Five ideas for spooky Halloween books

Luke Honey reveals the spookiest and most collectable books to hunt for this Halloween

It’s that time of year again. With Halloween just around the corner, what better than collectable English ghost stories and spooky supernatural tales to get you in the appropriate mood for a night of frights.

It’s said that England is the most haunted country in the world, so if you love collecting old books, why not while away the dark hours with one of our classic ghost stories? Even if it’s not your thing, a pile of scary vintage paperbacks left on the spare room bedside table should amuse and entertain any Halloween houseguests.

To give you a few ideas here are some of the best (and most valuable) spooky stories.


Bram Stoker's Dracula

This first edition second state copy of Dracula (‘an unusually good example’ but with ‘some restoration to the spine’) sold for £1,500 at Bloomsbury Auctions in 2013. Dracula was first published in 1897 and Bram Stoker, the Irish manager of the Lyceum Theatre and author of Dracula, is said to have dreamt up the legendary vampire following an indigestible supper of dressed crab.

Stoker had never been to Transylvania, but lengthy research in the British Museum Reading Room (combined with the benefit of a nightmarish imagination) gave birth to an enduring myth, later popularised by the old black and white 1931 Universal Studios horror movie version.

In the world of rare books condition, provenance, originality and association all play an important role when it comes to the tricky business of valuation: in 2010 a first edition first issue copy of Dracula, personally inscribed by Stoker to Mrs W S Gilbert (the wife of operetta librettist, Sir William Gilbert), fetched a staggering £44,000 at the same auction house.


Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous yarn The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published in 1886, with the American edition beating the British edition to the press by four days.

Auction prices vary depending on condition, but expect to pay a few hundred pounds or so for the first English edition. The book was published in paper wrappers, with a smaller cloth-bound print run.


1950s and 1960s paperbacks

Those on a tighter budget might enjoy vintage paperbacks from the 1950s and 1960s, especially if you’re interested in period graphics. They are highly collectable. It would be quite possible to build a fascinating collection for very little money but, as ever, only try to buy books in the best condition you can find them in.

The M R James, pictured above, is a good example of eye-catching graphics. Considered something of a master of ghost stories, connoisseurs of the genre consider M R James’s short stories to be among the most terrifying supernatural tales ever written. This sensationalist mass-market edition of More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary can be bought online for a few pounds.


Lady Cynthia Asquith's Ghost Books

Take a look too, if you dare, at the unsettling short stories of Lady Cynthia Asquith (daughter in law of the prime minister H H Asquith). Lady Cynthia became well known for her ghost anthologies and her last anthology, The Third Ghost Book, published in 1956, was later re-published by Pan with an especially lurid paperback cover (above right). And, if the ghosts of the stately homes of England are your thing, don’t forget Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, first published in 1936 (above left). Halifax spent several years collecting true ghost stories as told to him by the owners of some of England’s finest country houses.


The true ghost stories of Harry Price

Finally, and perhaps the creepiest of them all, the books of real-life ghost hunter, Harry Price. Price is best known for the investigation at Borley Rectory, a sinister Victorian pile hidden away in a remote corner of Essex and described by the popular press of the day as the ‘Most Haunted House in England’.

The rectory burnt down under mysterious circumstances in 1939. Some said that the resident ghosts could be seen ‘dancing in the flames’. Price’s books are avidly collected, and can be quite hard to find, especially with that all-important original dust-wrapper. Price will soon be back in the popular consciousness again. He is set to be the subject of a new ITV drama starring Rafe Spall.

Find out more about investing in rare literary classics here

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