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Collecting Boy Scout Handbooks
Collecting Boy Scout Handbooks has become quite popular over the past several decades. There are many websites and several books available to assist collectors, buyers and sellers. This guide is designed to answer some frequently asked questions for Ebay users.
FOR SELLERS (and buyers)
Generally speaking it is best to provide a picture of the front cover, spine, back cover, title page, and the page which shows the dates and total printings thus far when selling. In the description, sellers should provide the number of pages in the handbook as well as the condition. In the case of handbooks from 1942 through April of 1950, sellers should also provide the number of stars on the last page near the page number (see the section Regarding the Stars at the end of this guide). As with most collectibles, rarity plays a part, but condition is king.
The first American boy scout handbook was published in 1910. There are a number of different varieties of the "original edition," and collectors can tell the differences by looking at the covers.
In 1911, the BSA changed covers and printed (and reprinted) the handbook until 1914. Collectors will want to see a picture of the cover and title page.
Starting in 1914, The handbook has a picture of a scout signalling with another looking through binoculars. Early covers were printed with a reversed plate. Collectors will want to see a picture of the cover and title page.
From 1927 on the BSA clearly marked the printings in the front of each book. Collectors will want to know the exact printing date - the copyright date does not matter. Continue to provide pictures!
The War Years (WWII)
The BSA did its part to conserve paper and made changes to the look and size of the handbook. They also began putting stars on the last page...
Regarding the Stars on the last page....
The BSA sold advertisements in handbooks in lots of between 100K and 120K depending on the issue date and total copies printed of the book. The stars indicate which printing lot - sort of a subprinting for advertising purposes. Collectors who are serious about BS Handbooks want one of each subset...therefore they want to know how many stars are on the last page....Incidentally, during and shortly after WWII, the BSA contracted with The American News Company to distribute the BS Handbook around the country faster. Some handbooks have 'Distributed by American News Co.' in small letters on the spine. An ardent collector will want every variety of every printing and will ask about the spine as well as the stars.
While efforts have been made to document every printing, cover type, and variation of every Boy Scout Handbook, new varieties still appear once in a while. New collectors can put together a type set of covers without spending multiple thousands of dollars. Serious collectors are known to have spent multiple thousands on a single book.
FOR BUYERS (and sellers)
Starting a handbook collection is quick and easy on Ebay. You might consider trying to collect all the printings of a certain edition - like the ninth (the last cover done by Norman Rockwell). These are easy to find on Ebay and in antique or old book stores and do not cost all that much.
You might start a collection of every cover variety (sometimes called a "type set" - a phrase taken from coin collectors). Here things can get expensive rather quickly. You can expect to pay between $1 and $25 for books that date back to 1940 depending on condition. As you look at books between 1927 and 1940 (Rockwell's "Famous Americans" cover), expect prices to go up. It is not uncommon for a book in this range to sell for $50 or more if in great condition. In March of 1935 a special silver cover was issued to commemorate the 25th anniversary and 5 millionth handbook. This book usually starts around $100 even in the poorest condition. They have sold on Ebay for over $1000 in pristine condition. When you get back earlier than 1927, you have to decide things like - do you just want a "signal flag" cover...just in green, or gray, or red...using Morse Flags or Semaphore Flags...Reversed cover plate...does the font of the cover printing matter...What about special editions, like the Gallahad Edition? Most people consider ANY signal flag cover to meet the needs of a type set. Expect to pay at least $25 and much more if looking at rare or pristine condition signal flag books. First edition handbooks (a misnomer since there was a prior edition) show a Scout waving on the cover. Again there are several varieties. Most of these will begin in the low $100's - sometimes less if condition is poor or pages are missing. These can sell for over $1,000 based on rarity and condition. The Original Edition - or "The 1910" as it is sometimes called was the first American handbook. There are nine known varieties. Typically there is a drawing by Lord Baden-Powell on the cover. These will usually sell in the range of $500 - $1500, more if in great condition. One variety, a red leather cover issued at a special dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, rarely comes on the market and will likely run multiple thousands of dollars.
Some crazy collectors, like me, try to put together a complete set of every printing, every variety, of every edition. That's what makes this a life-long hobby (obsession?). However you choose to collect handbooks, I am sure you will find it rewarding (notice how lifesaving techniques changed over the years) - and occasionally funny (read about "how to stop a runaway horse" in an early handbook, or "how to stop a mad dog." In any event, enjoy collecting!