No other Charles Dickens book has been through significant controversy quite like Oliver Twist. Published by Richard Bentley in 1838, it is considered to be Charles Dickens’ second novel following The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Despite the long story’s popularity, Oliver Twist was criticized for introducing criminals and prostitutes; was delivered by an author named “Boz”; and claimed to be the creation of the proprietor, Richard Bentley and that of the illustrator, George Cruikshank. It begun as a monthly serial in Bentley’s Miscellany, but was first published in three volumes by Richard Bentley in 1838. It did continue to be published after that in monthly installments through April , 1839. This monthly serial format is what rare book collectors are willing to pay top money for.
Oliver Twist is the historical fictional story of an orphan born in the Mudfog workhouse. Not being able to stand this new life, Oliver escapes and travels to London where he confronts the seamy underside of the London criminal world and portrays the time’s social criticism. The Mudfog Papers as Oliver Twist was originally known in Bentley’s Miscellany, did not appear as its own monthly serial until 1846. Moreover, George Cruikshank provided one steel-engraved plate or etching, per month to illustrate each installment.
The book’s popularity build on as time progressed. Oliver Twist, as other novels by Charles Dickens, has entertained many film adaptations, theatrical performances and television series. The novel reached its ultimate exposure in 1968, when a screenplay by Vernon Harris that was directed by Carol Reed won 6 academy awards.
The most collectible editions of Oliver Twist are the ones which were published in monthly parts that contain the first illustrations by George Cruikshank. The sketches were so influential in shaping Dickens’s story, that critics of the time publicized that “the writer follows the caricaturist, instead of the caricaturist following the writer.” Whether in fine, moderate, or poor condition these serially published installments are impossible to purchase in the London book-market or any other book market throughout the world, for the simple reason that none are currently offered for sale. The very scarcity alone, of the book in parts, gives added excitement to the tracking down of copies of this very limited supply. A few later editions published in London by Bradbury & Evans between the months of January to October 1846 are available for sale. They contain the twenty-four plates used for the original Bentley magazine issue, re-touched and enhanced by the engraver Findlay, and have the Bentley imprints erased. They range in price from a little over 20,000 to 35,000 US dollars.
The first novelization appeared six months before the serialization was completed and it is thus the true first edition. This edition is more common than the serially published installment, and purchase prices range anywhere from 7 to 17 thousand US dollars. The author is given as ‘’Boz’’, Dickens pseudonym, and its volume III contains the “Fireside plate’’ something that has been removed in later editions since Dickens disliked it. Subsequent editions contain the “church plate,’’ instead of the “fireside plate’’.
It is extremely rare to have an edition that is not considered a first edition be more collectible. The original Oliver Twist that intended to form part of Dickens’s serial The Mudfog Papers publications, are impossible to find. They are scarce beyond rare, and are ultimately priceless. Even the reprinted edition by Bradbury & Evans of 1846, commands a higher price than the 3 volume first edition. Whether this is due to the magnificence of George Cruikshank’s original illustrations, the vulnerability of serial magazines to the forces of time, or the successful adaptation of an early story of a famous author, it is hard to tell. It is almost as hard as determining the origins of the splendidly rare book: Mudfog Papers – Oliver Twist – The Parish Boy’s Progress.