CHRISTMAS LINGERED ON FOR COLLECTORS LIKE JOCK ELLIOTT
“The Coming of Father Christmas” book; 4 copies; circa 1890; 8 ¾ inches by 9 ¼ inches sold for $1,200. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.
“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” Charles Dickens
With a sigh of relief the Christmas season will come to a close for us. A sweet ending for some. A sad ending for others.
For Christmas collector Jock Elliott, the season lingered all year round. Elliott spent 50 years collecting Christmas ephemera, mostly books.
From throwaways to the truly rare, Elliott collected books on Christmas traditions, customs and every imaginable story, poem, and carol related to the Yuletide. He even owned Charles Dickens's reading copy of “A Christmas Carol.”
You might call him a Christmas connoisseur. A custodian of holiday lore.
“Did you know when George Washington became president, there was no such thing as Christmas shopping?” Elliott wrote in his 2001 book, ‘Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be.’ “Christmas trees were virtually unheard of, it would be another quarter of a century before Santa Claus appeared on the scene, and the first Christmas card would have to wait for 50 years.”
Born in Manhattan in 1921, Elliott began his career in 1945 as a copywriter at BBDO advertising agency. After 15 years, he went to work for Ogilvy & Mather where he ultimately rose to chairman.
His vocation may have been advertising, but his avocation was clearly book collecting.
Friends often asked him how many Christmas books he owned.
Elliott never really counted, but he had more than 3,000 first editions. Nor was the collection private.
He shared portions of the motherload through exhibitions at the Widener Library, the Pierpoint Morgan Library, the Century Association, Harvard and the Grolier Club.
"Most of our Christmas customs," he explained, "were invented in an amazingly short twenty-five-year period, from 1823-1848-a sort of `Big Bang' of our Christmas."
New York City was especially inspiring to him at Christmas. Elliott went out of his way to pass the giant tree at Rockefeller Center again and again.
Whiffs of roasting chestnuts along the snowy sidewalks, candlelit church services and the lighted trees all along Park Ave., never ceased to amaze him. Add to that scene people three deep in the local bars, Santa Clauses everywhere and the city very late on Christmas Eve. All of these images lent magic to Elliot’s memories, a magic that never disappeared.
“I love Christmas,” he said. “I am sure it all goes back to my childhood Christmases, which were made magical by both my parents, but particularly by my mother.”
Jock Elliott died at age 84 in 2005. The Christmas collector was called one of the most significant advertising account managers of the 20th century.
Over the years, he apologized for his “silly” habit of collecting books with the word Christmas in the title. Ultimately, it may very well be these “silly” books for which he is most fondly remembered.
On Dec. 12, 2007, Sotheby’s, New York, featured The Christmas Collection of Jock Elliott on the block. Here are some current values.
Jock Elliott Collection
“Santa Heading Down the Chimney”, drawing; Michael Hague; pen-and-ink and watercolor; circa 2003; 11 ¼ inches by 8 ¾ inches; $1,080.
“The Coming of Father Christmas”, book; 4 copies; circa 1890; 8 ¾ inches by 9 ¼ inches; $1,200.
“When Christmas Comes Around”, book; first edition; pictures by Jessie Willcox Smith; New York, 1915; 11 ½ inches by 10 ¾ inches; $1,200.
“The Golliwogg’s Christmas”, book; illustrated by Florence K. Upton; 1907; 8 3/8 inches by 10 ¾ inches; $1,680.
“Christmas Books”, Charles Dickens; first authorized collected edition; presentation copy, inscribed and signed by Dickens; London, 1852; 7 ¼ inches by 4 ¾ inches; $42,000.
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