Prism 1959 yearbook

At the end of every school year , the next generation gets read to head off for the summer. They clear out their lockers, say goodbye to friends and pick up their school yearbook. A ritual which, for high schoolers, involves lining up for your tome and then rushing around scrawling signatures, silly notes and poorly written poetry under classmate’s photos.

These books are cherished personal memory capsules, but some become the ultimate acquisition for a celebrity super fan. If you graduated with Ronald Reagan, Larry Bird, or Tennessee Williams your yearbook could be worth a lot of money, especially if the schoolyard superstar signed it. “Completist fans are what drive the collectible annual market,” explains Fernand Chagnon of F.I. Chagnon Books in Chula Vista, California, “A yearbook is something special in that not everyone can get their hands on one, making them a valuable edition for any collection.”

Only a small fraction of student annuals ever reach the collectors market. “People keep their annuals for sentimental reasons, and even after a parent passes away their children usually keep them as part of the family history. Annuals are also popular because it gives collectors a glimpse into the celebrity’s past, from before they were stars.”

Genealogists and history buffs are the next biggest collectors of yearbooks. Both are interested in the past but their collecting habits and reasons for collecting differ greatly. History buffs want to find yearbooks pertaining to a notable historical event, the first African American to graduate from Harvard or the last class from a cherished schoolhouse. Genealogists on the other hand are interested in the history of a specific person or family. The subject of their study may be an important figurehead or a simple labourer but no matter who they are the yearbooks are collected to help trace family lineage or migration.

Old Miss 1921 yearbook

Some yearbooks fall into both of these categories, like when George Everett Whitworth of George's Books & Autographs in Memphis, Tennessee, realized that his father in law went to the University of Mississippi with William Faulkner. Whitworth explains that "I looking for copies of William Faulkner's yearbook before anyone else realized its value, though I have to admit that there wasn't any genius foresight on my part. I was researching my family's history and acquired a copy of the 1917 Old Miss yearbook because it contained pictures of my wife's father, M.A. Lazo, and his first cousin, J.A. Lazo, both of whom attended the Pre medical school in 1917 & 1918 at the same time as Faulkner." Once Whitworth received the book he quickly made the Faulkner connection and bought up as many copies of the annual as he could find.

The last category is the sentimentalist, or the ordinary graduate who lost or never received their annual. “Those are the most important people,“ says Fernand Chagnon, “It always makes me happy when I can reunite someone with their school annual.” Chagnon continues by explaining that collectors, genealogists, and sentimentalists would all agree that the senior yearbook is the most important (much the same way that first editions are valued by other book collectors). However if you look past that one trait you can never really tell which yearbooks are going to sell.

“When a natural disaster strikes I see an increase in orders come in from the affected areas. After the wildfires in southern California I received many inquiries from people looking to replace annuals that were lost in the fires. A couple of the buyers actually drove up to meet me in person; they didn’t want to trust the yearbook to the postal service.

I know how people feel when they have lost their yearbook. When I was a senior in high school I moved out of state towards the end of the year, my school was supposed mail my annual to me but it never arrived. Several years later I returned to my old high school in the hope I could at least get a photo copy of my senior yearbook from the library or a former classmate who was still living in the area. When I got to the school it turned out they had a stack of old yearbooks, from various years, in a storage room. The school was looking to clear out the room, and I was given a copy right then and there. I remember how happy I was to receive that book, and helping others find that same happiness is one of the reasons I started selling yearbooks.”

The ten most expensive yearbooks ever sold on AbeBooks:

1. Old Miss 1921

Ole Miss Yearbook 1921 (University of Mississippi) – $4500
Prints William Faulkner's poem, "Nocturne," in facsimile of the author's stylized printing over a two-page spread along with several Faulkner drawings. Assistant editor Paul R. Rogers' copy with his contemporary ownership signature and inscribed by Rogers to Faulkner biographer Joseph Blotner at a later date. Faulkner attended Ole Miss in 1917, 1918, 1921 and 1922, taking a two year break to join the Royal Canadian Air Force fighting in WWI. It was also at this time that William Faulkner began signing his name with a “u”, the way his family had historically spelled the surname; so in earlier years he would sign “Falkner.”

2. Frank Herbert

Lincolnian Yearbook 1937 - $750
The high school yearbook for Frank Herbert in his junior year. The author of Dune appears in a class picture (misidentified as "F. Hebert") but doesn't appear in any other captioned photos. However, he has Inscribed the yearbook to his classmate using nearly half of a page: "Dear Bud; May I linger in your memory as the fellow who could get up in front of the U.S. History Class and make a bigger fool out of himself than anyone else in the room. Sincerely, Frank Herbert."

3. Jackie Robinson

The Sequoian (John Muir High School) - $650
Second and last high school annual documenting the achievements of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, a four letter athlete at John Muir Technical High School, Pasadena, California. Robinson is mentioned on six pages, most with good sports photographs, including his class picture. With inscriptions from many staff and students, but not signed by Jackie Robinson. An update on alumnus Mack Robinson notes the was then the world's leading amateur sprinter, and captain of the Pasadena Junior College track team. Former L. A. County Warren Dorn was also in this class and there is a brief inscription from him.

4. John F. Kennedy

The Harvard Freshman Red Book 1940 (University of Harvard) - $500
Yearbook of the class of John F. Kennedy, folk singer Pete Seeger and Broadway lyricist Alan Jay Lerner. In red imitation leather with gilt Harvard crest and lettering; some rubbing to extremities; first letter to cover title slightly chipped; lettering to spine dulled; light stain to extreme bottom of first six pages; otherwise clean and unmarked.


A Collection of The Potter Shield, 10 various Vols. from 1916-1924. (Potter School) - $475
Potter School was a private secondary school which catered to the privileged families of early 20th century San Francisco. The issues are replete with local insights of information concerning San Francisco at the time. Includes a vast array of display advertising representing the most historic of San Francisco businesses. A true treasure trove of period San Francisciana.

6. William Spratling

Glomerata 1921 (Auburn University) - $406
The yearbooks Art editor was renowned silversmith William Spratling. Even though he was an undergrad, and failed to graduate, Spratling was appointed as an Instructor in Architecture. Senior blurb in this annual quotes "Billy is one of the most remarkable men in the class of twenty-one. In art he is undoubtedly a genius. He works harder and loafs less than almost any boy in college and yet no one likes a good time better than he. He is loyal to his friends and to everything with which he is connected. Versatile, brilliant, sincere, loyal - what more can be said of a man? With these qualifications we expect him to win Fame and Success in life."

7. Lucy Craft Laney

The Red and Black 1923 (Haines Institute) - $375
Haines Institute was a co-educational school for African-American youth which was founded in 1886 by Miss Lucy Craft Laney (1854-1933), who served as its principal for nearly 50 years.


The Bitterroot 1920 (Missoula County High School) - $300
Contains Norman Maclean's (author of A River Runs Though It) earliest writing, a poem dedicated to the memory of Miss Mallory entitled "Flowers."

9. Edgar Allen Poe

Corks and Curls 1895 (University of Virginia) - $300
Contains a previously unpublished poem "My Soul" by Edgar Allen Poe along with a facsimile of the handwritten piece that was found by the librarian in Vol 1 of Rollins Histoire Ancienne, taken out by Poe in his one year of study at the University in 1826.


The Camplog 1924 (New York State College of Forestry) - $300
A yearbook for the students of the NY State College of Forestry Summer Camp. Includes a brief history of the camp, staff and student lists, data reporting camp excursions, pranks, etc and 15 pages of local period ads.