9 Rare and Beautiful Books

Editor’s note: this article was sponsored by AbeBooks.com. The sponsor did not have any editorial insight into the content of this article.

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Over at Buzzfeed, Lincoln Michel recently shared a heartening list of 19 recently published books that prove that print isn’t dead. Judging by from the looks of The Illustrated Heart of Darkness by Matt Kish (whose work is featured twice on the list), Beck’s Song Reader, and a mysterious artifact from J.J. Abrams, 2013 was a great year for “dead trees.” In fact, as Lincoln claims, the threat of eBooks may be encouraging publishers to step up their game. And the future of print seems not only bright, but innovative.

With that spirit in mind, let’s look back at some fascinating print books from the past:

Heads and Tales by Malvina Cornell Hoffman


This one-of-a-kind presentation copy from 1943 eschews a boring leather binding for something a little more extreme. The seller describes it as “Bound in full wide grain white & gray snake (‘Asian python’?) or other unidentified lizard or reptile skin with whitish underbelly at outer fore edges of covers.”

Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown

little fur family

Remember that furry edition of Dave Eggers’ Wild Things from a few years ago? Turns out Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon) did it furst. According to the seller, this 1946 edition of Little Fur Family came nestled in real fur.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

bradbury asbestos

To continue with the theme of books with unusual bindings, here’s a little carcinogenic science fiction. This edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, printed in 1953, was bound in asbestos and steeped in irony. The copy pictured above was actually signed by the author on 4 different occasions.

Firestarter by Stephen King

firestarter asbestos

It appears that fireproofing books was a trend that nearly but (fortunately) never caught on. Only 25 of the original 26 asbestos bound copies of Firestarter remain because one was somehow lost to a fire, according to one seller. You can also buy the both Bradbury’s and King’s books together in The Complete Science Fiction Asbestos Collection from a seller who claims he inspired the publisher to print the fireproof Firestarter.

Index by Andy Warhol

andy warhol index

It’s no surprise that the king of pop art created a pop-up book. It’s also no surprise that it’s much more than that. Among the features listed by one seller are: “pop-up castle, a fold-out accordion, a pop-up airplane, a spring-mounted Chelsea Girls disc (detached), a paper sculpture to be assembled attached to the book with string and tape…” And another seller laments “Baloon deteriorated as usual.”

The Secret of Mental Magic by William Walker Atkinson

mental magic

Printed in 1907, this book on the power of the mind and personal magnetism disappeared when it was withdrawn from the publishers. It re-emerged five years later, and then again a century later as the inspiration for the massive best-seller The Secret.

A Magician Among the Spirits by Harry Houdini


Before Houdini promised his wife that he’d return from the dead, the world’s most famous magician wrote a book exposing spiritualist frauds and seances run by charlatans. He also writes about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a friend he lost because Doyle believed in spiritualism. This seller’s edition is signed with the charming inscription “Love laughs at locksmiths, and so does Houdini.”

Ulysses by James Joyce


In 1935, Henri Matisse illustrated James Joyce magnum opus. Only 1,500 copies were printed, and getting your hands on one of the 250 copies that boast signatures from both geniuses will cost you upwards of $25,000. The pair didn’t sign many copies together because, as one seller suggests, Joyce was put off when Matisse decided to base his illustrations on the original Homer.


Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini


Featuring an introduction by Italo Calvino, this illustrated, theoretical encyclopedia may be the oddest and most beautiful creation ever printed. With beautiful and bizarre illustrations, an indecipherable alphabet, the Codex claimed was printed in 1981 and presented itself as “the creative vision of this time.” Here’s a video guide from AbeBooks.com, in which they explain why it’s “impossible to classify this book.”

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