The First Editions of The Nursery Alice
Alice in Wonderland is traditionally thought of as a children’s book (although many adults secretly read it!). Yet it’s original appeal was not to the younger aged child. Maybe Lewis Carroll thought to amend this after seeing the 1874 Dutch simplified copy of Alice in Wonderland. He subsequently wrote to his publisher, Macmillan to suggest a coloured, large print and reduced version of the book. He commented that he wished it to be “read, to be cooed over, to be dogs’ eared, to be rumpled, to be kissed,” by children from nought to five. He re-wrote the story in a child friendly format as if it was being read aloud, almost as a fairy story. It begins with “Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Alice, and she had a very curious dream.” His clever use of questions endeared children to the book. For example, “Which would you have liked the best, do you think, to be a little tiny Alice, no larger than a kitten, or a great tall Alice, with your head always knocking against the ceiling?” He also appealed to children by including a reference to a puppy called Dash – a sure winner for attracting children.
However, much of the success of the story must be also be given to the use of the popular and original illustrations by John Tenniel. The copyright expired in 1907 yet Tenniel approved the use of twenty of his images for this children’s book.
The first editions did not escape Carroll’s precise attention to detail. He rejected the entire original 10,000 sets of sheets printed by Edmund Evans claiming that the pictures were “far too bright and gaudy”. The sheets were therefore reprinted and the casings were used in subsequent editions. Twelve copies were specially bound up with un-priced titles as advertisements to the American market. Another 4,000 of these rejected sheets were sent to America with an added tipped in folded preliminary leaf dated 1890. The 6,000 remaining sheets were made up with un-priced titles as the 3rd People’s Edition. The final sets of sheets were published as a fourth issue in 1897 with an amended cheaper price label . In addition, a specially bound set of fourteen presentation editions were published in 1889.
Interestingly the Tenniel illustrations were also amended in the second editions of the Nursery Alice. The profile of Alice’s face looking at the Cheshire Cat are quite different in this second 1890 publication.
Of course, Alice in Wonderland has never been out of print and there are over one hundred English versions of this classic book. Yet the first editions of the Nursery versions are quite special – and you might even catch some adults reading them!
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