to have been first published as early as 1875.

    The choir, which became famously known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, first traveled the country during the latter part of the 19th century to raise money for the struggling school. I did not research the value of the book at the time because I was more focused on the history of the group.

    As for the reader’s book, condition is very important in determining the value, along with demand and whether or not it’s a first edition. My Jubilee book is in very good condition, with only minor wear. It is a “Revised Edition, Fifty-Ninth Thousand,” so that tells me it was published later.

    Googling, I found very few copies of the book for sale. Most seemed to be in historical collections or university libraries. On eBay, I found only one copy that sold, for $89. Others offered for sale included an 1875 copy of “The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University” by G.D. Pike for $75, and an 1874 version of the same book for $42.50. Asking prices for copies of Marsh’s book ranged from $19 to $99. Most were in rough condition. None were sold.

    I believe the reader is right in guessing that the book is worth more as a historical document. With that in mind, she could always donate it to a library or other historical collection.

    Maurice Sendak "Wild Things"

    The title page of Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.”


    I went to a Sendak lecture about his book years ago as a student. I was interested in taking classes about children’s books at the time. I have one called “Where The Wild Things Are.” It has notes throughout. All these years I wondered if I accidentally picked up Mr. Sendak’s book and these were his notes or someone else’s notes. I cannot read the notes and had no idea how they got there.


    The reader had come across a blog post I wrote answering a question about the value of a signed first-edition copy of Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book. What I found at the time was that the value of first-edition copies was pretty varied.

    As for the reader’s book with the notes, I suspect that she picked up a copy of another student’s book. The student marred the pages of a perfectly good book by taking notes in it presumably as the author spoke. I would hope that Sendak loved books too much – and especially his own – to write notes in them.

    I asked the reader to send me a copy of the book and its notes, but the photo she sent was too small and too dark. I could only see faint handwritten notes on two blurred pages.

    It may not be easy now for her to pursue this issue. For years, the Sendak Collection had been housed at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Trustees of Sendak’s estate (he died in 2012) requested last year that the items be returned so they could eventually be placed in a museum and study center in the author’s home in Connecticut. The museum sued, stating that Sendak’s will bequeathed the rare-book collection to the museum and permitted it to display his illustrations. The suit also sought to stop a January auction at Christie’s of some of the items in the collection.

    Too bad the reader didn’t get Sendak’s signature that day so many years ago. A first-edition copy signed by Sendak and inscribed with a drawing of the little boy in costume sold for $18,000 at Swann Auction Galleries in 2013. Other signed copies with and without the drawings sell for considerably less.

    "Where The Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak

    A drawing and signature in a copy of Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.” It sold at Swann Auction Galleries in 2013.

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