First Edition of “A Christmas Carol” Can Be Expensive

Charles Dickens was in financial trouble when he published A Christmas Carol in December 1843. The young author of The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club (1837) and Oliver Twist (1838) had achieved rapid success in the publishing world, but just as quickly his reputation began to wane. His sixth novel, Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844), was not well received. Now married and with four children, Dickens suddenly found himself unpopular and in debt.

Then he had an idea. Dickens approached his London publishers, Chapman & Hall, with a proposal for a small Christmas book that could be given as a gift for the upcoming holiday season. But the publishers wanted no part of it. Dickens was already a business liability and few people celebrated Christmas in 1843. Nevertheless, with Dickens fronting the publishing costs, Chapman & Hall took a chance on A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens wrote his Christmas story in just six weeks. He also managed every detail of its publication from John Leach’s memorable color woodcuts—the only color plates Dickens ever used in his novels—to the blue and red title page, which was originally printed in green and red. Dickens even insisted on the red cloth book covers with embossed gilt lettering on the front cover and spine. When A Christmas Carol appeared on December 19, 1843, it cost a whopping 5 shillings—about $33 in today’s money. But the book was well received. Its initial print run of more than 6,000 copies sold out in just a week, and Dickens’ reputation was revived. In fact, A Christmas Carol became so popular that four other Dickens Christmas books followed: The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In (1845), The Cricket on the Hearth (1846), The Battle For Life: A Love Story (1846), and The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain (1848).

First edition, first printing points for A Christmas Carol are numerous. Reputable rare book dealers can assist with these, but be prepared to dig deep for a true first edition. Asking prices for a first edition of A Christmas Carol can range from $12,000 to $35,000, depending on condition. If the price point is too steep, don’t despair. Antique facsimile editions of all five of Dickens’ Christmas books can be had for around $250 for the set.

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