By Kenneth Gloss
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the obvious perennial favorite for holiday books. However, many people might not realize that holiday-themed items can be exciting and rewarding choices, simply because there is a plethora of options available. That’s not to say 1834 Dickens classic isn’t wildly popular, even today. There are people who will come into the store, seeking a first edition and will spend upwards of $70 – $1000 for that particular volume. There are people who collect all versions of A Christmas Carol, whether it be all the different illustrated versions or all the different covers. There are literally thousands of unique versions of that Christmas classic, giving a Dickens collector years of hunting.
Another popular one is ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. Neiman Marcus had an original manuscript edition of the poem listed for $750,000 in its catalog in the late 1990s. Obviously, it was for the serious and well-heeled collector. Many people who collect it also buy a second version that isn’t as valuable so they can have one for display and one for an annual Christmas Eve reading with their children. A number of customers prefer reading ’Twas the Night Before Christmas because the language is easier and the story is shorter than Dickens’ novels.
Before the 1800s, Christmas was looked upon as solely a religious holiday and any celebrations were frowned upon. However, there are those who like to collect copies of the laws and social tomes of the time that show this disdain for holiday celebrating. By the time that Dickens came along, attitudes were changing. L. Thomas Nast, the famous illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, created the first drawing of Santa Claus as a jolly, large man who slides down a chimney and leaves gifts. That first drawing is a collector’s item, as are the subsequent renditions of St. Nick. Collecting simply illustrations of Santa Claus can yield a wide amount of material for any collector.
There are also people who like to collect holiday cookbooks so they can see how culinary traditions have changed over the decades. These changes can often be linked to social shifts and inventions of the times. Another popular collectible area is books on how different cultures and religions celebrate the holidays.
Holiday collections are so popular that virtually any field you choose to focus on – Santa illustrations, Christmas cards or cookbooks – links to a society and/or a shop dedicated to collecting and preserving that niche.
As Christmas grew in popularity, so too did the amount of materials and peripherals available for collectors to choose among. Not everyone who collects holiday memorabilia does it to amass one type of book or illustration; many begin these collections because of the touch of nostalgia they find in hunting for the treasures they remember from their youth.
Other collectors use the materials they gather as decorations for their homes. A set of holiday books or a grouping of Santa illustrations can make a fantastic display during the holidays. Some people look for Santas that aren’t in sleighs, but rather in other conveyances such as trains, airplanes and cars. There is so much material available that it is very easy for a collector to carve out one’s own niche.
Holidays are also a great time for people who like to buy unique books and give them to collectors. A number of people seek out leather-bound editions of Shakespeare or coffee table books to give as gifts. It’s the mark of a true gift because it shows that the buyer had to think about the recipient’s likes and interests before making the purchase. Giving a used or rare book as a holiday gift takes a great deal more effort and thought, a gesture that is appreciated by the recipient.
People who are looking for something specific for the holidays should give their local dealer plenty of time to find what they are seeking. No matter what kind of holiday memorabilia a person is interested in collecting, it is virtually certain that there will be a great deal of material from which to choose. The holiday season has been very popular for the last 140 years and there are millions of books, prints and lithographs available. It would be impossible to collect everything ever produced that is holiday related, thus leaving enough room for all collectors to find what they want.
Ken Gloss is the owner of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston, the oldest antiquarian bookstore in the United States. 2011 is the 62nd year of Gloss family ownership. Ken has been seen numerous times on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow. His free and open lecture schedule as well as other info is available at: www.brattlebookshop.com or call 800-447-9595.