Lady Cynthia Asquith’s The Third Ghost Book, mass-market paperback, Pan, 1965
It’s that time of year again. With Hallowe’en just around the corner, here’s a selection of collectable English ghost stories and spooky supernatural tales guaranteed to get you in the appropriate mood for Fright Night.
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 a classic ghost story? Alternatively, a pile of scary vintage paperbacks left on the spare-room bedside table should amuse and entertain your houseguests.
This first edition second state copy of Dracula (“an unusually good example” but with “some restoration to the spine”) sold for £1,500 (hammer price) at Bloomsbury Auctions in 2013. 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.
Dracula was first published in 1897. Stoker had never been to Transylvania, but lengthy research at 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 horror movies of Universal Studios.
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 auction (Bloomsbury).
Or how about an early edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous yarn 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 hardback print run bound in cloth.
More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by Montague Rhodes James, mass-market paperback, Pan, 1955.
Those of you on a tight budget might enjoy vintage paperbacks from the 50’s and 60’s, especially if you’re interested in period graphics. They’re 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.
M.R. James has been called the “Master of the English Ghost Story” and for good reason. Connoisseurs of the genre consider his short stories to be among the most terrifying supernatural tales ever to be written. This sensationalist mass-market edition of More Ghost Stories from an Antiquary (see above) can be bought online for a few pounds.
Take a look, too, if you dare, at the unsettling short stories of Lady Cynthia Asquith (daughter in law of Prime Minister H. H. Asquith). Lady Cynthia became well known for her ghost anthologies; her last anthology, The Third Ghost Book, was published in 1956, later to be re-published by Pan with an especially lurid paperback cover (see above). And if the Stately Ghosts of England are your thing, don’t forget Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, first published in 1936. Halifax spent several years collecting a true ghost stories as told to him by the owners of some of England’s finest country houses.
And finally, 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 say 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.