Tiny Tim? He was almost Fred.
The idea for the most famous Christmas book of all time -- "A Christmas Carol" -- came to Charles Dickens in October, 1843. Dickens had been invited to speak at a meeting of the Manchester Athanaeum, an adult education institute for the working class. While in Manchester, he stayed with his beloved older sister, Fan, one of whose two young sons was handicapped, and served as the protype for Tiny Tim. In his remarks, Dickens emphasized his belief that the gap between the working and governing classes needed to be closed.
Dickens cared deeply about the poor, a feeling magnified by his first-hand experiences with industrialism and prisons on a recent American tour. These feelings, combined with Dickens's pressing need for extra income, led him to write the book that became "A Christmas Carol." He wrote the story in only six weeks. Ironically, the book at first lost the author money, for his income from the first 6,000 copies was but 230 pounds, while the costs he incurred suing the publisher of a pirated version amounted to 700 pounds.
Dickens was very particular about producing a high-quality, reasonably priced product for the Christmas book trade. The slender volume was bound in red cloth, with a gilt design on the front board and spine, and gilt on the page edges. Sixty percent of the book's cost was incurred in the binding and in the coloring of four of the eight plates by artist John Leech. Only 16% of the costs of the book involved the actual printing. The initial run sold out in five days. By the close of 1844, the book had sold almost 15,000 copies, at a profit to Dickens of only 726 pounds.
But Dickens was off to the races. Following "A Christmas Carol," Dickens produced several more seasonal novels, which appealed greatly to the Victorian taste for family sentiment, the importance of a moral life and charming children. They were vastly popular. "The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In" (1844) sold 20,000 copies in three months. "The Cricket and the Hearth" (1845) was schmaltzy, sentimental and a huge commercial success, though derided by critics. The Times of London said, "We owe it to literature to protest against this last production of Mr. Dickens." His next Christmas book, "The Battle of Life: A Love Story" (1846) also drew the scorn of reviewers but sold a staggering 23,000 copies on the day of its release. The last of Dickens's Christmas novels, "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" (1848) also did well to mixed reviews. Perhaps in light of his longer novels becoming even more serious and weighty in their political and social commentaries, Dickens didn't revisit the Christmas form again.
Dickens's manuscript for "A Christmas Carol" is now in the J.P. Morgan library. First editions, which are mind-numbing in their bibliographic complexity, go for $30,000 or so, depending on condition. (Sorry, we are currently out of those at Printed Page.) An inscribed copy sold in 2010 for $282,000.
By the way, Tiny Tim was initially named Fred after Dicken's younger brother. Thank goodness for rewrites.