The Christmas Books — i. e., A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848) — appeared first in a single volume in 1852. Another edition, with the original plates (both engravings and woodcuts) by the distinguished book and magazine illustrators Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), Daniel Maclise (1806-70), Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867), Frank Stone (1800-59), Richard Doyle (1824-83), John Leech (1817-64), and John Tenniel (1820-1914), appeared in 1869.
The seventeenth of the twenty-two volumes in the Chapman and Hall Household Edition — The Christmas Books, 1878 — was illustrated by the celebrated Fred Barnard, a close friend of Dickens's chief illustrator prior to 1859, Hablot Knight Browne or "Phiz" (1815-1882). "The Dickens of Illustrators," Barnard (1846-96) was a prolific creator of images associated with Dickens's locales and characters, and single-handedly illustrated ten of the twenty-two volume set, including David Copperfield and Martin Chuzzlewit. Possessing a strong sense of what makes a Dickensian character, he was the logical choice to provide wholly new images for the five-novella anthology known ever since the 1852 single-volume collection of the Cheap Edition as The Christmas Books. That it should be one of the last in the Household Edition should not suggest that Chapman and Hall felt these novellas were not potentially popular in this compact edition; rather, considerable stock of the original 1843-1848 scarlet volumes still remained in 1870, so that the publishers must have hoped that the new edition would stimulate sales of these Christmas-tide favourites, in particular A Christmas Carol, illustrated single-handedly and quite evocatively by the gifted Punch cartoonist John Leech. In selecting scenes from The Carol in particular for realisation, Barnard knew that many readers would inevitably compare his drawings with those of the original 1843 volume, so that initially he had to decide whether he would repeat or avoid those scenes which Leech had initially chosen for realisation.
Sales of "The Christmas Books"
According to Robert Patten, the Cheap Edition text of 1852 continued to sell well as late as December, 1861 (6,799 copies), with sales exceeding 100,000 copies in December, 1853, and December, 1855. The more expensive Library Edition of 1859, however, ceased to be a best-seller by the end of 1860. A single volume, issued in 1869 at 12 shillings, sold some 1,904 copies in December of that year, although that number includes sales to the American publishers Ticknor and Fields (500) and Appleton (150). Moreover, of the individually-bound titles, The Chimes. (Bradbury and Evans, 1858) and The Cricket on the Hearth (Bradbury and Evans, 1858) at a shilling each sold vigorously in their first year of issue, with sales of 4,216 and of 3,759 respectively. But, as one might expect, the "Reading Edition" of the Carol, issued in 1857 and priced at just one shilling, amassed huge sales between December, 1857 and January, 1861 (16,789). The Library Edition of The Christmas Books, one of twenty-two volumes issued in 1858-59 at 7s 6d per volume, had only a frontispiece. An unparallelled success was the 1869 imprint of The Christmas Books, which, although priced at 12 shillings, sold 1,904 copies in December, 1869, better than the 1,124 copies of the Library Edition, despite the fact that the latter, issued in December, 1859, was half the price. The well illustrated "Illustrated Library Edition" (30 volumes, 1861-1874) showed the continuing appeal of the original illustrations. Within a year of Dickens's death, sensing that the market for "cheap" editions was still strong, Chapman and Hall embarked upon the ambitious plan to issue the entire cannon in standard, heavily illustrated volumes. Contrary to Patten's contention, although it was likely the first volume commissioned, The Pickwick Papers, re-illustrated by Browne, was not the first of the twenty-two Household Edition volumes to appear: that distinction belongs to Oliver Twist. Perhaps because the individually issued Christmas Books tended to sell much better than the anthology, Chapman and Hall waited until almost the end of the run to issue that volume in the new series, again illustrated by Fred Barnard.
Cook, James. Bibliography of the Writings of Dickens. London: Frank Kerslake, 1879. As given in Publishers' Circular The English Catalogue of Books.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book, 1912.
Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. 1899. Rpt. Honolulu: U. Press of the Pacific, 2004.
Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. University of California at Santa Cruz.: The Dickens Project, 1991. rpt. from Oxford U. p., 1978.
Last modified 26 June 2012