December 2012 | Nate Pedersen

The Town That Bought a Rare Book

malton.jpgMalton is a sleepy market town of about 4,000 people in north Yorkshire.  The closest special collection is at the University of York, about 20 miles to the southeast.  And yet the town banded together recently to purchase a signed copy of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  The purchase price: $35,000.

Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843.jpgWhat makes this signed copy of The Christmas Carol particularly unique -- and particularly attractive to Malton's inhabitants -- is that Dickens signed the book to the wife of his old friend, Charles Smithson, a solicitor and famous resident of the town.  Dickens and Smithson were great friends and Dickens visited Malton regularly in north Yorkshire.  Local legend states has it that Dickens based Scrooge's office on Smithson's office on Chancery Lane in Malton.  Other characters from the classic story were inspired by local residents.

Smithson unexpectedly died before The Christmas Carol was published, which is why the book is inscribed to his wife.

Selina Scott, a local writer and media presenter, heard about the book coming up for auction in New York City and initiated a publicity campaign in Malton to purchase it.  After raising $32,000, Scott and the town residents nervously watched the live auction.  The book failed to make its reserve price of $40,000.  Selina then began a series of negotiations with the seller -- conducted via Doyle's -- trying to persuade the seller to let the book for less than the reserve.  The seller agreed on a purchase price of $35,000, saying the book deserved to be in Malton.  Selina raised the additional funds and the town purchased its unique copy of The Christmas Carol.

The book is currently on display at the Talbot Hotel in Malton.  After New Year's Day, the book will move into the care of York University's Special Collections Library, but will continue to make regular visits to Malton.

[Images from Wikimedia]