The well-known Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was first published simply as lyrics in England in 1780; it wasn’t until 1909 that composer Frederic Austin introduced the melody that we know today. The song, known as a cumulative song because each new verse is added to previous lyrics, concerns a true love bestowing a total of 12 rather random gifts to the singer of the song. Twelve gifts are quite sufficient to express one’s love, but taken literally, the song suggests what can best be described as an egregious overindulgence: if the gifts are cumulative over 12 days, then the number of gifts totals 364 — one for each day of the year. Let’s just hope that a gift receipt was included.
Over the years, many intelligent and well-intentioned individuals have attempted to decode the symbolism of the twelve gifts. Regardless of whether they are completely random or have some profound religious meaning, they are completely lost on a book lover. If anything, the cacophony emanating from a large assembly of loud birds, musicians (especially the drummers), and farmhands present an unwanted distraction to a serious reader that will have him or her quickly reaching for ear plugs — or duct tape to reduce the annoying clatter. Although most bibliophiles would appreciate the thought that went into this lavish gift, they would be happier with a book about trees, birds, farm life, and bands. You know what I mean — a literary twelve days of Christmas.
Following in the footsteps of PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) that established the Christmas Price Index in 1984 (it uses the costs of all the items mentioned in the song as a flippant economic indicator; in 1984 the cost for all twelve gifts was $12,623.10, in 2014 it reached $27,673.21!), Bookshelf introduces the Literary Christmas Price Index. The Literary Christmas Price Index replaces all those random unwanted animals and performers with first editions of cherished classic Christmas books from famous authors. The cost of current first editions are determined by the latest data available from Abe Books, the leading online antiquarian bookseller.
For 2014, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $78,138 (shipping and tax not included). The biggest hit to your wallet — by a very large margin — is Charles Dickens’s very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics — A Christmas Carol ($47,500). The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $12,000, is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. Moore wrote the poem in 1823, inspired by a winter sleigh ride, and it was first printed anonymously in the Sentinel (the newspaper of Troy, New York) on December 23, 1823. The poem was finally included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $47,500
A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $12,000
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $6,000
A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $4,500
The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,000
The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $1,950
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $1,500
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $1,295
The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $1,000
Christmas at Thompson Hall (included in Novellas, 1883) by Anthony Trollope: $150
Old Christmas from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1886) by Washington Irving: $138
The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $105 (1917 ed.)
Read related posts: The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”
Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?
For further reading: www.pncchristmaspriceindex.com