October was a special month for 72-year-old local historian Esben Brage.
Sitting in the reading room at the National Archives in Denmark’s middle island of Funen, he was flipping through hundreds of pages of the private archives of the Plum family, when he stumbled across a small, yellowed, folded piece of paper.
“I’ve had thousands of historical documents in my hands, so I’ve developed a sort of seventh sense that says ‘whoops, this is something special and not to just be put back again,’” says Brage who had ordered the collection of documents from the Central National Archives in Copenhagen.
His real interest in requisitioning the documents was his interest in a local small island and the family history of the local Plum family. The Archives had sent him four large boxes with some 1,000 documents in each box.
“I said ‘wow’ this is something unusual, and went up to the keeper of the archives with the paper. He was enthralled. He was something of an H.C. Andersen buff,” Brage says.
Faced with what appeared to be a copy, the keeper of the archives tried to find The Tallow Candle in his data base of Andersen’s works.
“He said ‘this title isn’t registered anywhere’,” Brage said.
It was not until two months later that Brage heard that his hunch had been spot on. The booklet he had found was in all probability Hans Christian Andersen’s first fairy tale, written as a young lad and dedicated to his childhood confidante Mme Bunkeflod, a close friend of the Plum family.
The manuscript is not Andersen’s original - a handwritten second dedication is from the Bunkeflods to the Plums – but it is the only copy of a fairy tale that experts say is Andersen’s first.
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Edited by Julian Isherwood