The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Charles Dicken’s first novel, was published in installments by Chapman and Hall from March 1836 to November 1837. There were 20 parts issued in 19 volumes for a shilling each with 43 engraved plates. The first two parts were illustrated by Robert Seymour, who originally pitched the project to Chapman and Hall as a series of sporting sketches with accompanying commentary. But once Dickens – then known by his pen-nickname “Boz” – came on board the project, Seymour’s role was diminished. Dickens was notoriously hard on his illustrators. On April 20, 1836, Seymour committed suicide. R. W. Buss was brought on board to provide illustrations for the third part, but he was quickly replaced by H. K. “Phiz” Browne, who illustrated the remaining parts and went on to work with Dickens for many more years.
While certainly not the first novel to be published in serialized parts, the Pickwick Club was the first to “go viral,” especially after the introduction of the beloved character Sam Weller. The final double installment of parts 19 and 20 was printed in a run of 40,000, an incredible increase from the 1,000 copies printed for the first part. FSU Special Collections & Archives has recently acquired a complete set of parts of the Pickwick Club in their original wrappers. Parts 9-10 and 12-20 include The Pickwick Advertiser, which are a treasure trove of Victorian era advertisements for everything from toothache remedies to easy chairs. Parts 14 and 19-20 include an additional tipped in catalog for Mech’s cutlery.
These serialized parts nicely complement FSU Special Collections’ copy of the first single-volume edition of the Pickwick Club, printed from stereotypes of the original parts in 1837. FSU’s copy includes a binder’s ticket from “Alexander Miller, Bookseller, Port Street, Stirling” on the lower left-hand corner of the back pastedown. There is evidence of a bookseller named Alexander Miller active in Stirling, Scotland in 1852 and 1865-6. Indeed, ready-bound versions of popular works like the Pickwick Club would have been commonly available for purchase in bookshops like Miller’s in the middle of the nineteenth century. Stop by the Special Collections Research Center soon to look at these and other editions of Dickens’ works!