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Sketches by Boz – a parts issue sold at £50,000 by Sotheby’s.

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Formed over several decades, Lawrence Drizen’s splendid collection of the works of Charles Dickens was offered by Sotheby’s (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) on September 24.

The sale raised a little over £1.5m and achieved some excellent results, but around 30% of the 243 lots offered were unsold.

Starting out

Dating from the point where Dickens’ career took off, one of the scarcer of his works to obtain nowadays is the original parts issue of Sketches by Boz.

The sketches had originally appeared in magazines and daily newspapers, with a few being gathered into book form in 1836-37, before Chapman & Hall bought the copyright and produced a parts issue.

That method of publication had by then become popular and they launched their 1837-39 parts issue of Sketches… to coincide with the appearance of the final part of their 1836-37 issue of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.

The set in the Drizen sale was that annotated by Thomas Hatton while working on his 1930s bibliography of Dickens’ periodical works. An ex- Doheny library lot, it took £50,000.

Sold at a low-estimate £80,000 was a copy of the 1837, first bookform edition of Pickwick in a contemporary publisher’s presentation binding, one that Dickens inscribed to his friend and doctor, John Ellotson.

An inscribed first-issue copy in publisher’s cloth of Dickens’ most widely read novel, A Christmas Carol of 1843, sold for £75,000. It was one that Dickens presented in the month of publication to a Mrs George Hogg.

Inscribed on the day after publication to Count D’Orsay, whose unconventional nature he rather admired, an 1846 first of Pictures from Italy sold at £50,000.

Last seen at Christie’s in 2012, when it too sold for £50,000, an inscribed presentation first of Dickens’ own favourite among his books, …David Copperfield of 1850, was this time bid well over estimate to sell at £110,000.

In a contemporary dark green morocco binding, it was inscribed in 1857 on the half-title to “Brookes of Sheffield”, a character referred to several times in the book.

This gift, a copy from Dickens’ own library, followed a correspondence with a John Brookes of Sheffield, a fan and manufacturer of penknives, razors and other tools who had sent Dickens a case of cutlery.

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A Christmas Carol – £70,000 at Sotheby's.

Expectations exceeded

Featured on the catalogue cover and, as expected, the most expensive thing in the sale was the copy of Great Expectations… noted in ATG No 2415, which doubled the high estimate to sell at £140,000.

Formerly in the collections of Comte Alain de Suzannet and then William E Self, in whose 2009 Christie’s New York sale it made $100,000 (then £60,240), an inscribed presentation copy of the 1865 first book edition of Our Mutual Friend was this time sold for £60,000. It was one that Dickens had inscribed to his friend Charles Kent, a writer and editor/owner of The Sun.

With a high estimate of £20,000 but sold instead at £70,000, one of the most successful lots in the Drizen collection was a work by one of Dickens’ closest friends, Wilkie Collins. This was an 1866 first of the play The Frozen Deep, an Arctic melodrama written in the aftermath of the Franklin expedition, that on a number of pages showed autograph revisions to the dialogue, cuts and changes to stage direction.

The first performance, celebrating the birthday of Dickens’ son Charley, was given at Tavistock House in January 1857, with Dickens himself in the role of the hero, Richard Wardour.

Thought to have been a copy that once belonged to Dickens’ daughter Marnie, it had sold for $26,000 at Christie New York in 2006 – when it was accompanied by an annotated programme for a performance given in remembrance of Douglas Jerrold.

Initially unsold when offered in the William E Self collections, Dickens’ annotated prompt copy of the 1868 Boston edition of Mrs Gamp – readings from Martin Chuzzlewit – on this occasion made a low-estimate £50,000. It was used on Dickens’ last American reading tour and inscribed for his US publisher, Howard Ticknor, before his return to England.

Among the unsolds in London were a number of the more highly valued items, including inscribed presentation copies of Bleak House, The Cricket on the Hearth and Nicholas Nickleby. A copy given by Dickens to his friend Charles Knight, Bleak House sold for $110,000 (then £66,265) as part of the William E Self sale, had been guided at £80,000-120,000.