The book that brought us “Bah! Humbug!” and “Merry Christmas”

by AndreChevalier on December 13, 2012 · Children's rare books

Charles Dickens A Christmas CarolWhat do Christmas and rare vintage books have in common?  The answer is …the famous first edition of the Charles Dickens book – A Christmas Carol.  This immortal novel written by Charles Dickens is easily one of the most loved Christmas stories ever written, while the scarcity of its first edition has given some fortunate book collectors a holiday to celebrate.

Very few people on this planet have never heard of the renowned Charles Dickens or of his A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens was born at Landport, UK, on February 7th, 1812. After facing financial difficulties Dickens’ family moved to London in 1822. Shortly afterwards, in 1824, the family sent the then 12-year old Charles to a boarding house.  However, Dickens soon left school to work 10 hours a day to support his struggling family.  The harsh and cruel working conditions that Dickens had to face, greatly affected him. As a result he strove to make the injustice of these unacceptable and inhuman working conditions clear through his work to inspire the change towards a better working life.

Charles Dickens wrote his first story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk, in 1833 which he soon followed with Oliver Twist between the years 1837-39, Nicholas Nickleby between1838-39, and many others. From 1833 all the way up to his death on June 9, 1870, Dickens wrote a great deal of novels and saw most of his works get published.

The famous novella A Christmas Carol was first published by Chapman and Hall on December 19th 1843. The book was written during depressing times in England, where the Christmas spirit had nearly been forgotten by many.  Dickens hoped to rekindle the true Christmas spirit through the novel, with the portrayal of the cynical and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and the changes he transitioned from in Christmases of his past, present and future.

Dickens started writing the novel, A Christmas Carol, in October 1843 and within six weeks, it was completed. Despite numerous obstacles with the book’s publication process, it was completed two days prior to its scheduled release date of December 19, 1943. The published book was an object of beauty, as it was bound in red cloth and filled with illustrations by John Leech. The book was priced at a scant 5 shillings, and was a raging success. The 6000 copies of the first edition actually ran out by Christmas Eve. By May of 1844 the book was already in its 7th edition, with increasing demand from the United States and receiving great reviews in the New York Times.

For a book collector, the first edition of the book is the ultimate possession to seek after.  As expected pricing for first editions of this famous book is no bargain. Two copies of the first edition were sold in an auction in 2005 for the price of 15,000 USD. Surprisingly, neither of the two copies was in a very good condition. Currently, copies of this remarkable book are being sold by antiquarian and rare book sellers for anywhere from 19,000 to 40,000 USD depending on condition, unique attributes, seller geographic location, and so forth.

Inscribed presentation copies are reaching an even higher price range.  In 1997 a copy which was inscribed to the British humorist and poet Thomas Hood, was sold for 50,000 USD.  A year later, in 1998, a first edition copy inscribed to Walter Savage Landor, an English writer and poet, was sold for the astronomical amount of 160,000.The big difference in price is justified by the factors of condition and importance of association. More recently, a year ago, on October 28 2010, at a Sotheby’s auction in London UK, another copy sold at the astounding price of 181,250 GBP or 282,408.  This copy was inscribed to Dickens’ good friend William Macready, a known British actor, and was dated and signed on New Year’s Day of 1844.  This represents a 75% jump, within a 12 year timeframe from the previous sale of the comparable copy.

In the end, A Christmas Carol, has proven that a 5 shilling ( equivalent of 25 USD in today’s money ) investment in a rare and extraordinary legendary vintage book, can be worth between 20-40K USD, while an inscribed copy can reach 280K USD or more. But even more importantly, Charles Dickens has proven through the character of Ebenezer Scrooge that the true Christmas spirit is reached by an act of giving.

About the author

Article by Andre Chevalier. You can connect with Andre Chevalier on Andre+

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