ArteFACTS: The Mini Christmas Carol

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Everyone has their own holiday traditions – for some, it’s making holiday treats, for others, it might be putting up seasonal decorations on a certain day, or by a certain time.

Me, I try to read A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, every year. The short novella makes for the perfect seasonal read at some point in December. Because of this, it is understandable why this particular artefact caught my attention.

In the Oshawa Museum collection is this book, A Christmas Carol.  What makes this artefact unique is its size – it measures 5.5cm by 4cm.

Colour photograph of a miniature book, A Christmas Carol. The book has a beige cover and the page edges are gold
Miniature book: A Christmas Carol; from the Oshawa Museum Collection (X998.91.1)

According to the Miniature Book Society, there are several reasons for producing miniature books, although convenience seems to be a popular reason. Mini books could be easily carried in waistcoats or in reticules. The MBS asserts the standard for a miniature book “is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness,” and by this measure, our book can be classified as ‘Miniature.’

Our mini was published in 1904 and contains the text of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and how his entire life was changed one Christmas Eve through visiting his past, present, and future. The book is 350 pages, printed on India paper (or bible paper) and contains seven illustrations that appear in the original publication.

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843.  It was Dickens’ novella that helped Americans embrace the Christmas holiday by associating children and good will with the holiday, in essence changing Christmas from the rowdy city celebrations to private family matters.  He wrote the story after a visit to a Ragged School.  Dickens hoped the story would raise the profile of London’s poor and generate some much needed cash for him. He finished the manuscript in six weeks, and within five days, the entire first printing (6000 copies) sold out.

Colour illustration depicting a man sitting in a chair by a fire, and he is approached by a ghostly figure wearing chains.
Marley’s Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost, illustration by John Leech. From the British Museum collection (public domain)

In today’s culture, the time for ghosts and spirits is long past, with Halloween taking place almost two months ago, but in the Victorian era, Christmas was the time to tell ghost stories, and perhaps Dickens’ tale is one of the most prolific and enduring. The story opens as follows,

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Dickens let his reader know right off the bat what tone his story was going to take, and the reader was immediately drawn in, wanting to know more about Marley and why the fact of his certain death was so important. The ghostly story unfolds, and readers follow Scrooge along on his journey of self reflection and change.


Where the Streets Get Their Names – Dickens Drive

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Sometimes, my friends must think I’m a Scrooge! Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season, but it usually takes me a while to warm up to the festivities. While many revel in the Christmas season early in November, I cannot bring myself to get excited about anything red or green for weeks after they typically do.

The Oshawa Museum hosts its annual Christmas event on the first Saturday of December.  Its around that time that my favourite Christmas CD starts playing in rotation.  Not long after, a wreath is hung, and slowly I find the Christmas spirit taking over.  A few weeks into December, I also dust off a favourite read, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Read every holiday season, I find such comfort in the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the ghosts who visit him.

What does my holiday spirit, or lack thereof sometimes, have to do with Oshawa streets? Well, if one is driving through a neighbourhood northeast of Harmony and Adelaide, you’ll find yourself on Dickens Drive, named for the famous author.  With the holiday season upon us, I thought I would share the story behind the name of this residential street.

Charles Dickens, c. 1858, from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery
Charles Dickens, c. 1858, from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery

Born in Portsmouth, England, in 1812, Charles Dickens would become one of Britain’s celebrated authors.  He spent many years in his childhood facing hard times, including the imprisonment of his father for bad debt, and even Charles himself working in appalling conditions in a blacking factory, where they made stove polish.  He was fortunate enough to attend school, and eventually began his career as a journalist.

His first book was published in 1836, Sketches of Boz, a collection of clippings he wrote under the pseudonym of Boz. That same year, he married Catherine Hogarth, and together they had 10 children.

Charles Dickens would write a large number of novels, short stories, plays, and essays throughout his adult life, the most notable being The Pickwick Papers (1837), Oliver Twist (1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), A Christmas Carol (1843), David Copperfield (1850), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861).

Dickens died on June 8, 1870 of a stroke.  He is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

In the same neighbourhood of Dickens Drive is also Copperfield Drive, Peggoty Circle, Micawber Street, Traddles Avenue, and Steerforth Street; the names of these streets are taken from the novel David Copperfield, which features the memorable characters of David Copperfield, James Steerforth, Tommy Traddles, Clara Peggotty and Wilkins Micawber.


Wishing you all the best for this holiday season!  Street Name Stories will continue in 2016!

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