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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

35 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in August

Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
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Many of August's quirky holidays revolve around celebrating loved ones and seasonal delights, so grab your family (Fido included) and a bag of marshmallow and let's party.

1. August 1: National Girlfriends Day

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Rest easy, boyfriends of the world, this holiday has nothing to do with you. National Girlfriends Day honors the lady friends who are there for their fellow lady friends.

2. August 1: Respect for Parents Day

We have a feeling an unappreciated parent came up with this holiday.

3. August 1: Rounds Resounding Day

This offbeat holiday honors the art of singing rounds, so find some pitch-perfect friends and warm up those vocal chords (via Zoom is fine).

4. August 1: National Mustard Day

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We'll use any excuse to eat a hot dog—or three.

5. August 2: National Psychic Day

But don't bother planning a surprise party for your resident clairvoyant.

6. August 2: National Sisters Day

Make sure to set aside the first Sunday in August as a day to celebrate the unique bond that you have with your sister(s).

7. August 4: Single Working Women's Day

In 2006, Barbara Payne established the Single Working Women’s Affiliate Network to recognize the achievements that single women have contributed to the world. Single Working Women's Day comes at the end of Single Working Women's Week, a time to celebrate the women "who do it all. Not only do they bring home the bacon, but they also shop for it, cook it, serve it and clean it up, then take out the garbage, walk the dog, and fix the sink (or call the repairman!)."

8. August 5: National Underwear Day

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Underwear emporium Freshpair founded National Underwear Day on August 5, 2003. Since then it has grown to include events around the country that encourage the 80 percent of people who have worn the same style of underwear their whole lives to branch out.

9. August 6: National Fresh Breath Day

If ever there were a day to stage an intervention with your halitosis-afflicted friends, today’s the day. Or, give yourself an extra brush and a bonus swirl of mouthwash and say ah. Probably a good idea to lay off the onions and garlic for the day, too.

10. August 7: International Beer Day

Back in 2007, a group of friends decided to internationally dedicate a day to "gather with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer, celebrate the dedicated men and women who brew and serve our beer, and bring the world together under the united banner of beer." And to that we say, cheers! Or salud! Or prost! Or gan bei! Well, you get the idea.

11. August 7: National Lighthouse Day

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In 1989, on the 200th anniversary of having signed "An Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys and Public Piers" into law, Congress decreed August 7 to be National Lighthouse Day.

12. August 8: National Dollar Day

On this day all the way back in 1786, the Continental Congress established a monetary system for the United States of America. Today, you can honor the birth of cold hard USD cash by carrying a few Georges, Andrews, and Abrahams in your wallet. If you decide to invite Benjamin, give us a call!

13. August 8: National Happiness Happens Day

Celebrated annually on the founding date of the Society of Happy People (formerly known as the Secret Society of Happy People—but why keep that a secret?), which you can join for free.

14. August 9: National Book Lovers Day

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For most book lovers, every day is a day to celebrate reading. But for the sake of celebration let’s open up the floor to all interpretations of what it means to be a “book lover.” Perhaps you just love the physical feel of a book, and have no interest in cracking one open. Or maybe, this day is meant to honor books in love with each other. Today is the day to exalt book lovers of all shapes, sizes, covers, and word counts.

15. August 9: Veep Day

Veep Day commemorates the date in 1974 when Gerald Ford became President without ever having been elected as either vice president or president. Ford had become vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned due to a kickback scandal. When Nixon later resigned amid the Watergate scandal, Ford found himself occupying the Oval Office. This was the first time the VP had become president under these terms.

16. August 10: National Lazy Day

National Lazy Day falls on a Monday this year. So be sure to plan ahead.

17. August 10: National S’mores Day

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The original s’mores recipe, published in Scout leader Loretta Scott Crew's 1927 Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, called these campfire treats Some Mores. Which is exactly what you'll be asking for.

18. August 11: National Presidential Joke Day

On this day in 1984, during a sound check for a radio broadcast, Ronald Reagan cracked the following joke:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Who knew the Gipper had such a dark sense of humor? He certainly didn’t know the mic was already recording, and the tape leaked. Since this little gaffe, August 11th has lived on as Presidential Joke Day.

19. August 12: National Middle Child Day

Even though birth order doesn't really affect your personality, let's hear it for the middle children of the world.

20. August 12: Vinyl Record Day

First declared such in 2002, Vinyl Record Day is held on the anniversary of Thomas Edison's 1877 invention of the phonograph.

21. August 13: International Left Handers Day

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For those world citizens who have found themselves in a right-handed-scissors world, today the world honors your special gifts. The other 364, we righties are still secretly jealous. If you’re in the UK on the 13th, the Left-handers Club sponsors members-only areas called “Lefty Zones." Okay fine, we’re jealous all 365 days.

22. August 15: Chauvin Day

If you're worried that this is a day to celebrate chauvinists—you're actually kind of right. But don't worry: On the anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's birthday, we celebrate the interesting etymological history of the word chauvinism, which comes from a man named Nicolas Chauvin, who idealized Napoleon so much that he became internationally mocked for his blind loyalty to a cause. From there the term became associated with any misguided or ill-intentioned adherence to a particular cause, and finally, the discriminatory mindset it refers to today. And now, for some reason, we honor him and it.

23. August 15: International Geocaching Day

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fans all over the world will be participating in this celebration without even knowing it.

24. August 15: National Relaxation Day

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Preferably celebrated in a hammock, on a beach, or with a pooped pup.

25. August 16: Joe Miller’s Joke Day

Joe Miller was an 18th century English actor whose reputation for being serious was so well known, we now hold an offbeat joke-telling holiday in his honor.

26. August 16: National Roller Coaster Day

The amusement first took root in the U.S. as a means of distracting people from unsavory entertainments. More than 130 years later, it's still going strong.

27. August 18: Bad Poetry Day

Roses are red / Violets are blue/ You probably saw this joke coming/ But we made it anyway.

28. August 19: National Aviation Day

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out the ultimate burn by declaring Orville Wright's birthday National Aviation Day. Why he chose to honor Orville over Wilbur in 1939 is a mystery to historians, but we think National Aviation Day is a great time to start preposterous rumors based on wild speculation, i.e. maybe Wilbur Wright was a figment of Orville’s imagination. (It could also have had something to do with the fact that Orville was still alive when FDR made the day official ... and Wilbur was not.)

29. August 21: National Poet's Day

A day to soothe the bruised egos of poets mocked just three days prior on August 18's Bad Poetry Day.

30. August 21: National Senior Citizens Day

Now this is the holiday for which Reagan would have wanted to be remembered. On August 19th, 1988, a proclamation was made by the then-president that deemed August 21st as a national day to give older U.S. citizens thanks and a heartfelt salute. Decades later, we're still doing it.

31. August 22: National Tooth Fairy Day

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Because anyone who can make a money magically appear under your pillow deserves a day of feting.

32. August 26: National Dog Day

Be sure to give a dog—or all the dogs—you love an extra treat or belly rub. Because they're all good boys and girls.

33. August 26: Women’s Equality Day

Celebrated on the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination in voting rights on the basis of sex.

34. August 28: National Bow Tie Day

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Celebrate by learning how to tie one.

35. August 31: National Trail Mix Day

Also known as National GORP Day. We love us a handy bag of “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” but let’s be honest: the addition of M&M’s are what make trail mix truly great.