AChristmas Carol by Charles Dickens with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.
The story of Scrooge is arguably one of the most famous stories that is retold over the festive period. Written by Charles Dickens, it was published just before the Christmas of 1984 and sold out immediately. The novel describes the wealthy miser, Scrooge, whose unsociable and mean temperament is transformed after several ghostly visitations. The book has proved to be an enduring success. It has never been out of print and has been published in various formats and styles since it’s release.
Arthur Rackham, a leading illustrator of children’s books at the time, worked on one of the most famous editions in 1915. Rackham was very selective about the books he worked on generally only illustrating one a year and for this year A Christmas Carol was chosen. His vision of the characters completely captures the intentions of Charles Dickens. Rackham employs a novel use of bold outlines and colour washes to vividly portray the pre and post spirit of Scrooge. In addition, Rackham employs the popular technique of silhouette for his black and white illustrations within the book.
A publisher’s marketing ploy at the time was to publish two versions of a book. One was regarded as a “trade” edition with a simpler and cheaper use of paper and material for the covers. The other edition, made for the gift market, comprised of finer paper and was usually limited in numbers and signed by the illustrator.
Looking through the images of the book transports the reader to a Victorian Dickens Christmas. A rare festive treat!
We were recently asked for advice from a Canadian customer about his early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Whilst responding, it got us thinking a blog would be useful on this complex subject – the various early and first editions of these most famous of children’s books.
After all, given that Alice in Wonderland as a book has never been out of print and has been published in at least 174 languages, the number of publications of the book will be vast! We’ll only concentrate on those up to 1908 as, after 1907 the copyright expired in the UK which generated at least 8 new editions in that year alone spiraling it further into popularity and value. The variety of illustrators for this work is similarly huge and includes the masters of Arthur Rackham, Milo Winter and Getrude Kay (with of course the original and most iconic John Tenniel!). Alice in Wonderland books are obviously highly collectable and Rare and Antique Books hold several of these scarce and delightful editions.
The genuine original illustrations were actually drawn by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) himself, in his original manuscript of the tale which was inspired by a boat trip in 1862 with three daughters of The Dean of Christ Church (one of whom was Alice Liddell) and The Rev. Robinson Duckworth of Trinity College. During the trip Dodgson narrated the tale to the girls and Alice persuade him to write out the story which he completed in 1863. He then gave the illustrated manuscript, titled Alice’s Adventures Underground, to Alice who ultimately sold it for a world record price of £15,400 at Sotherby’s Auction in 1928!
These original thirty seven drawings by Dodgson are contained in the rare 1886edition of “Alice’s Adventures Underground”, so using the original title as written by Dodgson, as a facsimile of the actual original manuscript. His charming and childlike drawings perfectly capture the wonderment of Alice and the fantasy world that he was creating. There is something rather special about seeing the word and images completed in Dodgson’s own handwriting!
This publication followed twenty years on from the first official edition – the 1866 publication published by Macmillan bound in red cloth, employed John Tenniel as the illustrator. It is clear to see how he developed Dodgson’s original images. Tenniel’s images were iconic and proved to be an instant success to children and adults alike. Whilst the book is dated 1866, it was distributed in time for Christmas 1865 but itself followed an earlier printing the same year that Dodgson recalled. A handful of these exceptionally rare 1865 copies did though survive and are, without doubt, the most valuable of all published editions. At this point in time Macmillan had no idea of the future success of the title, so released the book in small printings of a few thousand at a time. The very first edition displayed no printing numbers on the title page and copies of this edition are extremely rare and valuable, especially in fine condition. This was then followed by later printings stating say “SEVENTH THOUSAND” and so on in ever increasing numbers for many years – obviously the lower the number and the earlier the publication stated, the more valuable the book, condition aside.
Next came the 1872 first edition sequel “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There” which made a charming pairing with the Alice In Wonderland book. This too followed the same style of ‘thousand’ printings on the title page and the very first edition on this book is still both rare and valuable.
The trade copies of Alice’s Adventures were released in 1887 when the publisher, Macmillan, took the opportunity to make several corrections to the original text. The books were published in lower grade materials to save costs and were labelled as ‘People’s Edition’ yet the bright green and illustrated covers do not detract from their charm. These too employed the same “Thousands printing” identification that continued to run well into the 20th century.
