• The William E. Self Library, I auction at Christies

    Sale 2153

    The William E. Self Library, Important English and American Literature

    4 December 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 67

    DICKENS, Charles. A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843.

    Price Realised  


    DICKENS, Charles. A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843.

    8o (164 x 102 mm). 2-page publisher's advertisement at end. Hand-colored etched frontispiece and three plates by John Leech, four wood-engravings in the text by W.J. Linton after Leech. Half-title printed in blue, title-page printed in red and blue, verso printed in blue. Original brown fine-ribbed cloth, covers with decorative blind border surrounding central gilt cartouche and lettering on upper, spine lettered and decorated in gilt, all edges gilt, yellow endpapers (pale stain on front free endpaper); quarter morocco folding case.


    FIRST EDITION, first impression, with "Stave I" as the first chapter heading, balance of text uncorrected, red and blue title-page dated 1843, yellow endpapers, with the second state of the binding (the closest interval between blind decorative border on the left and the left extremity of the gilt cartouche measuring 12 mm and the "D" of Dickens broken).

    A MASTERPIECE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AND ARGUABLY THE MOST WIDELY READ AND BEST KNOWN OF DICKENS'S WORKS. Written in a frenzy of less than a month with passion echoed in a letter to his American friend Professor Cornelius Felton, dated 2nd January 1844: "... a Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens. Over which Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner in the composition; and thinking whereof, he walked about the black streets of London, fifteen and twenty miles, many a night when all the sober folks had gone to bed. He don't like America, I am told, but he has some friends there, as dear to him as any in England; so you may read it safely. Its success is most prodigious."

    The "Ghostly little book" (Dickens, ibid) was first issued shortly before Christmas 1843. The earliest known presentation copies are dated the 17th of December (see previous lot) and all those inscribed prior to the publication date of the 19th of December have a red and blue title-page, yellow endpapers and first chapter heading "Stave I". By the 10th February 1844 Dickens was writing to Forster that the print run had exceeded 6000 copies. Since then many theories have been promulgated about the earliest state of the first edition of A Christmas Carol. Numerous publications "containing bibliographical descriptions have appeared and most have expressed varying opinions about the priority of publication...the most cogent article on the publishing priority of the Carol is by William B. Todd (The Book Collector, 1961, pp. 449-54). He dismisses any ordering of the states because of the simultaneous use of various combinations of stereotype plates, and contends that the location of the gilt wreath on the front cover, which was stamped by a single machine, provides evidence of priority. 'This desideratum is a single point, one encompassing all the others and, if it is to be a sign of issue, the one last appearing in the course of manufacture'. The brass for the gilt wreath shifted slightly to the left and soon developed an imperfection. The shift indicates the start of a new operation and, after adjustment of the brass, the breakage [of the 'D'] soon confirms the birth of a later issue." (Smith). Philo Calhoun and Howell J. Heaney, "Dickens' Christmas Carol After a Hundred Years: A Study in Bibliographical Evidence," in: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 39 (Fourth Quarter, 1945); Eckel, p. 110; Kitton, pp. 33-37; Smith II:4.

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