Classics Illustrated A Christmas Carol – Ancient Variant Comics

by Patrick Bain

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“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol speaking to the spirit of his dead partner Jacob Marley.



Perhaps you have your own “spirits” rebuking you for not embracing the joy of the season?  Like Scrooge, maybe you are ignoring those admonitions and  blaming COVID-19 for your lack of holiday enthusiasm.  If so, I suggest reading a yuletide classic like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  And why not check out the comic book version from Classics Illustrated 53.  It was illustrated by one of two primary artists for the series, Henry C. Kiefer.

Besides talking Dickens, I will also demonstrate that the publishers of Classics Illustrated actually did variants and reprints long before it became cool.

A Christmas Carol as Told by Classics Illustrated

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Returning to Dickens, some credited his famous Christmas novella written in 1843 with promoting a renewed enthusiasm for the joys of Christmas.  As a celebrated author, Dickens actually toured the world receiving fees to read his books to audiences.  Those tours also elevated reading interest among the masses.  About a century later, Elliot Publishing and Gilberton Publications brought classic literature to the masses in visual story-telling form.

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The first classic turned comic book featured The Three Musketeers in Classic Comics 1 (1941).  Later, publishers retitled the series Classics Illustrated.  A Christmas Carol holds a rare place among Classics Illustrated books.  The story was printed only one time in 1948.  Only a handful of classics can make that claim.  Gilberton reissued some books over twenty times!

The rarity of Classics Illustrated 53 probably helped to maintain its relative value.  Its last two 9.2 NM sales averaged $396.  Check out the excerpt from the 2019-2020 Overstreet Price Guide for Issue 53 compared to the first printing of other nearby issues.  One might argue that multiple printings can hurt the value of the original printing.

Second, Third, and Nth Printings Before They Were Cool

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The first trick to collecting the “classics” means figuring out the reprint decoder ring.  (Disclaimer: I’m no expert, just someone whose interest was piqued.)

Let’s begin with the Overstreet excerpt.  First thought, it looks complicated and unlike other comic books!  The first entry is the issue number and the name of the literary classic.  Here we see James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy for issue 51 down through Silas Marner issue 55.  Column 1 identifies the edition and printings.  The next column is confusing, HRN.  HRN stands for Highest Reorder Number.  On the back of the comic book there is a list of all the books published.  That created a handy checklist for kids to mark off the ones they had.  Also, a person wanting to make a back order for an older story used that list.  A large HRN indicated how many books were already published, and thus, how early or late the printing.

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Printing date shows up in the next column with variant details in the next.  Of particular interest, the early comics including A Christmas Carol featured Line Drawn Covers (LDC).  Later, the publisher reprinted most titles with Painted Covers (PC).  Thus, an early variant!

White Fang from my Book Shelf

Take my Classics Illustrated 80 (White Fang) as an example.  GoCollect’s listing is familiar for anyone into the multiple variants and printings offered among modern comics.  In the case of White Fang, two cover variants exist: LDC and PC (acronym memory quiz).  Gilberton published a total of 11 printings for White Fang.

I identify mine as the last printing based on the cover price, interior publication date of 1969, and “stiff” painted cover.  And for confirmation, I look on the back cover.  It indicates issue 169 as the last comic available for reorder, that is (HRN = 169).

Bah Humbug, It’s not worth anything!

Finally, a quick check of the guide and Gocollect.  So, after all that work to identify the comic, it’s worth only $4.  The NM 9.2 listing for the last six editions maxes out at $16.  Again, I’m not extrapolating to today’s variant and reprint market, but it’s something to think about.

If you are still feeling a little “Bah Humbug”, I recommend some classic animation in How The Grinch Stole Christmas Animation Cels on Christmas Memory Lane.


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Patrick Bain December 14, 2020 - 10:31 pm

For those who are wanting more info on how to decipher Classics Illustrated Comics, there is some info in the Overstreet Price Guide in the Classics Illustrated listings. Also, you may check out a facebook group like

steven Centonzo December 15, 2020 - 7:18 am

The Fall of Pompeii is illustrated by JACK KIRBY!!! the only one he did

Patrick Bain December 15, 2020 - 9:31 am

Thanks Steven for jumping in. We were discussing that on my Facebook page. It’s almost surprising Kirby didn’t do more. He also has Gilberton credits for “The World Around Us” and a Classics Illustrated Special that appears to be related to the Civil War (by the way, that’s not Captain America vs. Iron Man).

Dave Stevens December 15, 2020 - 1:01 pm

These are far from the earliest variants, but all that aside, the best Classic bang for my buck is easily Lorna Doone with art by Matt Baker. These, as most classics, are still reasonably affordable, especially compared to the rest of his catalog.

Patrick Bain December 15, 2020 - 1:37 pm

Thanks for joining the conversation, Dave! On the topic of Matt Baker, some of his original art recently went through auction at HA. A number of pages fetched around $1,000 each while a page nicely featuring “Rita” from Fight Comics actually pulled in about $5,000. So he still commands demand. And… Classic Comics 32 Lorna Doone is going to be auctioned off this next weekend.

Patrick Bain December 16, 2020 - 7:59 pm

Tom LeTourneau shared a link to some cool art missing from the original story.

Jim January 24, 2021 - 11:17 pm

I read #53, A Christmas Carol, for the first time tonight. I am a 30-year collector of FILM adaptations, having collected ALL versions that you could ever name (about 85). It is my experienced opinion that the 1948 Illustrated Comic issue #53 greatly influenced the clothing styles at Nephew Fred’s party in the 1951 Film version starring Alistair Sim. Especially the ladies hair styles, hair ribbons and dress necklines at that party.

Patrick Bain January 26, 2021 - 9:11 am

That’s cool, Jim! With that sort of fascination for A Christmas Carol, are you doing research with an intent to publish?

Jim Hatch January 26, 2021 - 3:33 pm

Thank you for asking… THE definitive book on Film and TV Adaptations has already been written including all examples between 1895 and 1999. YES, I have dreamed of writing my thoughts and observations of 21st century “Carol” films. My records and collection shows only about 35 new Film/Tv examples in the past 20 years.
I would sooner see myself giving a lecture on “How the ‘Carol’ has been accurately depicted OR foolishly embellished over 120 years”.
A last remark on the 1948, #53 Illustrated Classic. When the 1951 Film was finally colorized in 1989? the colors chosen for ladies’ dresses (and Fred’s suit) matched the comic! Shades of green. Not so for hair ribbons, but Fred’s wife was a brunette and Topper’s girlfriend a blonde… just as shown in the comic; and the first to show that Cratchit had six children! (page 24). Truly, #53 was the inspiration for many films “Yet to come”.
Patrick, you may certainly edit this lengthy response as you see fit.

Patrick Bain January 26, 2021 - 5:08 pm

Wonderful Jim, no need to edit. So, let us know when you go on your lecture tour! Always interesting to hear about someone’s niche interests.


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