A Perfectly Preserved Set of the Ultimate Bibliophile's "Christmas Books": Five Cosway Bindings, All Painted by Miss Currie, All with Autograph Material


(London: Chapman and Hall (first three); Bradbury & Evans (last two), 1843; 1845 [but 1844]; 1846 [but 1845]; 1846; 1848). 167 x 102 mm. (6 5/8 x 4 1/8"). Five separately published works in five volumes. FIRST EDITIONS. "Carol" in FIRST STATE (bound-in original front cover with closest interval between blind-stamped left border and left extremity of gilt wreath being 15 mm., "D" in Dickens on front cover in perfect condition); "Chimes," and "Cricket" in Second State; "Battle" with Fourth Issue of the engraved title, as usual ("Haunted" with no issue points).

SUPERB OLIVE GREEN CRUSHED MOROCCO COSWAY BINDINGS BY RIVIERE & SON FROM DESIGNS BY J. H. STONEHOUSE (stamp-signed on front turn-ins), upper covers all with two inlaid red morocco banners, that at head with title in gilt, that at foot lettered "Lord keep my Memory Green," and each binding FEATURING AT CENTER AN OVAL MINIATURE PORTRAIT BY MISS C. B. CURRIE (signed in gilt on rear turn-ins), the five showing Dickens at different ages, painted on ivory under glass and surrounded by a gilt wreath of holly and mistletoe; raised bands, spines gilt in compartments with holly sprig, gilt lettering, gilt-ruled turn-ins with mistletoe sprig at corners, moss green watered silk endleaves, all edges gilt. Original cloth covers bound in at rear of each volume. An aggregate total of 53 woodcut illustrations in the texts, four engraved vignette title pages (the one in "Haunted" tinted), and eight engraved plates (the four in "Carol" nicely hand-colored), the illustrations by John Tenniel, John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, and others. Carol with bound-in ALS FROM DICKENS dated 3 August 1842, and with two original green endpapers, one inscribed with a passage from Foster's "Life of Dickens," bound in at rear; "Chimes" with ALS from artist Richard Doyle dated 21 September [no year] bound in at front; "Cricket" with ALS from artist John Leech dated 17 July 1846; "Battle" with undated ALS from artist Daniel Maclise bound in; "Haunted Man" with ALS from artist John Tenniel to Dickens collector and bibliographer F. G. Kitton, dated 15 July 1896, bound in. Eckel 110-25; Smith II, 4-6, 8-9. ◆Spines slightly faded to a uniform medium brown (and front cover of "Haunted Man" just subtly sunned to olive brown), "Chimes" with faint foxing to engraved title opening, "Haunted Man" with light offsetting to printed title (as usual), other trivial imperfections, but A SPLENDID SET--clean and fresh internally ("Carol" being virtually pristine), and THE REMARKABLY CHARMING BINDINGS WITH NO SIGNS OF USE.

This is the ultimate bibliophile's set of Dickens' five Christmas books: first editions in especially fine condition, in authentic Cosway bindings by the creators of that style, and with an autograph letter, signed by Dickens or one of the artists who illustrated these works, bound into each volume. "A Christmas Carol," the immortal story of how ghostly visitations finally inject the miserly Scrooge with the Christmas spirit, is called by Eckels "the greatest Christmas book from the pen of any man . . . . Artistically it was a pronounced success, and from a literary aspect, it has delighted millions of readers." The work is not only finely written, but its sentiments had great appeal for Victorian taste.

Our copy has all of the text first issue points listed in Smith and Eckel, but those bibliographers disagree as to whether yellow (Smith) or green (Eckel) endpapers have priority. William Todd distrusted all internal issue points beyond uncorrected text, including color of the endpapers. He believed the most reliable way to determine priority of issue was by studying the location of the gilt wreath on the cover, which was stamped by a single machine. He says, "This desideratum is a single point, one encompassing all the others, and, if it is to be a sign of issue, the one last appearing in the course of manufacture." The brass stamp with the cover design shifted to the left and developed imperfections as time went on, so Todd assigned priority to volumes with the most distance (14-15 mm.) between the right edge of the blind-stamped border on the left side of the cover, and the left-most extremity of the gilt wreath and with a perfect "D" in the author's name within that wreath. By these criteria, our copy is a first issue. As an added bonus, our volume contains a letter written (and flamboyantly signed) by Dickens to Messrs. Curry and Co. concerning newspaper piracy of his works by "wholesale robbers."

The warm reception of "A Christmas Carol" prompted Dickens to launch a series of four further Christmas books. "The Chimes" was described by the author to his friend (and biographer) John Foster as striking "a blow for the poor," while "The Cricket on the Hearth" presented domestic life in the ideal Victorian home. "The Battle of Life" is a love story with a happy ending (a Victorian rom-com for the holidays), and "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" finds another grumpy old man learning about the spirit of Christmas from a ghost. The illustrations for these works were done by some of the most popular artists of the day, including those whose letters are bound into volumes here: Richard Doyle (1824-83), who created the first cover and the masthead for "Punch"; John Leech (1817-54), well known for his political cartoons and humorous illustrations for "Punch"; Daniel Maclise (1806-70), whose professional life was devoted primarily to painting, especially portraits and historical scenes; and Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), illustrator of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass."

This set was splendidly bound by the masters of the Cosway binding: Riviere, Stonehouse, and Currie. The "Cosway" style of binding, with painted miniatures inlaid in handsome morocco, apparently originated with the London bookselling firm of Henry Sotheran about 1909, the year G. C. Williamson's book entitled "Richard Cosway" was remaindered by Sotheran and presumably given this special decorative treatment. The name "Cosway" then was used to describe any book so treated, whatever its subject. Admirable miniatures on Cosway bindings were executed by Caroline Billin Currie (1849-1940) from 1910 until her death, creating such paintings for Sotheran's, usually (as here) from designs by J. H. Stonehouse for bindings executed by Riviere. The portraits created by Miss Currie for this work show a maturing Dickens, from youthful idealism to successful middle age to gray eminence, and the festive decoration of the bindings virtually shouts "Merry Christmas" from the bookshelf. The portraits gracing Cosway-style bindings vary greatly in their level of achievement; Miss Currie's paintings are universally acknowledged as the very best. Finally, the condition of our set is so fine not even Scrooge himself could find fault with it.

Price: $78,000.00