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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The holiday season is upon us, and before too many more copies of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are misdescribed. I thought I would share what little I know about the various printings of one of our most famous Christmas tales.

The story was written by Robert L. May of Evanston, Illinois for Montgomery Ward for free distribution during the Christmas season, 1939. There were two issues of the 1939 edition. The regular issue, of which some 2.4 million copies were printed, was given away to customers and customers' children at Montgomery Ward stores. This issue is bound in glossy red paper wrappers with Rudolph illustrated on the front and a "Merry Christmas" greeting from Montgomery Ward on the back. The book measures 10-1/4 x 7-1/2 inches, and contains [32] pages, plus wrappers. It is illustrated throughout in red, brown, and two shades of blue. The illustrator was Denver Gillan.

There was also a limited issue of 1000 copies bound in brown cloth with the front wrapper (only) of the regular issue laid down on the front cover. This edition was distributed to executives of Montgomery Ward and other company VIPs including suppliers. I have seen a copy bound in red cloth with both front and back wrappers laid down, but I believe this to be merely a rebound copy, as I have it on May's own authority that the back cover of the issue of 1000 is devoid of illustration.

A second edition of Rudolph was published in 1946. This edition, of which 3.6 million copies were printed, is identical to the first edition of 1939 except for two changes in the illustrations. In the first edition on page [9] the airplane has only three engines. By 1946 four-engine planes had come into prominence, and the illustration was changed to depict a plane with four engines. Also, in the 1939 edition page [6] shows elves helping Santa load his sleigh. In the 1946 edition the elves are not present.

Based on the sensational success of the Rudolph character, a trade edition was published by Maxton Publishers, Inc., New York, in 1947, in the publisher’s “Maxton Books for Little People” series. The (unattribued) illustrations are by Marion Guild. It measures 10-1/8 x 71/8 inches and is bound in glazed pictorial papeFcovered boards, with Maxton ads on the back cover. This edition contains [32] pages and is illustrated throughout.

Maxton also published a pop-up edition of Rudolph in 1950. This is sprial-bound in stiff paper wrappers, also with illustrations by Marion Guild. It measures 10-5/8 x 8-1/2 inches. There are 5 pop-ups and a number of other illustrations throughout.

As an aside, Paul Wing made a recording of the Rudolph story on the RCA-Victor label, a double album produced in 1947. In 1949. composer Johnny Marks, who was a friend of May, wrote a song about Rudolph. It was recorded in 1949 by Gene Autry, and it became Autry's biggest selling record. There were also Rudolph slippers, Rudlolph cuddle-toy, Rudolph jigsaw puzzles, a Rudolph push-out "puzzle toy," and a Rudolph sweatshirt, all available from Montgomery Ward.

About the author

Rob Rulon-Miller, a past-President of the ABAA and proprietor of Rulon-Miller Books, is a well-known member of the international bookselling community. This article first appeared in the Fall 1998 ABAA Newsletter and is presented here, with our thanks, by permission of the author.