The miniature editions published again by Macmillan in 1907 (Alice) and 1908 (Looking Glass) are similarly appealing as they followed the same design style of covers to the original editions, just smaller. They make for a far more affordable, yet delightful option for collecting or as a gift. On screen it is difficult to appreciate the charm of these small compact books which only measure 16 x 10 cm – it seems like they have taken an Alice potion to reduce their size! For the first time a more traditional identification system was used for the editions, stating the year and month of any reprint ie. “Through the Looking Glass Miniature Edition, October 1908, Reprinted December 1908”.
Once the copyright on illustration passed in 1907 there was a flurry of illustrators keen to work on Charles Dodgson’s books. At this time Arthur Rackham had recently shot to fame with his illustrated Rip Van Winkle and so his drawings were an ideal choice. Rackham’s illustrated book was published in 1907 by Heinemann with an introduction by Austin Dobson – maybe in an attempt to sway people to accept an illustrator other than Tenniel!
‘Tis two score years since Carroll’s art, With topsy- turvy magic, Sent Alice wondering through a part, Half-comic and half-tragic.
Enchanting Alice! black and white Has made your deeds perennial; And naught save “Chaos and old Night” Can part you from Tenniel;
But still you are a Type, and based, In Truth, like Lear and Hamlet; And Types may be redraped to taste In cloth-of-gold or camlet.
Here comes a fresh Costumier, then; That Taste may gain a wrinkle From him who drew with such deft pen The rags of Rip Van Winkle!
Although the initial reaction to any illustrator other than Tenniel was “just not right” the Rackham illustrations proved to be a success and are iconic Alice In Wonderland images today.
These antique and early editions of Alice in Wonderland mark the start of the profusion of illustrated books which we have witnessed since 1907 and so make them especially delightful and collectable books. To see these books and more editions by Charles Dodgson go to Lewis Carroll books.
The British Library has owned Charles Dodgson’s original manuscript since 1948 and it is now available to browse on their website. Their edition is unique in that it was created by Charles Dodgson as a gift for Alice Liddell in 1864 rather than for publication, which he adapted it for a year later. It is a fascinating read.
“Rackham gave his talk on Silhouettes to the Art Workers’ Guild in November 1919, the month in which Cinderella, the first of his two great silhouette books, was published. Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty differed from Rackham’s preceding books in relying almost wholly on silhouette for their effect. It is immediately clear from the collection of images that Rackham is a master of the medium, being able to evoke character and humour by profile and gesture alone and allowing the two-dimensional effect of his pen work to lead the reader through the book and keep the story going.” (James Hamilton. Arthur Rackham, A. Biography, p. 188).
As I hold this antique book of Cinderella (the rare signed first edition) open in my palms, the skill and beauty of Arthur Rackham’s silhouette masterpieces is truly enchanting.
The facing title page treats you to the only tipped in colour illustration of Cinderella. She looks longingly out of the window, dressed in soft rags and appearing vulnerable. Below her are stark black silhouettes of the ugly sisters, gaily dancing with equally unattractive beaux – the contrast in mood is masterful.
C.S. Evans, the author, proceeds to recount the tale of Cinderella and Rackham flawlessly instills life into this cherished tale. In “The Baroness and her Daughters, Evans introduces chapter IV with the words “Have you ever noticed that there are some people whom you are not going to like the first time you set eyes on them?”- Rackham depicts this clearly.
Rackham vividly presents the mood of these characters. Cinderella’s loneliness and sadness is tangible while the ugly sisters’ mistreat her and their horror is real when they see Cinderella’s foot fits in the shoe.
Rackham also expertly conveys humour through his illustrations. “We’ll have this fat fellow, because he has such a splendid set of whiskers.” The poor rat who is transformed into a coachman looks charmingly horrified!
The careful use of colour is another technique that Rackham employs with a brilliant rare touch. He adorns a double page spread with soft pink and green to illustrate the transformation of Cinderella and her coach, ensuring the magic flows from the page.
“The pumpkin immediately changed into a magnificent coach, all glass above and gilded panels below!” The way in which energy and movement is portrayed within Rackham’s illustrations is captivating. It is evident in the dancing scenes through his successful use of carefully placed small silhouettes that lay on the page at jaunty angles. “Dance succeeded dance” is the mood he creates.
Similarly Rackham beautifully generates the images for her flight from the ball. “Cinderella ran as she had never ran before. She lost herself in the shrubberies, and found her way out again, blundered among the flower beds, and snapped roses from their stalks in the speed of her flight.”
The final picture summarises Rackham’s skills in silhouette illustration– fine graceful lines that convey so much emotion and movement – “Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after for the rest of their lives.”