Old books a passion for Greencastle collector

December 10, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Michael Schnebly offers no excuse for what he is.

"I'm a collector. I was born to collect," he says with the determination of a bird dog on point.

Schnebly's forte is children's books from the Victorian era through the 1920s. He is attracted by their wonderful chromo-lithographic illustrations and the talents of the best illustrators of their day - artists like Palmer Cox, Justin Howard and Michael Hague, who has illustrated such classics as Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willow."

Schnebly's collections appear in special exhibits at libraries and historical societies, and in the 1980s were displayed at the Miller House in Hagerstown.

The books he covets - familiar classics like "Robinson Crusoe," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Robin Hood," "Tom Thumb," "The Three Bears" and "Little Red Riding Hood" - were mostly published by McLoughlin Bros. of New York between the 1850s and 1920s.


"McLoughlin books are an interesting subject to study and collect," he said.

After the turn of the 20th century, more publishers entered the children's book field and the competition became too much for McLoughlin Bros. The company sold out to the Milton Bradley toy company in the late 1920s, Schnebly said.

"Tastes (in children's books) began to change after 1900," Schnebly said. "The books became more modern. There were more choices."

A Greencastle native, Schnebly retired as a librarian in the Washington County school system in 1996.

He recently exhibited a small part of his collection, mostly McLoughlin Bros. books, in a special display at the Allison-Antrim Museum.

He said that exhibit contained only a small part of his collection, which he stores at home under controlled temperature conditions in acid-free boxes.

The publishing of children's books dates to the late 1600s, Schnebly said. In those early times, printing was done on woodcuts.

"Those early books are in museums and private collections," he said.

Schnebly said the oldest book in his collection was published in Boston in 1771 and printed by Thomas and John Fleet. Its title is "A Token for Children" and it was written by James Janeway.

He said he's been interested in books and reading ever since he can remember. He followed his interest with a lifelong career as a librarian and collector of books.

He remembers as a child reading the Little Golden Books that were popular in the 1950s.

"I'm sorry I threw them out," he said. "They're highly collectible today and they're worth a lot of money."

Schnebly still roams auctions, flea markets and antique malls looking for books.

"It's getting so hard to find old books anymore. They're usually in bad condition or they're too expensive," he said.

He said he still finds collectible books through specialty book dealers. He's focusing these days on vintage American books about food and drink.

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