Charles Dickens asked his publishers Chapman and Hall to publish the book 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. It came out on 6 January 1844, less than three weeks than the original publication. Charles Dickens promptly sued the company. Although he won his case, Lee and Haddock declared themselves bankrupt and Dickens had to pay £700 in costs and law 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 is 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.