You may recall a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s of rare Charles Dickens works and memorabilia.  I had been asked by the auction house to read from one of Charles’ own ‘prompt copies’ to help publicise the event and nervously held a tiny volume of the Mrs Gamp reading, signed and annotated by Charles himself during his reading tour of America in 1868.

Well the auction took place yesterday and although I was unable to attend in person I managed to follow proceedings online, and I’d like to share a few highlights with you:

There were 243 lots ranging from exquisite signed first editions to pamphlets and plays published after Charles Dickens’ lifetime, all of which had been collected over 55 years.

The first interesting lot to me was number 15, described as: ‘Dickens, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, 1836-1837, 19/20 original parts’

Charles Dickens’ career as a novelist began in 1836 when he collaborated with the illustrator Robert Seymour to begin work on a serialised novel.  Initially sales were not good and the print runs for the first few parts were small (no more than 400 copies were issued of the first monthly edition).  When the fourth instalment came out Dickens introduced the character of Sam Weller and the tone was instantly changed.  Soon sales rocketed and those early instalments become much sought after leading to a number of re-prints.

The collection offered at the auction, although complete, was not all first issues, the first three being later re-prints, so it was not an absolutely perfect set.  The selling price?  £12,500.  I knew at this point that most lots in the sale would be well beyond my means, but it was fun to watch and listen as they sold.

One might suppose that the first edition monthly part works would prove to be the most valuable items, but as soon as an autograph or an inscription was on an item so the price shot up.  For instance there was copy of the first book edition of The Pickwick Papers published in 1837, complete with a handwritten dedication which sold for £100,000.

A similarly signed edition of David Copperfield sold for £110,000.

There were a few items in the auction that were of particular interest to me, such as lot 194 which featured a reading copy of my favourite piece, Doctor Marigold. The catalogue described it as

‘8vo (214 x 130mm.), the second and third readings printed on proof paper, three pencil corrections to Doctor Marigold, together in nineteenth-century embossed brown cloth, preserved in chemise and quarter brown morocco folding box, a few minor marks and stains, upper hinge starting


This is an item that I would love to have bid for for I feel a very special connection to Charles through Marigold but unfortunately I didnt have a spare £32,500 down the back of the sofa.

The next item of interest was lot 209, the annotated reading edition of Mrs Gamp that I used at The Charles Dickens Museum a few weeks ago.  I had no particular desire to own this item but as I had held it and read from it my curiosity was peaked.  It sold for £62,500.

The auction was hastening to an end now, but lot 233 was yet to come:

The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices. No Thoroughfare. The Perils of Certain English Prisoners. London: Chapman and Hall, 1890′

In 1857 Dickens and Collins took a trip together to Cumberland and produced this minor series of their adventures which are great fun.  A couple of years ago I tried to develop them into a two handed show, acting with my brother-in-law Martin, but somehow the script just didn’t naturally form and the project got put away, maybe to resurface again one day.

This edition was the first collected book edition (published after Dickens’ death) and I actually put an online bid in for it.

As the auctioneer opened the bidding my heart started to beat faster and a slight sweat broke out.  I had the initial bid on this lot.  The auctioneer asked for any more bids.  Would there be a rival for this volume?  ‘Any more bids? I have an online bid, paddle number 66, are there any more bids?  I will sell, fair warning. Sold!’ and the gavel came crashing down.

I had invested £50 (£62 with auction house costs) and am now the proud owner of a ‘first edition!’

I am sure that Mr Lawrence Drizen,  the erstwhile owner of this collection, will hardly have noticed an extra £50 in his bank account, but I am delighted to have been part of the sale and to have invested in it.

The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices will sit proudly on my shelves.