When a rare Charles Dickens edition of A Christmas Carol came up for auction, a Yorkshire town dug deep in their pockets to buy it
When Charles Dickens penned a personal note on the flyleaf of a copy of A Christmas Carol to the recently bereaved wife of his best friend, even he could not have imagined the extraordinary events his words would trigger.
Last month, 169 years later, that same inscribed book, long in the possession of an American collector, came up for auction in New York, where it was bought for $35,000 (£21,800) by the Yorkshire market town close to my home that is said to have inspired the definitive Yuletide story. And with impeccable timing, this same book has returned to the source of its genesis, just in time for Christmas.
The rare edition was purchased not by a heritage committee or a millionaire collector, but by the people of Malton. Everyone chipped in to raise the cash to buy it – schoolchildren, butchers, bakers, local grandees – in just two weeks. They achieved this after being turned down by every publicly funded organisation they approached, including, incredibly, the Heritage Lottery fund for Yorkshire.
On Friday, amid great fanfare, the book arrived in Malton. The local Dickens Society, which runs the Dickens Museum in the Old Counting House in Chancery Lane, greeted it dressed in full Victorian regalia and celebrated with one of the author’s favourite beverages, a potent punch called Smoking Bishop.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol. It has delighted young and old for generations, with its ghostly recanting of the most formidable miser of them all. Scrooge, Marley’s Ghost, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim are among the most famous characters in literature. This year, Tommy Steele is starring as Scrooge at the London Palladium. At the Arts Theatre in London, Simon Callow is Dickens. The film – one of several versions – with Alastair Sim as Scrooge will also be on TV. But how did it all begin? Where did Dickens get his notion for A Christmas Carol?