Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865, 1st edition)
The nearest I will come to the extremely rare 1865 true first edition of Alice in Wonderland is this Christie’s Catalogue for possibly the only remaining copy in private hands. It was put to auction on 16th June 2016 in New York. It failed to make its reserve of $2,000,000 but the buzz it created is still ringing in our ears. Not many books justify a whole catalogue to themselves. The owner is Jon A Lindseth and he has bequeathed the rest of his Alice collection to the British Library. He put this into auction as the British Library already has a copy.
On July 4th 1862 – 154 years ago – Charles Dodgson related the first parts of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground to Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the daughters of Dean Liddell, on a trip up the Thames with his friend Robinson Duckworth. Three years later in June 1865 the first edition was printed with the aim of publishing it on July 4th, the third anniversary of that river trip. Carroll requested that his publishers Macmillan bind 50 copies for him to give away to friends.
On July 15th he wrote in twenty or so of these copies to give away. A few days later Tenniel told Carroll that he was “entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures”. The author accepted the decision to withdraw the entire edition of 2,000 copies and asked for those he sent out to be returned. The 34 returned were sent out to hospitals and nursing homes (two of these copies have survived). There are now only 22 known copies in total. Christ Church Oxford lost its own copy in 1924. 16 of these copies are in institutional libraries and six are in private hands but only two of these are still in their original cloth. This copy and the other which is heavily worn. Only 10 copies in total survive in their original cloth. This one originally belonged to George Kitchin, a colleague of Carroll’s. The book’s ownership has been easily traced through a series of important sales. There are photographs of each of the book’s owners in the catalogue.
I have photographed this catalogue with some of my earliest editions and I do own a first edition of Alice Through the Looking Glass. I love these early examples with their red cloth and gilt decorations.
‘Extremely rare’: A first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
‘This is a true first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ says Francis Wahlgren, Christie’s International Director of Science & Books, of an original 1865 edition of the Lewis Carroll fantasy that went on to become one of the most famous works in children’s literature.
A lecturer in mathematics at Oxford, Carroll’s real passion was for storytelling, says Wahlgren. ‘This copy (estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000) is interesting because we can trace its history back to the Oxford days,’ he notes. ‘It was given to a little girl by her father, who had a position at Oxford, and it stayed with her for her entire life.’
The story of the 1865 edition begins on 4 July 1862 when Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll), along with a friend The Rev Robinson Duckworth, took the three daughters of Dean Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford — Lorina, Alice and Edith — on a boat trip on the Thames. During the afternoon he related the first parts of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the precursor to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On their return, Alice asked him to write down the story.
Working with renowned illustrator John Tenniel of Punch magazine, Lewis Carroll developed the elements of the story into this book. Three years later, during June 1865, the first edition was printed with the intention to have Macmillan & Co. of London publish it on 4 July 1865. Lewis Carroll requested 50 advance copies to give away. A few days later Carroll heard from Tenniel that he was ‘entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures.’ Carroll withdrew the entire edition of 2000 and asked for the advance copies he had sent to be returned.
‘Seeing an 1865 Alice is a very special thing,’ Wahlgren continues. ‘There are only 23 surviving copies, of which all but five are in public institutions.’ This edition has remained remarkably intact over the intervening 150 years since its publication, and still features its original binding, binder’s ticket and title page. ‘It has the original integrity which any collector really values,’ Wahlgren adds. It is one of ten surviving copies still in original red cloth, only two of which are in private hands, the other described as ‘heavily worn’.
This copy was given by Lewis Carroll to George William Kitchin, a colleague of Carroll’s at Christ Church, and Secretary of the School Book Committee for the University Press. Kitchin later gave the book to his daughter Alexandra (‘Xie’) Rhoda Kitchin (born 1864), who was one of Carroll’s favourite photographic models. The book is accompanied by an original photograph of her taken by Lewis Carroll. She sold the copy at auction in 1925, but, sadly, died on the day of the sale.
‘This book is extremely rare,’ says Wahlgren, ‘and really epitomises why I do my job and why I’m here at Christie’s.’
Watch a short video of Francis Wahlgren introducing this rare book on the Christie’s website here.