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Dickens began to write A Christmas Carol in September 1843, and completed the book in six weeks with the final pages written in the beginning of December. As the result of a feud with his publisher over the meagre earnings on his previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens declined a lump-sum payment for the tale, chose a percentage of the profits in hopes of making more money thereby, and published the work at his own expense. High production costs however brought him only £230 (equal to £19,128 today) rather than the £1,000 (equal to £83,164 today) he expected and needed, as his wife was once again pregnant. A year later, the profits were only £744 and Dickens was deeply disappointed.
Production of the book was not without problems. The first printing contained drab olive endpapers that Dickens felt were unacceptable, and the publisher Chapman and Hall quickly replaced them with yellow endpapers, but, once replaced, those clashed with the title page which was then redone. The final product was bound in red cloth with gilt-edged pages, completed only two days before the release date of 19 December 1843. Following publication, Dickens arranged for the manuscript to be bound in red Morocco leather and presented as a gift to his solicitor, Thomas Mitton. In 1875, Mitton sold the manuscript to bookseller Francis Harvey reportedly for £50 (equal to £3,493 today), who sold it to autograph collector, Henry George Churchill, in 1882, who, in turn, sold the manuscript to Bennett, a Birmingham bookseller. Bennett sold it for £200 to Robson and Kerslake of London which sold it to Dickens collector, Stuart M. Samuel for £300. Finally, it was purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan for an undisclosed sum. It is now held by the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (Douglas-Fairhurst xxx) (Hearn cv,cvi). Four expensive, hand-colored etchings and four black and white wood engravings by John Leech accompanied the text.
Priced at five shillings (equal to £20.79 today), the first run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve and the book continued to sell well into the New Year. By May 1844, a seventh edition had sold out. In all, twenty-four editions ran in its original form. In spite of the disappointing profits for the author, the book was a huge artistic success with most critics responding positively.
- Critical reception