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The Nonesuch Dickens

The Library has recently acquired a beautifully printed complete set of the works of Charles Dickens, published by Nonesuch Press in 1937. This acquisition was funded in part through a generous bequest from a Library patron.

Nonesuch Press was a private press founded in 1922 under the theory that “mechanical means could be made to serve fine ends”. Nonesuch Press was different from other private presses in that it used a small hand press to design its books, but then had them printed by commercial publishers. This was so that fine editions could be made more affordable.

The Nonesuch Press edition is regarded as one of the most important editions of Dickens’ collected works in regards to textual accuracy, design and quality of manufacture. The text followed that used in the “Charles Dickens Edition” of 1867 which was the last edition to be personally edited by Dickens. The illustrations were printed from the original steel plates or wood-blocks used by the original publisher, Chapman & Hall. The steel plates were then dispersed by including one in each of the published Nonesuch editions. Only 877 sets were produced as this was the number of plates in existence. The decision to distribute the original steel plates caused controversy at the time, even amongst those connected with the Press.  David Garnett, one of the founders of Nonesuch Press, described it as “an act of vandalism”.

This particular set contains the original engraved steel plate by “Phiz” used for Nicholas Nickleby: “Nicholas hints at the probability of his leaving the company”.

Simon Cootes
Collection Development Librarian