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.

Run! IHOP Is Giving Away Free Pancakes for National Pancake Day

What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
StephanieFrey/iStock via Getty Images

If ever there were a day to forgo that container of leftovers in the fridge and treat yourself to breakfast for dinner, it’s today: IHOP is celebrating National Pancake Day by giving each customer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The dine-in deal is available at participating locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.—but the hours can vary, so you might want to confirm with your local IHOP before heading there.

While a pile of hot, syrup-soaked pancakes is definitely a good enough incentive to visit IHOP immediately, it’s not the only one. IHOP is also hosting a sweepstakes that offers thousands of instant-win prizes across all locations, and you can only enter by scanning the QR code on your table at IHOP. One lucky carb-loader will win the grand prize—pancakes for life—and other rewards include everything from $500 IHOP gift cards to IHOP merchandise like blankets, watches, duffel bags, customizable jackets, and even bikes.

The pan-tastic event is all in the spirit of charity, and IHOP is hoping to raise more than $4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—you can donate online here. According to a press release, IHOP has contributed more than $30 million to its charity partners since beginning its National Pancake Day celebrations in 2006.

“IHOP launched its National Pancake Day event 15 years ago as a way to celebrate the best food ever—pancakes—and put a purpose behind the day by partnering with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other charities to help kids in our communities,” Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications, said in the release.

If you can’t make it to IHOP to claim your free short stack today, you can always celebrate National Pancake Day with a tall stack of homemade pancakes—find out how to make them extra fluffy here.

Why Do People Toss Beads During Mardi Gras?

Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images
Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images

Each year, more than 1 million people descend on New Orleans for Mardi Gras, an organized parade of debauchery and alcohol-induced torpor that may be the closest thing modern civilization has to the excesses of ancient Rome. Saturating the scene on Bourbon Street are plastic beads, handed or tossed to partygoers as a kind of currency. Some bare their breasts or offer booze in exchange for the tokens; others catch them in the air and wear the layers around their necks. Roughly 25 million pounds of beads are in circulation annually, making them as much a part of the Fat Tuesday celebration as sugary cocktails and King Cake.

Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870s or 1880s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600s. Party organizers—known locally as krewes—handed out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. Some of them threw chocolate-covered almonds. They were joined by more mischievous attendees, who threw dirt or flour on people in an effort to stir up a little bit of trouble.

Why beads? Tiny tokens that represent wealth, health, and other prosperity have been a part of human history for centuries. In Egypt, tokens were handed out in the hopes they would guarantee a happy afterlife; the abacus, or bead-based system of accounting, used trinkets to perform calculations; pagan pre-winter rituals had people throwing grains into fields hoping to appease gods that would nourish their crops.

Humans, argues archaeologist Laurie Wilkie, display "bead lust," or a penchant for shiny objects. It's one possible reason why Mardi Gras attracts so many people with their arms in the air, elated to receive a gift of cheap plastic.

Photo of a well-dressed bulldog celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The early beads were made of glass before more efficient production methods overseas led to an influx of plastic beads in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more organic predecessors, these beads have come under criticism for being a source of health problems and pollution. Made from petroleum, they often harbor lead that seeps into the soil and rubs off on hands. (One estimate puts the lead deposit after a Mardi Gras celebration at 4000 pounds.) In 2017, New Orleans paid $7 million in clean-up costs to remove discarded beads from drain basins. In 2018, they installed gutter guards to prevent the necklaces from getting into the system in the first place. Meanwhile, scientists have been working to create an even more eco-friendly version of the beads—like a biodegradable version made from microalgae.

Environmental hazards aside, the beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Christmas stockings or Thanksgiving turkeys. But the passion and desperate need for them is only temporary; in 2018, 46 tons of the beads were removed from just five blocks of the main parade route on Charles Street. And no bacchanal should leave that much bad juju behind.

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