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Original Vampire Literature & Movie Memorabilia are Collectibles to Count On

by Liz Holderman (10/12/12).

Despite today’s teens and tweens’ infatuation with the “Twilight” series of books and movies, collectors would much rather go for the vintage stuff. This 27-inch by 41-inch original movie poster for Universal’s 1931 movie “Dracula” sold for $120,000 (plus buyer’s premium) in March, 2012.

When Stephanie Meyer’s vampire-themed romance novel, “Twilight,” was published in 2005, it was an overnight sensation. Cashing in on the avalanche of enthusiastic fans, Meyer continued with three more young-adult fantasies, “New Moon,” “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn.” Since then, the overwhelming commercial success of the series has overshadowed its scholarly achievements, but the four stories have actually won many top literary awards, including Great Britain’s prestigious “Children’s Book of the Year.”

The books were adapted into film beginning in 2008, with the final installment, “Breaking Dawn,” scheduled for its movie debut this November. It is no surprise that a rash of Twilight-related collectibles have resulted, including T-shirts, pillows, calendars, dolls, board games, puzzles, trading cards, jewelry, action figures, posters and other novelties. But Meyer and the films’ hot young stars owe at least part of their fame to those who came before them—the first authors and entertainers to write and produce movies about vampires.

Vampires originated in ancient folklore and appeared in written poetry as early as the 1700s. But the first English-language treatment to appear in book form is credited to John Polidori’s short story, “The Vampyre.” That tale was written in the summer of 1816, the result of a friendly ghost story competition between Polidori, the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Percy’s wife, Mary Shelley. The informal contest took place while they were vacationing at a Swiss villa on Lake Geneva with the great British poet Lord Byron. Historians now agree that Mary probably won that challenge (her effort resulted in “Frankenstein”), but Polidori’s 84-page novella was an immediate hit when it was published in 1819, at first incorrectly attributed to the better-known Byron (who had influenced the story). A true first printing with that incorrect author attribution is so rare that only one copy is known to exist. Second (corrected) printings of the slim volume sell in a range from $1,500 to $3,000.

John Polidori’s 1819 short story, “The Vampyre,” is largely credited with the first appearance of a vampire in book form. Second printings sell in a range from $1,500 to $3,000.

“Varney the Vampire” was a weekly series that appeared in cheap pamphlet form from 1845 to 1847. A bound set will sell in a range from $2,000 to $4,000

Over the next few decades, many other authors adapted the very popular saga into numerous stage plays and unauthorized sequels. From 1845 to 1847, “Varney the Vampire” appeared in weekly “penny dreadful” (cheap paperback) installments. Probably written by a variety of authors, “Varney the Vampire” was a rambling, confusing epic that featured a caped Hungarian vampire who could be overcome by science. This version was heavily illustrated and introduced many of the stereotypical, conventional elements of vampire legend. Because many different artists contributed to the series, the vampire sometimes appeared as a skeletal demon and other times as a handsome bon vivant. The campy pamphlets are popular with collectors and a complete set will sell in a range from $2,000 to $4,000.

Several authors dabbled with the genre over the next 50 years, but the most influential vampire story ever told was one with an extremely personal history. “Dracula’s” author, Irishman Abraham (Bram) Stoker, was a journalist who was particularly obsessed with a touring actor named Henry Irving. In 1878, he became Irving’s theater manager and personal secretary, continuing in that job for the next 27 years.

Bram Stoker idolized the British actor Henry Irving (above) and used him as the inspiration for Dracula.

Stoker’s famous gothic horror story was published in 1897. At the time, “Dracula” was well-received but not a run-away best-seller.

Irving was one of the most famous celebrities of his time, specializing in villains and known for his flamboyant gestures and dramatic speech patterns. In Irving’s inner circle, Stoker was able to mingle with presidents, royalty and literary greats. But the loyal Stoker was required to spend so much time performing petty tasks (carrying Irving’s coat, writing his personal letters and handling the fallout from the actor’s messy affairs) that he became estranged from his own wife and child. Some scholars say the egotistical Irving treated Stoker like a common servant, peppering him with demands and talking down to him. They believe that Stoker’s feelings for the aristocratic thespian secretly vacillated between idolatry and inner repulsion.

