Page from the Past: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

(The following is a story featured in the May/June 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here. The story was written by August and Clare Imholtz, who have been collecting “Alice” books for more than 30 years. Clare is also a volunteer in the Library’s Rare Book and Collections Division.)

This illustration  by John Tenniel  depicts Alice and  the Cheshire Cat.

This illustration by John Tenniel depicts Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”— a book that has never been out of print since its original publication 150 years ago—did not get off to a good start.

The classic tale about a little girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by an odd cast of characters was first published in Oxford during the summer of 1865. Displeased with the quality of the printing, illustrator John Tenniel persuaded the author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898)—who would become famous under his pen name, “Lewis Carroll”—to recall that edition of 2,000 copies, except for about 50 copies that had already been distributed to friends. The still unbound sheets of the 1865 “Alice” were sold to the American firm of D. Appleton and Co., which published the work in New York in 1866 with a new title page. A copy of the “Appleton Alice” came to the Library in the personal book collection of Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, following his death in 1935.

Even rarer than the Appleton edition of “Alice” is the Library’s copy of the first approved edition of “Alice,” published in November 1866 in London by Macmillan & Company. The Library’s copy, which it purchased in 1924, has two original pencil drawings by Tenniel (sketches of the “Seven and Five of Hearts” and “Alice, the Duchess, and the Flamingo”) tipped in. These drawings most likely were commissioned from Tenniel subsequent to the book’s publication.

“Alice” grew out of a fanciful tale that Carroll told the three daughters of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, during a boat trip in the summer of 1862. Several years later, he presented one of the daughters—Alice—with his handwritten and self-illustrated manuscript copy of the story titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” which she had urged him to put in writing for her. Purchased by Eldridge Reeves Johnson, inventor of the Victor Talking Machine, the manuscript was exhibited at the Library of Congress from October 1929 to February 1930. After Johnson’s death in 1945, the manuscript was purchased at auction by a group of Americans led by Lessing Rosenwald, A.S.W. Rosenbach and Librarian of Congress Luther Evans. On Nov. 13, 1948, Evans presented the manuscript to the British Museum as a gift to Great Britain from a group of anonymous Americans in gratitude for Britain’s heroic efforts in holding Hitler at bay until the United States entered World War II.

When the Alice books were published, they were copyright protected for 42 years after the first publication or seven years after the author’s death, whichever was longer. Thus, the work itself entered the public domain in 1907, thereby inspiring numerous illustrated editions, comic books and adaptations for film, stage and television over the past century. Most notable are the 1951 Disney film and Tim Burton’s 2010 film. Most recent is an online version with annotations from 12 Carroll scholars offered by The Public Domain Review to mark the 150th anniversary of the timeless tale.


This frontispiece from the earliest editions of “Alice’s Adventures in  Wonderland” is by John Tenniel.

This frontispiece from the earliest editions of “Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland” is by John Tenniel.

Perhaps the rarest Carroll treasure owned by the Library is a scrapbook he kept from 1855 to 1872. Carroll spent his whole adult life at Christ Church, Oxford—first as an undergraduate and later as a mathematics lecturer. The scrapbook consists of more than 100 items, mostly of clippings from newspapers and periodicals, which offer an interesting window into Carroll’s mind.

They include reviews of his own published works, pages from the humor magazine “Punch,” clippings on Oxford and British politics, theater reviews, poetry, major news events of the day and cartoons that evidently appealed to Carroll’s sense of humor and his fascination with nonsense and the absurd. A review of his “Formulae of Plane Trigonometry” from the Athenaeum of July 27, 1861, shared a page in the scrapbook with a memorial poem on the death of Prince Albert from “Punch.”

Frederic Louis Huidekoper, an American undergraduate at Christ Church, purchased the scrapbook at a sale of Carroll’s effects shortly after his death in 1898. Col. Huidekoper, who distinguished himself in World War I and was awarded the Chevalier de Legion of Honor, became a respected and prolific military and naval historian. In 1934, he donated Carroll’s scrapbook to the Library just six years before his death in a trolley car accident in Washington, D.C.

Happy 180th Birthday to Col. Nathan W. Daniels

(The following is written by Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.) On May 10, 1867 Colonel Nathan W. Daniels celebrated his 31st birthday. He noted in his diary, “Learned to day that I had been recommended and nominated by Chief Justice Chase as Register under the Bankrupt Act for the […]

New Online: Walt Whitman, Heritage Months & Blogs

(The following is a guest post by William Kellum, manager in the Library’s Web Services Division.) DIGITIZED COLLECTIONS New online this month are two manuscript collections featuring the poet Walt Whitman. The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman papers consists of approximately 3,000 items spanning the period 1842-1937. Most of the items date from 1855, […]

Paying the Doctor in 18th-Century Philadelphia

(The following blog post is by Julie Miller, early American historian in the Manuscript Division.)  How did 18th-century Americans pay for their medical care? A leather-bound volume of patient payments kept by Philadelphia physician William Shippen Jr. between 1775 and 1793 helps answer this question. The volume is in the Shippen Family Papers in the Manuscript […]

Curator’s Picks: All That Jazz

(The following is an article from the March/April 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Music Division Curator Larry Appelbaum highlights items from the Library’s exhibition “Jazz Singers.” BILLIE HOLIDAY No matter how many times I’ve seen this iconic portrait of Ms. Holiday by […]

Gathered Around the Seder Table: Images from the Passover Haggadah

(The following is a guest post by Sharon Horowitz, reference librarian in the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division.) Exodus 23:15 tells us that Passover should be celebrated in the spring. The rabbis understood this to mean it was their job to maintain the holiday in the spring, which required some manipulation […]

Here’s to a Couple of Ruff Characters

Four hundred years ago this weekend, two of the greatest geniuses in wordcraft this world has ever seen both died: William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. Shakespeare’s plays still dazzle, written though they are in Elizabethan English and iambic pentameter; their story lines are still fresh enough to inspire endless straight-play performance worldwide, Broadway musicals […]

New Online: Civil War and Persian Gulf Stories, National Recording Registry

(The following is a guest post by William Kellum, manager in the Library’s Web Services Division.) The Manuscript Division has added two collections to its growing list of Civil War materials now available online. The papers of army officer Philip Henry Sheridan (1831-1888) span the years 1853-1896, although the majority of the material dates from […]

Pic of the Week: Ask Us Anything on Rosa Parks

Library experts involved in making the papers of Rosa Parks available online answered questions in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Tuesday. During the Reddit AMA, experts from the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division, the Prints and Photographs Division and Educational Outreach took questions about Rosa Parks and about how the Library cataloged, preserved, digitized, and […]