Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All Points Bulletin: "Pure" Pickwick Papers

by Stephen J. Gertz

Attention! Calling all cars: Be on the lookout for Mr. Pickwick, a person of interest in the posthumous case of his posthumous papers, originally published as a 20-part serial, then immediately in book form bound from unsold parts yet impossible to find in that format with all first issue text and all first state plate points.

Officers are urged to use caution in the pursuit of this missing book, which contains more points than a bed of nails, and can seriously wound the unwary dealer or collector who is not careful. Dickens bibliographers Haskell and Cleaver, er, Hatton and Cleaver note forty-eight first issue text points, eighty first and second issue plate points; a total of 128 points to pay close attention to. As with all collectible books, points are money, the more first issue points, the more valuable the book. Correctly collating this book is a tedious yet crucial process for dealer and collector.

No surviving copies of Pickwick... in book form have been found with all first issue text points present; there are no "pure" copies. The renowned William Self copy lacks the half-title, possesses only four Hatton and Cleaver first issue points, and has plates that are not all first state. The publisher's original cloth binding is scarcely found in fine condition; typically, the gilt has faded from a distressed spine at the head and tail.

Recently, while walking my beat, I stopped and held for questioning what appeared to be the finest copy extant of Charles Dickens' The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in book form. A thorough frisking revealed twenty-one of Hatton and Cleaver's forty-eight first issue text points, all plates in their first state, in as fine as can be, near untouched original binding. Eureka!

To possess just shy of fifty percent of Hatton and Cleaver's first issue text points  was quite remarkable. Even more remarkable, however, is that Walter E. Smith, in Charles Dickens in the Original Cloth, which supersedes Hatton and Cleaver, notes seven unequivocal first issue points for the book and this copy possessed six of them:

Page 260, line 29, "hodling" for "holding."
Page 276: Figure "7" in page number slightly above other figures.
Page 341, line 1: Correct reading of "inde-licate;" line 5 correct reading of "inscription;" with stab holes.
Page 342, line 5: "S. Veller" uncorrected.
Page 400, line 21: "this friends" for "his friends."
Page 432, headline: "F" in "OF" imperfect.

(The seventh first issue point occurs on page 25: signature "E" missing from foot of page).

It also contained the two "suppressed" plates by Robert William Buss from Part Three, The Cricket Match (Ch. 7, opposite p. 69), and The Arbor Scene (Ch. 8, opposite p. 74), "neither of which gave Dickens satisfaction" (Hatton & Cleaver, p. 20), in their first state.  "Buss, hastily hired to replace Seymour as an illustrator for The Pickwick Papers, was just as hastily dismissed" (Cohen, Charles Dickens and his Original Illustrators, p. 51). The Buss plates ceased to appear after November 1836. 

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was Dickens’s first novel, a publishing phenomenon which transformed the obscure journalist into England’s most famous author in a matter of months. The serial was originally intended to be primarily a vehicle for the cartoons of Robert Seymour, until he committed suicide after the first number was published. Robert William Buss then took over, but he was inexperienced in steel engraving and was fired. Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”), who was to become Dickens’s chosen collaborator for the next two decades, stepped in. Phiz illustrated Parts IV-XX, re-engraved the Seymour plates, and entirely replaced the Buss plates for later issues.

The first edition in book format was made up from the original parts, with wrappers and advertisements discarded. That is to say, it was put together with whatever parts the publisher still had on hand. By that time, most if not all of the parts in first issue had been sold, and Chapman and Hall mixed and matched with later issues. As this was Dickens' first novel the original print runs for the first issue could not have been large; this is the likely reason why it is impossible to find copies of the book with all first issue points. None  existed in the first place and all copies of the book are a mash-up of leftover parts, whatever issue. Though Smith assigns no priority to many points in Hatton and Cleaver, the market reality is that many collectors relish a copy's place on the points scorecard. You can never reach perfection but you can try to get as close to it as possible. It's a very human ambition.

If you find a copy of Pickwick (or most Dickens novels) with plates clean as a whistle, beware. They are routinely seen oxidized, moderately to heavily, with dark toning, broad or narrow, at the margins. If found so, there's an excellent chance that they have been washed by a restorer. Stick your nose down to the plate and take a whiff. Washed paper has a distinct chemical odor, however subtle.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club originally appeared in twenty numbers, bound in nineteen monthly parts, the last part forming a double number, from April 1836-November 1837, except for a lapse of one month—June 1837—when Part 15 was deferred. It was published in book form on November 17, 1837” (Smith).

Officers in the field who encounter a copy of Pickwick... in book form containing all first issue points  and first state plates are advised to contact their duty sergeant immediately and alert the media. The suspect is suspect but if proven innocent is the successful result of the one of the most intense bookhunts in literary history that authorities gave up on long ago.

DICKENS, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. With Forty-Three Illustrations, by R. Seymour and Phiz. London: Chapman and Hall, 1837.

First edition, primarily first issue, in book form, with 21 of 48 of Hatton and Cleaver's first issue text points present, and all first state plates, of Dickens’s first novel, bound from the original monthly parts, with stab-holes present in the inner margins of gatherings. Octavo (8 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches; 221 x 140 mm.). xiv, [1, directions to the binder], [1, errata], 609, [1, blank] pp. Complete with half-title and forty-three first state engraved plates by Seymour, Buss, and “Phiz” (including frontispiece and vignette title), with the Seymour plates from the first steels and the “Phiz” plates from early steels, all without titles or imprints.

Original purplish-black fine diaper grain cloth, without any fading or sunning whatsoever. Covers paneled in blind and spines ruled and paneled in blind and lettered in gilt. Original pale yellow coated endpapers. Minimal rubbing to corners and the bare minimum of fading to spine, but there is absolutely - and amazingly - no wear to spine extremities and the gilt on the spine is bright. Rear endpapers slightly oxidized. Plates oxidized, as usual, chiefly at the edges, the frontispiece and engraved vignette title heavier than the others.  The front inner hinge has been near invisibly and miraculously restored.

Eckel, p. 17. Gimbel A16. Hatton and Cleaver, pp. 1-88. Johannsen, pp. 1-75. Smith, Dickens, I, 3.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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