Thursday, December 23, 2010

"In the Service of Kris Kringle"

An early posting this week, since Tarquin Tar is going to be on hiatus over the Christmas holiday. (And for those of you who keep track of such thing -- because, you know, I certainly don't -- this is, indeed, my 100th post.)

Charles Dickens’s most famed holiday tale is, of course, A Christmas Carol. But the yuletide season inspired the famed English author to produce other tales as well. This week’s book is a rather rare (again, not listed by WorldCat) American book edition of the Dickens short story, A Christmas Tree, published by Dodd, Mead & Company of New York in 1907 (note: the link provided at the title is to one of the London editions of 1907, not the Dodd, Mead edition).

The Christmas tree, so ubiquitous in holiday households today, was only introduced to English, and later American, homes in 1841. Originally a German tradition, it was brought across the channel by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert.

Dickens’s story, first published in London in 1850, is one of the earliest English narratives to center on the icon. Publishers Weekly summarizes the story thus:

Perhaps best described as Dickens's "other" Christmas story, this is an elderly narrator's reminiscence of holidays past, each incident inspired by the gifts and toys that decorate the traditional tree. There is a range of appeal in the story itself, from snug memories of beloved toys to the passing along of eerie stories surrounding various childhood haunts.

The first American edition was published in a collection of Dickens’s short stories by T. B. Peterson of Philadelphia in 1864. In 1907, the artist George Alfred Williams painted a series of illustrations to accompany “A Christmas Tree” and another Dickens holiday story (“The Holly Tree Inn”) and there subsequently followed a small flood of new book editions of the story in England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States.

The Dodd, Mead & Company edition is not illustrated. It was released as Volume 8 in the publisher’s Little Prose Masterpieces series. There is no indication of the printer, but it was a beautifully done job, with richly inked type evenly pressed into thick, ivory craft paper (no watermark; 2.75cm vertical chain-lines). The top edge of the pages is gilded and a white satin marker ribbon is stitched into the binding (left by a previous owner at pp. 42/43). The binding is a smooth ivory paper over boards; an ornate gilded vine decoration is on the front and back cover. Over the front decoration, in red ink, is stamped the title; over the back decoration, in the same ink and font, is the name of the series. The spine also bears the title in red ink.

Red ink was used on the title-page and for the title and initial, decorative majuscule on the first page of the text (on a few other pages, a couple of drops of the same red ink splash into the margin, though never obscuring the text). The pages measure approximately 7.25cm x 14.5cm, but deckling makes the width measurement vary. Collationally it may be expressed as 24o: [#] [18] 28-46 [π]: $1; pagination runs [ii] [1]-[44]+6. The initial and final blank leafs are fly-leafs conjugate with their respective pastedowns.

What is perhaps most moving about my copy, however, is the singular, cryptic trace of provenance inscribed in cursive ink on the title-page -- the record of a mother’s long-ago Christmas gift to her son:

for our dear Paul

who gave himself to

the service of

Kris Kringle, this

yuletide - and made

our beautiful Christmas


May the Christmas spirit a-

bide with him for ever.

1907. “Mommy”

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