The Most Valuable Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

atkins-bookshelf-booksOn June 16, 2016, Christie’s in New York will auction off the most valuable edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (the pseudonym of Charles Ludwig Dodgson, a mathematician) . The book’s current owner is Jon Lindseth, a private collector and Carroll scholar. Originally printed in 1865, this first edition, first issue (the book is referred to as the “1865 Alice”) is extremely rare — only 22 copies exist today. Christie’s estimates that the book will fetch up to $3 million. Indeed, the perfect unbirthday gift for a bibliophile.

Carroll came up with the story of Alice back in 1862, and over the years worked on the manuscript, developing it into a book. He collaborated with John Tenniel, a famous illustrator who worked on Punch magazine, to create 42 wood engraved illustrations for the book. Macmillan & Company printed 2,000 copies of the first edition in June 1865, and sent Carroll 50 advance copies. Naturally, Carroll sent an advance copy to Tenniel, but the illustrator was not  happy with the first edition; he was “entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures.” Carroll withdrew all the copies of the first edition, including the advance copies.

Today, there are 22 known copies — 16 owned by institutional libraries and 6 owned by private collectors. Out of those 22, only ten are in good condition and still in the original red cloth as issued; the balance of the books have either been rebound or are heavily worn and not as valuable. Carroll had the book reprinted in 1866.

An even more valuable edition is the one that Carroll wrote and illustrated with his own hand and gave to Alice, Lorinna, and Edith Liddell on November 26, 1864.  Titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the book features sepia colored ink writing and 37 pen and ink illustrations on cream stock. The book was sold by Alice Liddell in 1927 to pay death taxes after her husband died. Over the next twenty years, the book was sold several times, eventually finding a permanent home at the British Library, located in London, in 1948.

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For further reading: The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages by C.M. Rubin (2010)

What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?

atkins-bookshelf-booksWhen Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol on December 19, 1843, he wanted to make sure the book was affordable. The first printing of 6,000 copies, each book priced at a mere 5 shillings (about $2 in 1800s currency; about $25 in today’s currency) was sold out by Christmas eve. Dickens received his allotment of presentation copies on December 17, and immediately sent inscribed copies to his close friends and colleagues; he ran out of his copies 5 days later. Dickens’s publisher, Chapman and Hall, quickly printed a second and third edition, bringing the total of books sold to 9,000 by the end of the year — a remarkable achievement in Victorian England. Over the next few years, the book went through a total of 24 printings of that particular edition.

For almost two centuries, Dickens’s “ghostly little story” about redemption and charity has grown in our hearts — and just as significant, has grown in value exponentially. As bibliophiles and antiquarian booksellers know, there are many factors that contribute to a book’s value — condition, uniqueness, beauty, quality of binding, history, and inscription and/or signature. The first edition of A Christmas Carol (or The Carol, as it is known to collectors of Dickens’s works) has benefited from all these factors, and hence has consistently risen in value. A true first edition (from the first printing) is generally worth from $18,000 to $45,000. Any edition that was masterfully bound in fine leather and jewels by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, the premier bookbinders in London since 1901, is sure to fetch more than $3o,000. The value of The Carol skyrockets when you consider the very rare inscribed presentation editions (the ones that Dickens gave to his friends) that range from $50,000 to $280,000! Truly a staggering valuation that would certainly bring a smile to any Scrooge.

A review of auction prices within the last two decades shows how quickly the value of A Christmas Carol has appreciated in modern times. A presentation copy inscribed to poet Thomas Hood was sold at auction in 1997 for $50,000. Just one year later, another presentation copy, this one inscribed to writer and poet Walter Landor, sold for $160,000. The most valuable copy, however, was a presentation copy inscribed to William Macready, an actor and close friend of Dickens, dated January 1, 1844 that was sold by Sotheby’s auction house for $282,408 in 2010. Ironically, A Christmas Carol was not as profitable as Dickens had hoped due to its high cost of production. Certainly, Dickens could never have imagined that his modestly-priced Christmas story would become of the most precious and sought-after books in literature — making him in the end, to use Scrooge’s phrase, “a good man of business.”

Read related posts: A Christmas Carol by the Numbers
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The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2017

For further reading: The Annotated Christmas Carol by Michael Patrick Hearn, Norton (2004)
The Cinderella of the Arts: A short History of Sangorski & Sutcliffe by Rob Shepherd