Charles Dickens’ Holiday Treasures

Tired of endless shopping, crowded malls and traffic jams? “Bah, humbug!” Get into the real holiday spirit with something traditional and even a bit old-fashioned. And nothing says “traditional Christmas” better than Charles Dickens and his wise tales.

If you are our fellow New Englander and can visit Boston, for something truly special, try doing The Freedom Trail Foundation’s Historic Holiday Stroll. Offered Thursday to Sunday from November 18 to January 31 (holidays excluded), costumed tour guides dressed in Victorian garb will help you revisit the days when Boston hosted the triumphant American premiere of Charles Dickens holiday classic A Christmas Carol. Hear the story of how Christmas and holiday traditions evolved in Boston and the highlights of the American Revolution as it happened just 75 years earlier.

If you don’t feel like leaving the house and braving the elements, you can still enjoy some of the Dickensian magic, but in a different way. Project Boz (“Boz” was Dickens’ early pen name) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Gordon Library is helping modern readers experience the novels of Dickens in their original, serialized form. Famous for it’s rich collection of Charles Dickens materials, including rare first editions of almost all of his major works, manuscripts, and letters, the library is scanning and uploading for public access most of the novels in their original serial form, including original advertisements, and illustrations!

And if you are a world-traveler and just happen to be in London for the holidays, you simply MUST visit beautifully restored and just re-opened Charles Dickens Museum! For a “Very Dickensian Christmas” you can enjoy caroling and story telling, film screenings, walks and even festive food! It doesn’t get any better than that!

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Charles Dickens

Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novella, A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. In 2011, the original manuscript was given new life and extensive treatment from New York’s Morgan Library and Museum‘s crew of conservators at the Thaw Center for Conservation.  The manuscript restoration was done in anticipation of the bicentenary of the famed author’s birthday which is being observed around the globe today.

Charles Dickens, seen here in an 1860's photograph taken by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

Each page, written word, and the binding itself were carefully examined before the treatment of the manuscript could begin. The initial steps of this process began with the removal of each page from the book’s binding. Each of these separated pages is then bathed in a combination of water and alcohol solution.

Soaking the paper in this solution caused a previously used adhesive to dissolve. According to Morgan conservators, the adhesive coating was probably applied sometime between 1910 and 1920. This now-antiquated technique, called “silking” was once used to strengthen and reinforce paper. The sheer silk coating tends to become brittle over time and loses its effectiveness.

The washing process was completed by a second bath in a combination of  calcium carbonate-enriched deionized water and alcohol. This bath has a neutralizing effect on soluble acids and adhesives. Dickens, like many other writers of the age, wrote in black iron-gall ink (iron gall ink test paper), which is water-resistant and adhered permanently to the paper’s surface.  However, with its high acidity, this ink caused the pages to deteriorate drastically and the ink itself changed to a dark brown tone over time.

After this washing, each page of the manuscript was air-dried and then humidified. To gently flatten each sheet, the pages were placed on blotting paper for several days. Each page was examined further  for tears, rips and holes, and those were repaired with Japanese tissue and a diluted wheat starch paste. Thanks in large part to the high quality paper that Dickens used, The Morgan’s conservators were pleased to report that the manuscript’s pages were in remarkably good condition after the conservation process and have incredibly similar color and flexibility to the original document penned by Dickens.