Charles Dickens is considered to be one of the greatest English writers of all times and certainly the greatest English novelist of the Victorian period. He wrote many books and many of his first editions are among the rarest books in the world. His most well known novels are: A Christmas Carol; Great Expectations; Oliver Twist; David Copperfield; A Tale of Two Cities; Hard Times; The Pickwick Papers and Bleak House.
Charles John Huffam Dickens, was born on February 7th, 1812 in Landport Portsmouth, England and died on June 9th 1870. Married to Catherine Thompson in April of 1836, had ten children and then separated in 1858. He travelled twice from England to the USA, in 1842 and 1867, and this exposure to the US society had affected his way of thinking and influenced his work. He published his first novel A Dinner at Popular Walk, in 1833 in the London periodical, Monthly Magazine and enjoyed fame and popularity during his lifetime which was deeply rooted in London’s picturesque gothic romance. His poetic, excessively ornate writing style seemed to spawn from spending time idealizing the characters he brought to life. It was not until the 20th century however, that his work was acknowledged and appreciated by critics and readers alike, as his popularity and fame climaxed.
He published most of his work serially in monthly publications; a form that enabled broader availability and managed to reach all classes of people. Great Expectations (1860-61) and Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840-41) were the only two novels not published in monthly parts. They were originally published in weekly parts. Every four or five weeks the leaves of text were gathered and made up into a single part each bound creating the monthly issue and ultimately used to complete the whole that was bound in three volumes. This weekly format is the scarcest in commerce. Imagine, this would entail securing more than 20 fragile periodicals bound together to complete a set and then having survived, so far, the factor of time for at least 150 years!
Luckily for Great Expectations, in July 1861, the month before the final weekly issues were released, 1000 copies of the complete series were published by London Chapman and Hall. This is presently identified as the first edition, first impression release that commands six figures in US dollars. An edition of 1000 copies on top of the surviving periodical collections is considered limited but still sizably significant. Unfortunately for Dicken’s rare book collectors, the majority of these copies were purchased by libraries in England and suffered the normal handling and library marking loss. Antiquarian book dealers seeking the big payoff that the complete set had to offer scrambled to marry volumes from distinct impressions and even editions. This practice has an adverse effect on pricing. Proper assessment and authenticity of the set is crucial for a smart, no regrets sizable investment.
An authors’ signature, is another attribute that can significantly contribute to the uniqueness and ultimate value of the rare book. Even though I have not come across any signed copies of Great Expectations offered for sale, Dicken’s signature is quite the prize. It is listed among the top 10 most valuable author signatures, and its existence on any of Dickens’s works has the potential to boost its value considerably.
Our price tracking of Dicken’s works through the Rare Book Sale Monitor, has shown for the most part a relatively constant level performance during the last few years. As 2012 brought the celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, it should be interesting to see whether it will also be the year to bring a higher demand for his rare books. As numerous activities to commemorate this very special anniversary are carried out worldwide, collector awareness and inspiration of the importance of his work should be expected to rise.