- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

LONDON Authorities hold little hope that three rare copies of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" will resurface after some larcenous Scrooge boldly smuggled the books out of a museum in broad daylight.
It's no humbug. Police are asking the public to help recover the first editions of the Dickens classic, published in 1843 and valued at $30,000 to $45,000 each.
The theft, which occurred Aug. 15, was belatedly made public because staffers at the Dickens House Museum were reluctant to invite copycat crimes.
"Basically, we don't think it's an opportunistic theft. We think this was done to order, which unfortunately is rather common," a museum spokesman said.
Petty thieves, who tend to work in teams like those run by Fagin, another Dickens character, often are hired for this kind of job by someone who never intends to sell the stolen goods, the spokesman said.
The three purloined editions of "A Christmas Carol," each with a museum stamp inside, may now sit in a private collection, never to be admired by the public again.
"It's very sad," the spokesman said, noting that this was not the first theft at the museum.
Museum curator Andrew Xavier said a later edition of "A Christmas Carol" also was stolen.
Police said one or more thieves, equipped with a glass cutter, entered the four-story museum at 48 Doughty Street in central London at about 4 p.m., when the house was open to visitors. Once inside, one thief likely served as a lookout while another removed the glass from a locked display cabinet and took the books.
Someone also tried to cut the glass of a cabinet containing copies of Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers" but was unsuccessful. The operation probably took about five minutes, between regular security patrols of the house.
"Unfortunately, no descriptions of the suspects are available," a police statement said. Investigators asked witnesses to come forward, along with anyone who may be offered the books.
Charles Dickens, one of the giants of English literature, lived with his wife, Catherine, and their baby son in the house at 48 Doughty Street from 1837 to 1839. During this time, the author completed and published and some of his most famous early works, including "The Pickwick Papers," "Oliver Twist" (which featured Fagin) and "Nicholas Nickleby."
Four years later came the first publication of "A Christmas Carol," a short novel about the spiritual transformation of tight-fisted businessman Ebenezer Scrooge that also introduced another beloved Dickens character, Tiny Tim. The original story became a staple at Christmastime and later in stage, movie and television adaptations.
The house, nearly torn down in 1923, was preserved and opened as the Dickens House Museum two years later. It is considered the world's foremost repository of Dickens-related material and is the headquarters of the Dickens Fellowship, the museum's Web site states.
The museum also holds many of Dickens' letters, partial manuscripts of early books and the author's velvet-topped desk.

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