Harold and Maurice

For Crockett Johnson’s 116th Birthday, here is the signed first edition of Harold and the Purple Crayon that he gave to Maurice Sendak.

Maurice Sendak’s copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon

During this period, he was spending many a weekend at the Rowayton home of Johnson and Ruth Krauss, working on her children’s books. Between 1951 and 1960, Sendak illustrated 8 of Krauss’s books. He considered them his mentors and his “weekend parents.” He was only in his 20s then!  Krauss and Johnson called him “Maury,” though (to my knowledge) no one else did.

Crockett Johnson’s inscription to Maurice Sendak, on the first edition of Harold and the Purple Crayon

This book was sold at auction in April of this year for $20,160.00. Since the low end of the estimate was $500.00, I considered bidding, but, well, 20K is far beyond my price range. At least we can see these two images.

Details from Sotheby’s site:

JOHNSON, Crockett (1906-1975). Harold and the Purple Crayon. New York: Harper & Bros., [1955].

Presentation copy of the first edition, inscribed for Maurice Sendak on the front free endpaper: “To Maury, with fond regards, Crockett Johnson.” The dust jacket shows the price of $1.50 and correct codes, indicating the first edition. Johnson (pen name of David Johnson Leisk) was married to the children’s book author Ruth Krauss. Eight of Krauss’s books were illustrated by Maurice Sendak, beginning with A Hole is to Dig in 1952. This work was published just three years before Harold and the Purple Crayon and is the book which launched Sendak’s career.

12mo (147 x 119mm). Illustrated throughout. Publishers’ cloth-backed pictorial boards, spine lettered in white (light rubbing at edges); pictorial dust jacket (mild wear at extremities). Provenance: Harry Bacon Collamore.

How was such a valuable book sold, you may ask? And why? The Rosenbach Collection made the deeply immoral decision to break up Maurice Sendak’s collection of books. I say “deeply immoral” because Sendak entrusted the Rosenbach with his book collection, and he wanted them to remain together. I know this because I talked with Maurice about this, personally. They violated his trust.

As Sergio Ruzzier wrote at the time of the sale, “It’s a real shame that such a unique collection will be dismantled, unless someone buys it all and keeps it whole, which is unlikely. It shows closed-mindedness and no respect for Maurice’s life.”

I realize that this post is a bit of a downer — especially for a birthday post! But fret not: I hope soon to have some happier Harold and the Purple Crayon news (of my own) to announce. And if you’re interested in adaptations of classic children’s books, a live-action Harold film is expected in 2023, and a Harold musical is expected to open on Broadway in 2024.

Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years


  1. Sherry


    How do you know if you have a first addition? My boyfriend has 3 books signed by Crockett Johnson personally. His Uncle Dick’s cousin ( Ruth Krause ) was married to Crockett Johnson.

    Thank you,
    Sherry & Grant

  2. Reply

    Dear Sherry and Grant,
    This would be a question for a rare book dealer or collector. I wish that person were me — not just because I’d love to have things like signed Crockett Johnson books! But I don’t know what your books may be worth. I do remember seeing another signed first edition of Harold advertised for sale — I forget the dealer, but they advertise in the New York Times Book Review. I remember mostly that it, too, was well out of my price range.
    Sorry I’m not able to help.
    Good luck!

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