Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a children’s story that has captivated the world since its publication in the 1860s. The book is celebrated each year on 4th July, which is also known as “Alice’s Day”. This is the date that Charles Dodgson (known under the pen name of Lewis Carroll) took 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boating trip in Oxford, and told the story that later evolved into the book that is much-loved across the world.
Oxford is integral to Alice’s history, and Oxford University Press still houses a number of artifacts relating to the original printing of the story in our museum. Click through our slide show below to discover more.
Alice’s complicated history
This copy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, which is housed in Oxford University Press’ museum, has a complicated history. While “Alice” wasn’t officially part of the Press’ publishing when it first appeared in the 1800s, this copy is one of 2,000 that Lewis Carroll (also known as Charles Dodgson) paid to have printed in Oxford in 1865. About 50 of these were then bound up at Dodgson’s expense and sent as presents to family and friends; however the illustrator, John Tenniel, objected so strongly to what he thought was poor printing that Carroll tried to suppress the first issue by asking for the recipients to send them back…
"Printed in New York"?
Carroll still had about 1,950 copies of Oxford’s unbound printing that he’d paid for, but which Tenniel hated. Being a shrewd businessman, he sold them to a New York publisher, Appleton, rather than having them destroyed. The text was to be bound up and sold in the USA, but not in the UK, after Oxford printed a frontispiece declaring that the book was “printed in New York”. This is what is called the second issue of the first edition, and it’s a copy of this publication that we have in the OUP museum.
A second issue of the first edition of "Alice"
Following the illustrator’s rejection of the original printing, 20 out of 50 bound copies were returned to Carroll. Rather than destroying them, Carroll gave out these copies to children’s hospitals and orphanages, although almost none of those books have ever surfaced. So far as book historians know, there are only about 20 copies of the first issue of the first edition in the world.
Connections to the press
Carroll’s mathematical work was already published by OUP, which is possibly why he chose to pay for “Alice” to be printed in Oxford. He also had a close personal relationship with Bartholomew Price, who was Carroll’s former maths tutor, and Secretary at the Press. Price also received a mention in “Alice”, as there is a reference to his nickname of “the bat” in the Mad Hatter’s song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat”.
“Alice” was not, at this time, part of Oxford University Press’ publishing. Carroll paid for the printing and binding, and the book became part of Macmillan’s publishing in the 1860s. This type of printing was called “jobbing work”, and we have a record of Carroll paying for this work under his real name, “Charles Dodgson” in this financial ledger.
Mouse tail "stereotype plate"
This “stereotype plate” is made by placing individual metal letters in sequence to make a mould. This mould is then used to create a cast, which is then used to form a metal plate. “Stereotype plates” would be made in metal for unusual page designs, such as this mouse tail page in “Alice”. Some of the more standard pages would have been printed using wooden blocks, which have long since been lost or destroyed.
"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" spine
Although “Alice” was not part of OUP’s publishing in the 1860s, these objects are still part of the Press’ heritage, and are on display in our museum in Oxford.
Photos by Jack- Campbell-Smith for Oxford University Press. Do not use without permission.