10 of the Most Valuable Christmas Books (And Why They're Worth So Much)

Courtesy of Bauman Rare Books
Courtesy of Bauman Rare Books

What’s it like to be a rare book dealer during the holiday season? It’s the busiest time of the year for us, just as it is for regular booksellers. The seasonal crush creates a festive phenomenon, a category of rare books that collectors seek like mad for one part of the year, then ignore for the next eleven months: Christmas books. Here are the stories behind some of the most sought volumes.

1. RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER // ROBERT MAY, 1939

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer illustration
Courtesy of David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University

We owe Rudolph to a marketing scheme. Robert May was a copyrighter for Montgomery Ward, the department store. This Christmas classic started out as a little booklet given away free to children visiting the store. It was published as a cheap holiday promotion, never meant to last—the kind of paper advertising that parents throw out as soon as they get home. In the rare book world, we call something created without the intent to survive long “ephemera.” This is one of the reasons that the first edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can reach prices as high as $1000: They weren’t meant to last.

2. “‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS” // CLEMENT MOORE, 1823

'Twas The Night Before Christmas page
Courtesy of Bauman Rare Books

The famous American poem that captures the anticipation of Christmas Eve was never meant to be shared outside of the author’s close friends and family. However, a friend was so impressed by the poem that she clandestinely submitted it to the editor of a popular magazine.

Moore didn’t publicly claim the poem until 15 years later, a gap which has allowed questions of authorship to appear in the 20th century. The controversy has even sparked a popular holiday event called “The Trial Before Christmas.” The poem has appeared in countless adaptations, including a terrific e-book performance, but the earliest versions can top over $10,000.

3. A CHRISTMAS CAROL // CHARLES DICKENS, 1843

A Christmas Carol book
Courtesy of Honey and Wax Booksellers

Dickens famously financed the printing of A Christmas Carol himself after his publishers refused, believing that the extravagant gift book wouldn't make any money. Few realize, however, that his publishers were right: Dickens spent so much on the hand-colored illustrations and other fancy touches that his expenses ate up 85 percent of the revenue.

Ironically, this deluxe production has proved quite fragile in the long term. Today, it’s so hard to find in beautiful condition that small differences in the wear on the binding can change the price by $5000 or even $10,000. Our own Christmas Carol is priced at $28,000.

4. HOLIDAYS ON ICE // DAVID SEDARIS, 1997

Holidays on Ice book
Courtesy of Brian Cassidy Bookseller

Collectors of hyper-moderns—that is, books from approximately the past few decades—aren’t searching for just any copy of David Sedaris’s holiday book. They know to look for the copies that got Sedaris in trouble. The first state of Holidays on Ice depicts Santa on the cover. The problem is that Santa … is standing over a urinal. The cover was considered too “objectional” in the U.S., and was quickly replaced. Now a signed first edition of a copy with Santa urinating on the cover will cost you around $100.

5. “THE GIFT OF THE MAGI” // O. HENRY, 1905

The Gift of the Magi book
Courtesy of Honey and Wax Booksellers

Henry’s poignant tale of gifts and sacrifice was written in a tavern in New York City. It was first published in The New York Sunday World, but if you want to find the version that commands the highest price on the collectible market, you need to look for the first edition in book form. However, you might overlook that $600 volume on the shelf of an antiquarian book shop: The short-story collection bears a less familiar title. Keep an eye out for O. Henry’s book called The Four Million, with “Published April, 1906” on the copyright page.

6. THE TAILOR OF GLOUCESTER // BEATRIX POTTER, 1902

The Tailor of Gloucester
Courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books

Scientist-cum-artist Beatrix Potter’s delightful tales of the critters in English farms and gardens began as many children’s books do: as stories recounted to the young children Potter knew. In 1901 Potter made The Tailor of Gloucester as a Christmas gift for the daughter of her former governess. A true Christmas story set on Christmas Eve, it was also Potter’s own favorite of her tales.

For years, Potter had been privately printing small runs of cards and tales to give as Christmas presents among her circle. Even though she had already secured a contract with Frederick Warne & Co. for The Tale of Peter Rabbit by 1902, she decided to self-publish The Tailor of Gloucester anyway, fearing that Warne would otherwise cut some of her favorite rhymes. Today the privately printed version, which came out a year before the better known Frederick Warne & Co. edition, can fetch prices of $7500 to $9000 in great condition.

7. A SNOWY DAY // EZRA JACK KEATS, 1962

A Snowy Day book
Courtesy of E.M. Maurice Books

While A Snowy Day isn’t specifically about Christmas, it evokes the Christmas season as surely as one’s first snowman. A Snowy Day is notable not only as a Caldecott winner, but as the first full-color picture book to feature an African American as the protagonist. Indeed, Keats was inspired to create the work after years working as an illustrator for other authors who rarely depicted African-American children, or other children from minority communities, in their stories. In his autobiography, Keats explains that this wasn’t a political move, but simply a reflection of reality that others were ignoring: “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.” The book is now highly sought by collectors, so expect to see a price of around $12,000 for a nice one.

