An illustrated history of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was published on December 19 in 1843. The novella helped craft the modern version of Christmas with its focus on family, food, drink and giving. Scrooge has entered the lexicon for anyone who is mean and tight-fisted. We know where the phrase ‘Bah humbug’ originates, but did you know the book also popularised the 'Merry Christmas' greeting?

Ebenezer Scrooge is the miser who finds redemption after seeing the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

The book's full original title is A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, but today it's just known as A Christmas Carol. For learning more about the classic story, the annotated edition of A Christmas Carol is a good place to start.

Little Brown pop-up edition of A Christmas Carol
Little Brown pop-up edition of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol became a stage play within months of publication. It has been adapted numerous times for TV, film and radio. There’s the 2009 Disney film with Jim Carrey but Scrooge has also been played by Patrick Stewart, Albert Finney, Alistair Sim, and Basil Rathbone. There’s also a Mr Magoo Christmas Carol and a Muppets’ Christmas Carol.

The book’s illustrations helped craft the festive holiday that is celebrated today. Two artists, John Leech and Arthur Rackham, have been crucial in helping us visualize Tiny Tim, Scrooge, and the streets of Victorian London on Christmas Eve. Leech illustrated the Chapman & Hall first edition. Copies of this edition are highly collectable - AbeBooks sold one for $27,500 (approx. £20,000) in 2020. Arthur Rackham illustrated the Heinemann edition in 1915 – Rackham was a major name in the golden age of book illustration.

A Christmas Carol is part of Dickens’ Christmas Books series along with The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain. These stories became part of Dickens’ reading tours in the 1850s and 1860s.

There are several pop-up editions. We recommend Little Brown’s edition with paper engineering by Bruce Foster and illustrations by Chuck Fischer.

Notable illustrated editions of A Christmas Carol

John Leech was a caricaturist, who worked for the satirical magazine Punch. He provided Dickens with four hand-coloured etchings and four black-and-white wood engravings. Even if you don’t know Leech, you will know his illustrations.
23 illustrations. Ignaz Marcel Gaugengigl was a German-American painter known for his attention to detail. Teodor Chominski provided illustrations for Harper's Weekly.
Charles Edmund Brock was a painter and illustrator. He provided illustrations for numerous authors including Jonathan Swift, William Thackeray, Jane Austen, and George Eliot. Brock also contributed to The Strand magazine.
Lippincott edition in the US. Rackham provided 12 colour plates to William Heinemann. During this era, Rackham enjoyed international fame and his illustrated books were in huge demand.
Everett Shinn was an American painter and member of the urban realist Ashcan School.
Milo Winter was an American artist, who illustrated numerous stories including Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights and Alice in Wonderland.
The Monastery Hill bindery in Chicago has been around since 1868. Philip Reed was a printer, typographer, book designer, and wood engraver, who studied at the Art Institute in Chicago.
Michael Foreman has been illustrating children’s books since the 1960s. He won the 1982 and 1989 Kate Greenaway Medals for children's book illustration.

More editions of A Christmas Carol

Roberto Innocenti is a self-taught Italian artist who began illustrating books in 1970.
This HarperCollins edition features 21 colour pictures by the celebrated artist Carter Goodrich, known for his artwork in The New Yorker.
Blake is famous for his Roald Dahl illustrations.
Australian artist Robert Ingpen has written or illustrated more than 100 books, including this one for Palazzo Editions.
A Chronicle Books edition. Yelena Bryksenkova was born in Russia, grew up in Cleveland, and studied illustration in the US and Czech Republic.
Deluxe silk-bound slip-case edition from Arcturus with 30 full-color illustrations from 19th century editions.


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