Stoker spent seven years researching, outlining and writing his masterpiece, “Dracula” (called “The Un-Dead” until just a few weeks before publication). He used Henry Irving as the direct inspiration for his title character, copying appearance, mannerisms, phrasing and demeanor to personify the Count. Some 3,000 copies of the novel first appeared in bookstores in 1897, cheaply bound in mustard yellow covers with bright red lettering. At the time, “Dracula” was well-received but not a run-away best-seller. Today, however, it has reached iconic status and is considered one of the greatest English horror stories of all time. The first issues of the first edition rarely survived in good condition and are often found heavily soiled, torn and loose. Therefore, a rare copy in excellent condition can sell for $10,000 or more.

Almost no merchandising memorabilia from the first silent vampire movie, 1922’s “Nosferatu” exists today. Collectors still search for it.

But the values of these early vampire books absolutely pale in comparison to the values of theater merchandise. In 1922, a German film company produced an unsanctioned silent adaption of “Dracula” called “Nosferatu,” in which the vampire, played by Max Schreck, resembled a fiendish ghoul. Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence, spent almost a decade trying to sue for royalties and/or get copies of the film destroyed. Because of her efforts, almost no original merchandising memorabilia from this film exists. If any were to surface, the values would be colossal, as this chilling film has become a cult favorite at many special event showings.

Frances Stoker did authorize a stage play in 1924 that was brought to Broadway in 1927. Universal Pictures released a movie version of the play in 1931, featuring Bela Lugosi as the definitive villain. Universal’s “Dracula” was a huge box office blockbuster, selling 50,000 tickets within 48 hours. Original ephemera from this landmark film sell extremely well. The 1931 Photoplay book, featuring scenes from the movie, can sell for $500 to $1,000 in very good condition (or more if it is autographed). Original gelatin movie stills might reach $1,000. But vibrantly-colored lobby cards and posters sell at astronomical levels—five and six figures, depending on their rarity.

This 11-inch by 14-inch lobby card from Universal’s 1931 movie “Dracula” sold for $31,070 in 2010.

This 1931 edition of “Dracula,” featuring scenes from the Universal movie and autographs of two of the minor actors, sold for $1,250 in 2011.

Other Dracula memorabilia from these first books and movies also hold value very well. Letters written and signed by Bram Stoker sell in a range from $400 to $1,500, particularly ones on Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theater stationary. Bela Lugosi’s autograph is also highly sought-after. His inscription on certain studio photos and movie stills can sell for more than $2,000. The original “Dracula” manuscript, complete with Bram Stoker’s hand-written notations and extensive corrections, was believed to be lost but resurfaced in the 1980s. It appeared on the market in 2002 and eventually sold for more than $900,000.

This year’s “Breaking Dawn” may be a highly-anticipated movie, with fan clubs in a frenzy and its young celebrities part of daily tabloid fare, but many literary collectors look past the Edward Cullen dolls and instead search for rare and valuable relics from the earliest vampire books and movies.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books, documents and autographs.

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2 Responses to “Original Vampire Literature & Movie Memorabilia are Collectibles to Count On”

  1. zack says:

    I have a first romanian language edition of Bram Stoker’s dracula, published in 1990. Does it have any value?

    • Liz Holderman Liz Holderman says:

      Hello Zack,

      Your book is a novelty, but it is doubtful that it would have a very high resale value. Although Count Dracula came from Transylvania and Stoker based his name on the 15th century ruler (of present-day Romania) Vlad Dracul, the novel was not terribly popular there. The book can be found fairly easily in used bookstores in Bucharest. The 1990 edition was published on poor quality paper so is usually not in good condition. And, unfortunately, there is very little demand in the United States for non-English language reprints.

      Best Regards,

      Liz Holderman

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