And suddenly the memory revealed itself.

I don’t usually follow the market in contemporary children’s books (and its sundry related material) with anything that might be construed by the unwary observer as attention, but the news at last reached me today (via Daddy Types) that an original Ludwig Bemelmans illustration from Madeline was sold at Sotheby’s in March for $126,000 (that’s with buyer’s premium; est. $10,000-$15,000).

I remember once hearing a bookseller say that the only books worth stocking were those that could be immediately recalled by anybody you stopped in the street. I have not hewn to that dictum–my pocketbook does not run that deep–but this is a pretty good example of what happens when sentimental familiarity and disposable income intersect. Perhaps one might claim that the butched-up version of this phenomenon is the price brought by Winston Churchill material.

Anyway, the hammer price for the Bemelmans piece doesn’t seem like a huge surprise given the current market for high-spots–an original 1926 illustration by Ernest Shepard of Christopher Robin from Winnie-the-Pooh brought $120,000 at Christie’s New York in April, 2005. (Another drawing at the same sale from The House at Pooh Corner brought a paltry $32,000.) The market for Beatrix Potter seems a trifle less bullish (in one recent instance, in the summer of 2001, an original drawing of Peter Rabbit and his family she executed in 1927 in ink and watercolors knocked down for £ 18,000 at Sotheby’s), while Maurice Sendak seems to dash off latter-day Wild Things with relative abandon; they bring about $4,000 at auction. (Given recent trends in naming kids one wonders what a drawing of Max might bring on the block?)

There is some consolation for those of us who missed the sale or who can’t otherwise afford original artwork from Madeline–we may still sign up to receive from her a personalized birthday card.

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