Robert MCCloskey's "Make Way for Ducklings" Sketchbooks

Value (2013) | $10,000 Retail$15,000 Retail

HOST: Locals and tourists flock to Boston Public Garden-- the first public botanical garden in America-- to stroll across the bridge, ride the Swan Boats, or enjoy one of the most beloved sculptures in the city: the ducks. These bronze statues were created by Nancy Schön and are based on the characters in Robert McCloskey's famous children's book Make Way for Ducklings. The story is about a family of ducks and their adventure from the banks of the Charles River to a spot on the lagoon here in the Public Garden. The book was first published in 1941, and in 2003 it became the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Very rare Robert McCloskey sketches for Make Way for Ducklings can be found at the Boston Public Library, where appraiser Colleene Fesko was on hand to discuss highly prized children's illustrations. Colleene, tell me how these great illustrations ended up here at the Boston Public Library.

Well, in the best way possible, Mark. In December of 1960, the author and illustrator Robert McCloskey came into the library, went to the children's department, and presented them with four sketchbooks for the book that would ultimately become Make Way for Ducklings. HOST: Let's talk about these sketches in particular, and maybe you could share McCloskey's process a little bit.

Well, the first one is of Louisburg Square. And it's very, very similar to the finished drawing that's in the book. It really does discuss how he thought about the illustration process. When he came to Boston, he really intensely studied the architecture and space of the area. After he roughed that out, he then inserted the ducklings into the context of the architecture, and then finally came the story. This is a very interesting drawing as well because it shows the corner of Charles Street where it meets Beacon Street, and it's where the mallard family walks into the Public Garden. What's interesting about the piece, in addition to its great similarity with the finished product, is that right about here are Nancy Schön's wonderful bronze ducklings. HOST: So the literary ducklings walk right into where the statues are.

Absolutely, Boston is a literary and literal town. HOST: Now I know this is difficult, but as best you can, can you assess value here?

Value is complicated. The difficulty is that original material for McCloskey is very, very, very rare. An original first edition in good condition of the book can sell between $20,000 and $30,000 retail. The sketchbooks are interesting because there's an academic quality to them, and ideally the sketchbooks should be kept together as a historical reference. Probably if another one came up on the market, I would think a value of maybe between $10,000 and $15,000 depending on how detailed the pieces are. HOST: Well, it's just wonderful to take a look at these sketches and learn more about them given that this book is so iconic and connected to Boston.

Absolutely. Treasure:

McCloskey chose to study the ducklings and the ducks live. So live that they were in his bathtub, in his studio. He was following them with tissues, he was sketching them in every manner, of sleeping, waking, stretching, eating, biting, everything. And when we look at the drawings there, you'll see how close he was able to capture duckling-ness. HOST: Duckling-ness. The essence of duckling-ness. HOST: Thanks, Colleene.

Thank you.

Appraisal Details

Colleene Fesko Works of Art
Boston, MA
Appraised value (2013)
$10,000 Retail$15,000 Retail
Boston, MA (June 09, 2012)
Paper , Pencil

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