8. “THE TWELVE TERRORS OF CHRISTMAS” // JOHN UPDIKE AND EDWARD GOREY, 1993

The Twelve Terrors of Christmas old book
Courtesy of Honey and Wax Booksellers

While Updike’s essay first appeared in The New Yorker in 1982, it reached peak creepiness with the addition of Edward Gorey’s unsettling illustrations. Imagine the man who inspired Tim Burton, Guillermo Del Toro, and Neil Gaiman drawing Santa. Shudder. Copies of the limited edition, signed by both Updike and Gorey, can cost you between $300 and $400 today.

9. “THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM” // EDGAR ALLAN POE, 1842

The Pit and the Pendulum book
Courtesy of Adrian Harrington Rare Books

Philadelphia publishers Carey and Hart got into the Christmas book business before even Charles Dickens, issuing a volume of stories toward the end of each year with elaborate gift bindings stamped in gilt. Entitled The Gift, the 1842 issue of this annual contains the first appearance in print of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” surely one of the least Christmas-appropriate stories of all time. Today, look for copies at $1000 or even $2000.

After its appearance in “The Gift,” the tale went mostly unnoticed. Poe printed it again in a journal he edited in 1845, but the tale didn’t appear in any of Poe’s short story collections during his lifetime. It wasn’t until 1850 that the story took its proper place next to “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” in a posthumous volume.

10. “AUGGIE WREN’S CHRISTMAS STORY” // PAUL AUSTER, 1990

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story
Courtesy of William Reese Company

Thanks to a special commission from The New York Times, Auster published a modern Christmas story that manages to be poignant without being sentimental. It’s a tale within a tale, a meta-tale: Auster stressed over how to write a modern Christmas story, “warring with the ghosts of Dickens, [and] O. Henry.”

The next year, Auster’s stress-inducing New York Times commission was turned into a limited edition fine press book. Of the 450 copies printed, 100 were signed by Auster, and now fetch prices of $200 to $250.

Harry Potter Fans Can Have Dinner at Hogwarts This Christmas

big-ashb via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
big-ashb via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans who have ever dreamed of a Hogwarts Christmas now simply need to make their way to London to experience it. Through January 27, 2019, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is hosting a festive "Hogwarts in the Snow" event, where visitors can recreate some of the Wizarding World's most memorable moments.

According to the Warner Bros. Studio website:

"The festive transformation will begin in the Great Hall, where the stage will again be decorated as it was for the iconic Yule Ball. As seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the celebration of the Triwizard Tournament saw every detail of the Great Hall covered in shimmering silver, dripping icicles and sparkling snow. You will get a taste of this incredible set dress as the top section of the Great Hall will be transformed with snow-covered Christmas trees, icicles, and an orchestra of magical instruments that have been painted by the Prop-Making Department to match the silver of the Yule Ball."

Though it may not be exactly like attending the Yule Ball that was thrown at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Harry and the gang, the studio's epic holiday party will make it feel pretty close. An orchestra will play as attendees feast on a grand two-course dinner in the Great Hall and drink Butterbeer, and you'll gain exclusive entry to the Studio Tour.

After dinner, dessert and drinks will be served as guests travel through the sets from the Harry Potter film series, including the Gryffindor common room, Diagon Alley and Platform 9 ¾.

Though The Weird Sisters will not be in attendance, we can pretty much guarantee you'll have a better night than Harry, Hermione, and Ron did at the Yule Ball.

Thoughtful Human's Line of Plantable Greeting Cards Is Here for Life's Most Delicate Scenarios

Thoughtful Human
Thoughtful Human

Not sure how to make amends with that family member you had a fight with a couple years back? Perhaps you want to offer support to a friend going through a painful time—like with depression, cancer, or various kinds of grief—but don't know how. If you're having trouble finding the right words to say, Thoughtful Human wants to help. This unorthodox card company is challenging people to communicate in ways that show "radical compassion and empathy."

Thoughtful Human is essentially the Hallmark of strained relationships and awkward ice-breakers. The messages get straight to the point and say the words you might have trouble voicing aloud. "I was being really selfish and immature. I'm sorry," reads one. "Still mad, but life is short and tradition is tradition. Happy birthday," reads another.

But what truly makes these cards a literal alternative to extending an olive branch is that they're also plantable? All of the cards are made of seed paper, and they generally transform into wildflowers within 10-14 days of being planted. View it as a symbol of the restorative power of communication.

A variety of cards
Thoughtful Human

In a video posted to the company's website, Thoughtful Human's founder, Ali O'Grady, explains that the cards are designed for "dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances." It's also a deeply personal project: She decided to start the company after losing her father to cancer.

There are cards dedicated to addiction and rehab, depression, grief, injury, long-distance relationships, and other delicate scenarios. Of course, you'll also find plenty of cards for happier times, including thank-you notes and congratulatory messages.

And if you haven't sent out your Christmas cards yet, consider this anti-holiday holiday card: "Shout out to that stranger's baby who locked in a lifetime of undeserved gifts, pie, and vacation time for everyone."

These cards and more can be found on Thoughtful Human's website, on Target.com, and at select Whole Foods stores in California's Bay Area.

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