A RARE 1844 edition of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has been bought for Malton as part of campaign to provide a literary legacy for the town.

It is hoped the book, purchased from a private vender, will attract visitors to the area and help create a ‘story’ for Malton linked to education, community events and the arts.

Hidden from public view until now, the edition was commissioned by Charles Dickens for the wife of his great friend, lawyer Charles Smithson, after his untimely death at the age of 39.

It is inscribed “Mrs Smithson, from Charles Dickens, 18th April 1844”.

There is a long-standing tradition that the office of Scrooge was based on Smithson’s office in Chancery Lane in Malton, and that various characters in Dickens’s novels were based on local residents.

An appeal to raise the funds needed to buy the book was made in the Gazette & Herald by writer and presenter Selina Scott in September.

Selina, who lives near Malton, said she heard about the book coming up for auction in New York from a friend who knows she is keenly interested in Dickens and Malton and felt that the book belonged, not to a private collector, but to the town.

Working with local businessman Stephen Joll and Clair Chadwick, managing director of marketing and fundraising agency Cause UK, organisations and individuals in the area were contacted including Simon Howard, chairman of Castle Howard Estate, Malton CIC, local tourist attraction Flamingo Land, The Malton Museums Trust and the Malton Dickens Society.

Clair said: “At this point, we’d raised $32,000, but it might not have been enough. The reserve price for the book was between $40,000 and $60,000 and Blackwell’s rare books department said it could be worth as much as $100,000.

“Letters of support were sent to the auction house to pass on to the seller, as well as bidding rivals – such as the Philadelphia Free Library – in the hope of influencing a positive outcome.”

Clair said she and Stephen had watched the auction at Doyle’s in New York, live online “It was nail-biting after all the hard work of the last few weeks – and the results were unexpected. The book wasn’t sold because it didn’t reach its reserve price,” she said.

“I then began a series of negotiations with the vendor who spoke to the private collector, trying to persuade him to sell to them. He responded by saying they could have it for $35,000 – with the vendor’s best wishes, saying it deserved to be in Malton. Selina and Stephen rallied into action and more supporters came forward and Malton got the book.”

Clair said A Christmas Carol was one of the world’s seminal books, made into 10 films and translated into 60 languages, as well as inspiring a number of adaptations, such as Frank Capra’s, It’s a Wonderful Life.

She said: “We had the vision that this book could be a touchstone for Malton and offer a lasting literary legacy for the town.

“The book is in very good condition and we are taking advice on how to handle and display it. But our aim is to get people excited and inspired by it both in Malton and further afield.”

Plans include reviving the Christmas Dickens festival next year and linking with other events in the town including the Malton Food Lovers Festival.

Stephen said: “There is a story here to be told and Malton needs its own story, so why not capitalise on the links with Dickens like Whitby and Bram Stoker and Haworth and the Brontes.

“Dickens was a great social philanthropist, advocating education and encouraging the well-off to care for the needy. We’re planning to spread that spirit through education, the arts, charitable initiatives and community engagement.”

Brian Oxberry, chairman of the Charles Dickens (Malton) Society, which will be supported through the Dickens Gift To Yorkshire Charitable Trust, said it was very exciting.

“Hopefully this will bring more people to the museum in Chancery Lane and to the town itself,” he said.

“It is tremendous news for us as it means money raised can be used to on the museum.”

Selina Scott said that for more than 100 years it has been widely acknowledged that Dickens drew his characters like Scrooge from characters he met in Malton.

“Over the last century or so Dickens’s intimate association with Malton has largely been based on anecdotal evidence. I have, however, discovered in the early archive of my grandfather, who was born in 1867 and was, at one stage, editor of the Malton Messenger, many references to Dickens and A Christmas Carol and Malton’s literary heritage.

“When this rare and remarkable book came up for auction in New York, we had to act. We’re proud to have bought the ghost of Dickens’s Christmas back.”

The volume will be on display at Castle Howard until Sunday and then at The Talbot in Malton until January 2. After that, it will be looked after at York University Library.