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Collecting Roald Dahl

Charles Dickens aside, it’s hard to think of an author with a legacy generating quite so many successes from independent stories and characters as Roald Dahl. If J. K. Rowling had never penned her magical septet of novels, it’s fair to say that Dahl would have remained unrivalled as the most important children’s writer of the second half of the 20th century.

The sheer breadth of titles eventually committed to film – James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG – not to mention the surprising affordability of first edition and signed books, makes the Cardiff-born writer particularly collectable.

Dahl had a knack for capturing the imagination of children – he understood how they thought and what they wanted to read far better than most. This is in significant contrast to a man known for his grumpy nature, attributed in part to ongoing headaches and blackouts that would trouble him from his exit from service as a fighter pilot in 1941 until his passing in 1990.

After leaving active service, in 1942 Dahl found himself in Washington DC, as assistant air attaché at the British Embassy. Following encouragement from new acquaintance C. S. Forester, “A Piece of Cake” a short story detailing RAF anecdotes – came to be published in the Saturday Evening Post

In 1943, his first children’s book The Gremlins was commissioned by none other than Walt Disney with a view to film adaptation. While that specific film was ultimately never made, it became a notable reference point for director Joe Dante while he worked on Gremlins, an award-winning film with similarly-imagined creatures but in a modern-day setting.

The Gremlins

First UK edition, preceded by the first US edition of the previous year. A special copy, bound for presentation, signed by 32 assorted dignitaries, probably at a special dinner in London in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund.

Being such an institution within British writing, it might be something of a surprise to note that Dahl first became popular in the United States – it wasn’t until the 1970s that the UK caught on. First editions of Dahl’s earlier novels, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, had been printed in America up to three years before their UK equivalents.

Dahl was also a notable screenwriter; the ITV television series Tales of the Unexpected and, most famously, the films You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (both based on friend Ian Fleming’s stories) were undertaken alongside his work on children’s novels.

Collecting first editions and books Inscribed by Roald Dahl

Dahl’s prolific penmanship and considerable popularity are both helpful for those seeking out a comprehensive collection. First editions of works from the 1980s can be found easily enough for some tens of pounds; novels including The Witches, Matilda and BFG in the low hundreds.

First edition, first printing, with the six line colophon on the last page which was cut to five in all subsequent printings.

First edition, first printing, with the six line colophon on the last page which was cut to five in all subsequent printings.

Inscribed editions of earlier books are in far shorter supply, however. Dahl was certainly not one for book signings and generally kept these dedications for friends, family and neighbours. Even as his work secured him a superstar status within the literary world, the closest he got to book-signing tours were visits to local to schools to dedicate copies to children. Inscribed editions of these books, can currently be found on sale in the low thousands.

During the 1990s Dahl did inscribe copies of autobiographical works Boy and Going Solo a little more freely, and for a time these were relatively common, but on the whole the author’s reluctance to embark on signing tours have left those books that do appear on the market at a distinct premium.

Roald Dahl is a joy to collect not only as an exercise in nostalgia but as testament to a remarkable author. Our collection of his books can be found by following this link.


  1. Carolyn Adams June 29, 2016

    My 3rd graders wrote to Roald Dahl after listening to James and the Giant Peach back in 1974. He wrote back to my class, personally signing the letter. This is a treasured letter that I have framed and given to my grandchildren. Any idea what it would be worth on the collectible market? Thank you.

    1. Rachel Chanter August 31, 2016

      Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment. For all enquiries about selling a book or valuing an item you own, please fill out the form which can be found here: Sell to us

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