The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens. First Edition, 1841. Peter Harrington Rare Books - Peter Harrington Blog

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The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens. First Edition, 1841. Peter Harrington Rare Books

The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens. First Edition, 1841. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841.
You can view our first edition of The Old Curiosity Shop here.

Presented by Sammy Jay, Rare Books Specialist at Peter Harrington Rare Books.

Tall octavo (253 × 168 mm). Presentation full tan calf by Hayday for the publisher, twin morocco labels to spine lettered gilt, decoration to spine and rules to covers gilt, marbled endpapers, edges and turn-ins gilt, ink stamp of Chapman and Hall to front free endpaper and of the binder Hayday to rear free endpaper. Housed in a custom brown morocco pull-off case. Illustrations by George Cattermole and Hablot K. Browne. Spine ends and tips rubbed and lightly worn, vertical light scuffs and faint marks to boards, edges a little rubbed, occasional spotting to contents, small stains to lower margin from pp. 250-257. An exceptional copy.

First separate edition, specially bound for the author, presentation copy, inscribed by Dickens to Frances (“Fanny”) McIan (1814-1897) on the title page, “Mrs McIan with the involuntary remembrances of Charles Dickens, New Year’s Night, 1842.” With an autograph note by Dickens tipped-in to the first blank, also addressed to Fanny McIan on New Year’s Eve: “My dear Mrs McIan, the inclosed book belongs of right to you, for you have beautifully perpetuated it. You who have done so much for the love of fiction will accept this volume, I hope, for the sake of its author. Ever believe me, faithfully and truly yours, Charles Dickens.” Fanny McIan had “beautifully perpetuated” Little Nell, the tragic heroine of the tale, by painting in watercolour a scene from the tale as a gift for Dickens. The painting, Little Nell and the Widow, featured the heroine reading the inscription on a tombstone, and a gratified Dickens hung the painting first in Devonshire Terrace, where he composed The Old Curiosity Shop, and later over the door of the dining room at Gad’s Hill, which he bought as a holiday home in 1856.

Fanny McIan and her husband Robert met Dickens in the late 1830s through a circle of literary and theatrical acquaintances in London. Fanny was a talented artist, with exhibitions of her work at the Royal Academy; her painting The Little Sick Scholar, illustrating another scene from The Old Curiosity Shop, was displayed there in 1841 and extolled in the Art Union journal: “An author has rarely achieved greater justice from an artist … it cannot fail to procure for the accomplished lady a very foremost rank in the profession – and that without demanding any courtesy on the ground of sex.” However, it is for her pioneering work in women’s art education that she is most noted today, being appointed the first superintendent of London’s Female School of Design in October 1842. There her students were able to learn the skills needed for industrial employment, some of which, such as wood engraving, were controversial, having previously been deemed unsuitable for women. In 1848 the School was moved from Somerset House to the upper floor of a soap shop and manufactory on the Strand.

A close friend of the McIans, Dickens intervened upon the death in 1843 of Robert McIan’s friend and colleague, the actor Edward Elton, who left behind seven orphaned and destitute children. Dickens was quick to assist the couple… (see website for full description)

This separate issue of The Old Curiosity Shop, created from portions of Master Humphrey’s Clock, was published on 15 December 1841. It is an exceptional copy, bound by the celebrated bookbinder James Hayday, who was the preferred binder of Dickens’s publishers Chapman and Hall. Dickens was reportedly very selective about which individuals received presentation bindings, and it is extremely unusual to find a copy in this special presentation binding inscribed by him. Only one other copy of The Old Curiosity Shop in a Hayday binding is known to have been inscribed by Dickens: inscribed to William Charles Macready, it sold in 2008 as part of the William E. Self Family Collection for $115,000.

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