In June 1865, Scottish publisher MacMillan printed 2,000 copies of a beautiful new children’s book. But the illustrator, one John Tenniel, was so disappointed with the book’s print quality that he asked to have every copy recalled, and the entire book reprinted. The original 2,000 copies, author Lewis Carroll wrote in his diary, would be “sold as waste paper.”
That book, of course, was Alice in Wonderland. And on June 16, reports the Guardian, one of those very first discarded copies will go on auction for an estimated $2 to $3 million, making it presumably the most expensive waste paper that ever existed.
More than 150 years, just 22 of those erroneous first-edition copies of Alice in Wonderland remain. Alice’s adventures sold 5,000 copies in its first (official) edition and many millions since. The book has been read in 170 languages, and Lewis Carroll (a mathematician whose real name was Charles Dodgson) has become one of the most popular children’s book authors in history.
According to Christie’s, this particular copy of the book is a rarity. It is unusually well-preserved, with the “text and binding as they were when the book was first produced.” The New York auction house adds that 16 of the remaining 22 copies are now in libraries.
The book’s current owner, Jon A. Lindseth, has collected Lewis Carroll’s works for over 25 years. He decided to sell the book when he donated his collection to the British Library, which already owned a copy of this edition. “For this rarest and most storied of books, a new chapter begins,” he writes in the auction notes.
In 1998, Lewis Carroll’s personal copy of the novel was auctioned for $1.54 million in New York. A picture of the original, six-year-old Alice was also sold, for $62,000.