Charles Dickens asked his publishers Chapman and Hall to publish A Christmas Carol on fine, coloured binding and endpapers, and gold lettering on the front and spine; and that it should cost only five shillings to buy. It was published in an edition of 6,000 copies on 19th December 1843 and sold out within a few days.
Seeing the success of the novella, the printers and publishers Richard Egan Lee and John Haddock produced a pirated version that sold for only twopence. Lee and Haddock, of Craven Yard in London’s Drury Lane, published a similar story in Parley’s Illuminated Library on Saturday, 6 January 1844, less than three weeks after the original publication. At the next available date, Dickens issues proceedings against Lee and Haddock to stop which was granted in a hearing on Wednesday, 10 January. The following day, Dickens had to take action against four other publishers for producing similar stories to A Christmas Carol.
Charles Dickens promptly sued Lee and Haddock. Although he won his case, Lee and Haddock declared themselves bankrupt and Dickens had to pay £700 in costs and legal charges. Dickens would later revisit the bitter experience in his depiction of the Court of Chancery in Bleak House.
Charles Webb’s play version of A Christmas Carol was an unofficial, pirated adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel. This playbill, printed in blue ink, advertises its run at the New Strand Theatre in London, from 26-28 December 1844, a year after the novel’s publication. The bill’s introduction and synopsis of the play are written in dramatic and sensational language, the effect heightened by its choice of different fonts, punctuation and vocabulary. The playbill reveals that Webb’s version promised ‘superb and peculiar Mechanical Effects (never before achieved)’, ‘a moving diorama’ and music.
Webb’s version was popular, in large part due to the great success of the novel: whether an official or pirated adaptation, it seems the public simply couldn’t get enough of A Christmas Carol. As implied in the text of the playbill, most of the audience would already have read the novel, or at least been familiar with its scenes and characters.