Uncommon Christmas Titles – and presents
As Christmas draws near it is interesting to see how publishers market their festive books. Consider the four “Uncommon Christmas Titles” collection illustrated by Arthur Rackham. These are four soft backed smaller books, The Night Before Christmas (1931), The King Of The Golden River (1932), Goblin Market (1933) and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1934). Clearly not all these titles are Christmas related. It is interesting to wonder why they make such a good match.
In the 1930’2 new techniques of printing were emerging effecting the market for Rackham’s typical limited edition books with tipped in illustrations. The financial downturn of the American and British economy was influencing consumer spending and the luxury of Rackham elaborate plate illustrations was becoming a thing of the past. A new kind of Rackham book was needed and Rackham changed publisher to Harrap & Co, London in 1928.
Harrap responded to the change in the consumer market by proposing that a slimmer book printed on thinner paper was produced. The plates would be printed on coated paper bound in at intervals within the text. Harrap did not lose sight of the need for an “upmarket” edition alongside the ordinary edition and continued to produce a number of limited edition books. As Rackham comments to Alwin Scheuer in 14 March 1931, “There is a fashion for publishing only limited editions that my books are in rather a curious position. The ordinary editions do not sell so large a number as of old, and the limiteds are largely over applied for- whereas, formally, in one or tow cases happily, the limited editions were not immediately sold out.” (Butler Library Columbia University New York).
Rackham and Harrap agreed a successful arrangement whereby two Rackham books were published annually. One was the smaller book and the other a slightly longer and more elaborate book. The smaller ones were released for the Christmas trade.The first trial of this was in 1931 when The Complete Angler and Clement Moore’s, The Night before Christmas was released. Sales of the limited edition of the latter was particularly brisk. The following year Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson and John Ruskin’s King of the Golden River were released. In 1933 The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book with Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market was the chosen works. Rackham’s pace of work altered for the next year and the Pied Piper Of Hamelin was the only book published in 1934.
Rackham was nearing the end of his career in the 1930’s yet the quality of his illustrations remained intact with all these publications. “The style of work for a series of poems published by Harrap and Sons in the early thirties returned unashamedly to the early style.” (Gettings, p. 161).
Over this time Harrap and Rackhams’ publications the four smaller books published were of the same style. Each had soft covers with four dazzling colour plates plus black and white illustrations throughout the text. Clearly the marketing strategy of Harrap was successful and sales of the books were good. The four smaller books make a good fit and it is these publications that form the “Uncommon Christmas Titles” that we recognise today. They would indeed make an ideal Christmas gift for a Rackham collector today.