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First Edition Alice

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 4/17/2001
Tenniel Illustration
A Tenniel Illustration

First Edition Alice Transcript

“Curiouser and curiouser!” This is the comment of Alice in Wonderland after she eats the cake and feels herself beginning to “open out like the largest telescope that ever was.” Curious would also be a good way to describe the publishing history of Alice in Wonderland which unfolded in a rather curious way, with the second printing being published first, and the first printing being published later. It happened this way.

In April, 1864, John Tenniel agreed to do the illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s book and finally finished the drawings over a year later, in June of 1865. 2,000 copies of the book were printed on unbound sheets of paper and delivered to Carroll who had paid for the print job. He immediately sent them to his London publisher, Macmillan, and requested that fifty copies be bound as soon as possible so he could sign them and give them to friends. He also ordered one copy specially bound in white vellum for Alice Liddell, the namesake of the book. He had inscribed and distributed about 20 of the bound volumes when he received a note from Tenniel, saying that he had just seen the printed sheets and he was [quote] “entirely dissatisfied with the bringing of the pictures.” [unquote] They were too light and he insisted that the book be reprinted.

Since Carroll had already paid for the printing out of his pocket, he stood to lose quite a bit of money, but he agreed to scrap the entire edition and have everything redone. He even asked his friends and Alice to return their inscribed copies. The second printing proved to be satisfactory to everyone, including Tenniel, and the book came out in England in November 1865.

But Carroll hadn’t actually destroyed those first 2000 copies of the book, most of which were still unbound in flats sheets lying around at the publishers. He decided to see if he could sell them to some American publishing company. He made inquires and D. Appleton & Company of New York was interested. They bought all the discarded copies for 120 pounds, neatly sliced off the original title page, tipped in one bearing their name and published the book in America in 1866. And that is how the first American edition, although it came out after the British edition, actually contained the very first printing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Illustrators of Children’s Books, 1744-1945, Bertha E. Mahoney, Louise Payson Latimer, and Beulah Folmsbee, compilers. Boston: The Horn Book Inc., 1947.

Muir, Percy. English Children’s Books, 1600-1900. London: B.T. Batsford, ltd.,1954

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