What the Dickens!

Although the picture postcard didn’t become widely popular until the final decade of the 19th century, events and personalities from earlier times still frequently appear on them. So it’s no surprise that devotees of the prolific and iconic Charles Dickens, the 19th century novelist, can build up a huge collection of images based on his life and work.

In Edwardian days, postcard publishers couldn’t wait to produce examples of artist-drawn scenes from his books, and of places and buildings associated with Dickens or featured in his novels, and characters from the books. The postcard historian and researcher Tony Byatt estimated that over 1000 different Dickensian designs appeared during the reign of Edward VII.

Commonest is the Old Curiosity Shop in London, of which at least 50 postcards exist – it might be fun putting them in chronological order! At least a dozen publishers featured Dickens characters or book scenes, with Raphael Tuck as usual the most prolific.

The firm published sets of six or sometimes 12 cards in an extensive ‘In Dickens Land’ series, including The Pickwick Papers, Little Dorritt, Dombey & Son, David Copperfi eld, Martin Chuzzlewitt, Nicholas Nickleby, and Bleak House, which today sell for around £4 a card. They were all based on illustrations by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne 1815-82).

Tuck also produced sets of places associated with novels. Dickens postcard collecting possibilities are huge, with associated places the most challenging theme of which to make up a collection. Kent is a fertile ground, with Canterbury, Rochester, Broadstairs, Maidstone, and Cobham having strong Dickens associations.

The great man’s birthplace in Portsmouth, the Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich (featured in Pickwick Papers), the Hop Pole at Tewkesbury, the Olde King’s Head, Chigwell, the Pomfret Arms Hotel at Towcester, and Mile End Cottage in Exeter (once Dickens’s home) are among other relevant locations.

Article by Brian Lund

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