A Christmas Carol – the first printing?

In 1843 Bernhard Tauchnitz signed an agreement with Charles Dickens to publish authorised continental editions of his books.  ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, the first of Dickens’ novels to appear in an authorised edition, has already featured in this blog.  But his short story ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published almost at the same time by Tauchnitz and may even have got there first.

The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz lists the announcement dates in some detail.   Tauchnitz announced both books for issue within the next few days on 4 December 1843, with an official announcement in the Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel on 8 December.  ‘A Christmas Carol’ was to be published  simultaneously with the London edition, which was eventually issued on 19 December.  ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ appeared in the Hinrichs’schen Buchhandung lists of publications on 18-20 December followed by ‘A Christmas Carol’ on 27 December.

That might suggest that ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ was published first, but on the other hand it is dated 1844 on the title page, whereas ‘A Christmas Carol’ is dated 1843.   The date of 1844 for ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ could be because this was only volume 1, with volume 2 to appear later in 1844, although Tauchnitz didn’t always follow this practice.  On the other hand it seems highly likely that ‘A Christmas Carol’ did appear in 1843, and indeed before Christmas.   Even if the Christmas book market was not as competitive in 1843 as it is now, there would have been an obvious commercial imperative to having it published before rather than after Christmas.   As books had to be distributed for sale across continental Europe, it could hardly have been left to the last minute either.  Could it actually have been published earlier than 19 December, in which case the Tauchnitz edition would be the worldwide first edition?

A Christmas Carol impression Aa Frontispiece

The frontispiece to the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’

We may never know the answer to that.  Certainly the Tauchnitz Edition was published very close to the date of first UK publication.  But as always with Tauchnitz Editions, there’s another problem anyway, which is to identify which copies represent the first edition.

A Christmas Carol impression Aa Half-title

Like all Tauchnitz Editions it was issued as a paperback, and a relatively small one, consisting of just 78 pages on quite thin paper.   The half-title identifies it as being part of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, but it was effectively an unnumbered special edition, too short to justify a series number or the normal volume price.  More significantly for its chances of survival, it was too slim a paperback for many purchasers to justify taking it to the bookbinders and having it separately bound.   Instead it is sometimes found bound together with another volume of Dickens, or an unrelated volume from another author.  But for the most part it has simply disappeared, with surviving copies of the first printing now very rare.

A Christmas Carol impression Aa Title page

The title page of the first edition

For a copy to be identified as the first printing, it must first have 78 pages (with the preliminary pages not included in the numbering), must show the publisher as Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun. on the title page and refer to the book being an ‘Edition sanctioned by the author’.   It should also say ‘Printed by Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ at the foot of the final page and have a frontispiece entitled ‘Marley’s Ghost’, described on the title page as being a coloured etching, although according to the bibliography it is really a coloured lithograph.   Even with all these qualifications, there remain two variants, one of which (impression Aa) finishes with ‘THE END.’ and the other (impression Ab) with ‘THE E   .’ – i.e with the letters ND missing.   The bibliography gives precedence to impression Aa, suggesting that the ‘ND’ of impression Ab was ‘apparently dropped in reimpression from standing type’.  That may be right, but it’s not clear to me why the alternative interpretation of a mistake in the first impression, quickly corrected in a second impression, could not equally be true.   Although printing errors happened only extremely rarely in Tauchnitz Editions, a rush to get the book issued in time for Christmas might conceivably have caused this?

A Christmas Carol impression Aa page 78

The final page of impression Aa

Todd & Bowden in the bibliography identified only a single copy of impression Aa, in their own collection, now held in the British Library, with three surviving copies of impression Ab in Amsterdam, Yale and Munich, the last of these in a private collection now held in the National Library of Scotland.   There’s now a further copy of impression Aa in my collection, which may therefore be an extremely rare example of the worldwide first printing of ‘A Christmas Carol’, or may not even be a first printing of the Tauchnitz Edition.  That’s the joy of book collecting!

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Posted on April 14, 2015, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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