Ninety Years Ago : Christmas Books in 1930

Inspired by the Christmas edition of the Bookman for 1930 here is a heart warming fable about certain books and their rise in value over the years. It concerns Stephen, a precocious bookworm who later became a journalist on the TLS, his father, mother and sister Bessie and the new books that he decided to give them on Christmas Day in 1930. Like Covid hero Colonel Sir Thomas Moore, Stephen is still with us and the three books for which he paid little more than £2 10s in 1930, having raided his piggy bank for the purpose, are now worth more than £10, 000 !

PaterGreene Name of Action

Stephen was gazing around the bookshop to see what Pater might like and found a book with the word action in its title. As he knew that his father enjoyed adventure stories he bought a copy of The Name of Actionby someone called Graham Greene, who he’d never heard of. Unfortunately, Pater agreed with the novelist, who later condemned this book as being ‘of a badness beyond the power of criticism…the prose flat and stilted ‘ and consequently failed to finish reading his son’s gift, which was placed in the family bureau bookcase and never taken down again. Luckily, in 2020 Stephen’s grandson James, a book dealer by profession, discovered it ninety years later while visiting his granddad on his 100thbirthday. He looked it up in Abebooks and to his delight discovered that there were three or four copies of Greene’s hated novel, all of which, like his granddad’s copy, were in pristine condition. One of these was priced at $9,321 !




Peter was aware that his mother loved reading travel books and also liked the first novel of this young chap called Evelyn Waugh, so when he found a copy of Waugh’s travel memoir, Labels among all the books on Africa and Asia in the travel section he bought it for her. His mother was delighted with her present and over the next few years read it two or three times from cover to cover. Luckily, despite its use, the book managed to stay in good condition and James, on the hunt for further modern firsts in the bureau bookcase, found his late great aunt’s  copy, which he discovered was worth around $2,500 , according to Abebooks.


Looking around the shop for a book that Bessie might like Stephen immediately rejected those books that were likely to be unsuitable for the eight-year old sister, such as Rupert in Trouble againby Mary Tourtel and Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Little Pig. After some time he found a small pile of limited edition copies of Dream Daysby Kenneth Grahame all of which had been signed by the author and the illustrator Ernest Shepard. Although this book turned out to be more expensive than the two others he had bought, he knew that Bessie loved The Wind in the Willowsand Pooh Bear, so he gritted his teeth and bought the thing. Unfortunately, he had overestimated his sister’s interest in the whimsical side of Kenneth Grahame. Dream Daysturned out to me nothing like as funny as The Wind in the Willowsand eventually ended up in that bureau bookcase. Book dealer James found this too and was delighted to report back to his granddad that the book his ungrateful sister had returned to him was worth about £500.


Stephen sold those three valuable books and with some of the money bought gifts for his grandson James, his wife Delia and his daughter Felicity in time for a planned family gathering at Christmas. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson and his sidekick Chris Whitty saw to it that this happy occasion never took place and the presents remain in Stephen’s home…



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