Charles Dickens Rare Books, First Editions and Original Documents

September 13, 2013 – 09:42

author Rare books by Charles Dickens, including first editions, copies in fine bindings, handsome sets of his collected works, and original letters and manuscripts.

Read our blog post about the bicentenary of Charles Dickens first editions and watch our video on the publishing formats of Charles Dickens first editions.

In terms of enormous and unfailing popularity, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) is the towering figure in the 19th-century novel, not only in the English-speaking world, but reaching out to an international readership. During his own lifetime he was not only the most famous novelist but perhaps also the most famous person in the world.

His most popular titles include Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, all of which have repeatedly found a secondary audience in the cinema and on television. Characters such as Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller, Oliver Twist asking for more, the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Sikes, the death of Little Nell, Scrooge and Tiny Tim, Mr Pecksniff, Mrs Gamp, Uriah Heep, and Mr Micawber are still universally recognised.

For the book collector, Dickens is probably best known for issuing his novels in monthly numbers, the book being completed in 20 parts. (He was not the only author to do this, but he was certainly the most successful.) The last monthly issue was typically a double number comprising the two concluding parts, and included the general engraved and printed titles that would allow the customer to have the whole bound up in book form. The parts issues in their distinctive illustrated coloured paper wrappers are accompanied by all manner of advertising sheets and slips, giving a rich flavour of the contemporary milieu. First editions in the original parts have long been keenly sought-after by Dickens collectors.

Immediately the novel was completed, Dickens’s publishers issued the complete book in a cloth case-binding, or the individual parts could be bound up to taste, usually in a leather half-binding. Copies of his first editions in unrestored original cloth are highly valued in the current market, whereas those first editions in contemporary half calf offer an affordable way for collectors to own a Dickens first edition.

Dickens also experimented in different forms, such as the unusual portmanteau Master Humphrey’s Clock, which was originally issued in weekly parts, and ultimately developed into two distinct novels (The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge), and the small but lavishly produced Christmas gift book series inaugurated by A Christmas Carol.


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