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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!


Martin Chuzzlewit – the Gassmann cometh

Charles Dickens played a key part in the publishing history of Tauchnitz.   The Pickwick Papers was published as volumes 2 and 3 of the Tauchnitz series that eventually ran to over 5000 volumes, and Dickens was one of the first authors to agree to the Tauchnitz proposal of voluntary payment in return for authorisation, in the days before copyright.   Almost all the works of Dickens were published in the Tauchnitz series, including 47 volumes of stories reprinted from ‘Household Words’, the magazine edited by Dickens.   The two men enjoyed a close friendship, and a long correspondence.

But Tauchnitz also played a key part in the publishing history of Dickens.  After that landmark agreement on authorisation, Dickens or his publishers would supply Tauchnitz with early copies of the text of his novels, in the form of proof sheets or part-issues.   Tauchnitz was able to bring out a continental edition almost simultaneously with the UK edition, or sometimes even earlier, so that in some cases the Tauchnitz edition is the worldwide first edition in book form.   Nobody quite know how many of the Dickens novels this applies to. It needs book historians to carry out a lot more detective work yet.   But certainly one example is ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, the first of Dickens’ novels to be published in an authorised edition by Tauchnitz.

The agreement had come in 1843, after Tauchnitz had already published 7 unauthorised volumes by Dickens, including ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ as well as ‘The Pickwick Papers’.   The publication of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ had already started in monthly instalments in the UK and would continue through to July 1844 before a complete edition of the novel in book form was published.  But by December 1843, in return for payment of £5 10s, Dickens was able to issue the first volume of the book, covering chapters 1 to 25 (almost the first 10 parts).   This volume appeared 6 or 7 months ahead of any publication in book form in the UK.   The second volume of the book appeared in the Tauchnitz edition in July 1844, almost at the same time as the UK edition.

Martin Chuzzlewit 2

A first printing of the Tauchnitz Edition of Martin Chuzzlewit

Like all Tauchnitz editions, it was published as a paperback, but the tradition on the continent was that many of the buyers would have the books privately bound by a book-binder.   It is very rare for early editions to survive in paperback form, but easier to find copies in a variety of private bindings.   Unfortunately most bookbinders would discard the paper covers, and often the half-title as well, which provided the only reliable evidence to identify first printings.   So many of the remaining copies of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ in the Tauchnitz Edition cannot be reliably identified as being from that very first printing in 1843/1844.

Martin Chuzzlewit volume 1 title page

Title page of the first printing

Certainly if the publisher’s name on the title page is shown as ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’, it is not a first printing, and comes from 1852 or later.  If the title page refers to ‘Copyright edition’ rather than ‘Edition sanctioned by the author’, again it cannot be a first printing and comes at the earliest from 1846, when the first copyright treaty between Britain and Germany came into force.   So first printings must show ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’ and ‘sanctioned by the author’ on the title page.  But there is no way at present of telling whether more than one early printing share these features, so the only way of being absolutely sure that a book is a first printing, is if the original paperback covers survive.

Martin Chuzzlewit volume 1 bookplate

Fortunately there is at least one copy where they have survived, and it’s a rather unusual copy.  It seems to have been acquired by a circulating library in the town of Solothurn in Northern Switzerland, effectively a small business that acquired books and lent them out for a fee.  The German term is ‘Journalzirkel und Leih-bibliothek’, which seems to suggest that it circulated journals or magazines as well as lending books – almost a cross between a library and a reading group.   The books are in a rough binding and the first volume has their bookplate inside the front cover.   Crucially it also has the original paper covers bound in. The back cover shows a list of the other books printed in the Tauchnitz Edition, and includes only those books printed before December 1843.  The reference to ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ in the list mentions only volume 1 as having been printed.  The similar list on the back of volume 2 refers naturally to both volumes and also includes a further 5 volumes printed between December 1843 and July 1844.   This looks to me like fairly conclusive evidence that both volumes are from the earliest printing, and in particular that volume 1 pre-dates any UK edition other than the monthly parts, and any other edition in book form anywhere in the world.

Martin Chuzzlewit volume 1 front cover and bookplate

Martin Chuzzlewit volume 1 back cover   Martin Chuzzlewit volume 2 back cover

The back covers of both volumes – more titles listed on volume 2

Volume 2 does not have the library bookplate, although it does have the same binding and the library number on the cover.  Instead it has an ex-libris bookplate for ‘Valentin Nueschi’, who presumably acquired the book from the library when they no longer wanted it.  Circulating libraries had to be responsive to consumer preferences, acquiring the latest novels and selling on those that were seeing less demand.

Martin Chuzzlewit volume 2 bookplate

The firm that ran the library, Jent & Gassmann, seems also to have been a small publishing firm and linked to the printing and publishing firm of Gassmann, founded in Solothurn in 1780, and still existing today, now run by the 7th generation of the Gassmann family.   They are presumably proud of their family’s history, but may not be aware of the small but significant part they played in the publishing history of Charles Dickens.