“THE ONE GREAT CHRISTMAS MYTH OF MODERN LITERATURE”: FIRST ISSUE OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL
DICKENS, Charles. A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being A Ghost Story of Christmas. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843. Small octavo, original cinnamon cloth gilt, all edges gilt; housed in a custom clamshell box and chemise.
First edition, first issue of this Christmas classic, with four hand-colored steel-engraved plates by John Leech, the only one of Dickens’ first editions to contain hand-colored illustrations.
A Christmas Carol “may readily be called the Bible of Christmas… It was issued about ten days before Christmas, 1843, and 6000 copies were sold on the first day… the number of reprintings have been so many that all attempts at the figures have been futile. Altogether 24 editions were issued in the original format” (Eckel, 110). “It was a work written at the height of Dickens’ great powers, which would add to his considerable fame, bring a new work to the English language, increase the festivities at Christmastime, and contain his most eloquent protest at the condition of the poor” (John Mortimer). “Suddenly conceived and written within a few weeks, [A Christmas Carol] was the first of Dickens’ Christmas books (a new literary genre thus created incidentally)… it was an extraordinary achievement—the one great Christmas myth of modern literature.” The publication history of A Christmas Carol is bibliographically complex. “Dickens decided to publish the book himself… He wanted the Carol to be a beautiful gift book and took pride in its development. He stipulated the following requirements: a fancy binding, blind-stamped, with gilding on the spine and front cover; all edges gilded; four full-page hand-colored etchings; half title and title pages printed in colors of bright red and green; and hand-colored green endpapers to match the green title page… However, in examining printed copies prior to publication, Dickens was disappointed with the appearance of the green titles, which turned drab, and the hand-colored green endpapers, which dusted off and smudged, and had the title page changed to red and blue, the half title to blue, the date on the title page changed from 1844 to 1843, and the endpapers changed to yellow, which did not require hand work. Dickens’ changes were completed by December 17… Since Dickens’ instructions to discontinue the unsatisfactory titles and endpapers were received at the press before publication, at a time when there were on hand different quantities of endpapers, title pages, and sheets of printed text already produced, many copies are found with a mixture of features” (Gimbel A79). First issue, with blue and red title page dated 1843; half title and verso of title page printed in blue, “Stave I” on page , and light green endpapers, with the four color plates. First-issue copies appear with either yellow or green endpapers, no priority established; this copy has green endpapers. Binding matches Todd’s first impression, first issue, with the closest interval between blindstamped border and gilt wreath equal to 14-15 mm and with the “D” in “Dickens” unbroken (Smith II:4). Eckel, 110-125. Smith II:4-6, 8-9.
Occasional scattered light foxing and finger marks to interior as usual. Minor expert reinforcement to inner paper hinges. Light wear to extremities of lightly soiled, unrestored original cloth. A near-fine copy, quite scarce in this condition.