A incredible collection of letters, manuscripts, original artworks and personal effects have been acquired by the Charles Dickens museum in London.
The museum was given the opportunity to pick items from an enormous private collection in the USA. Cindy Sughrue, the museum’s director, said the collection is a “treasure trove, a true once-in-a-lifetime moment for the museum.”
Over 300 items were purchased thanks to a £1.22m grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and further contributions equal to £1.8m came from the Art Fund, Friends of the National Libraries and the Dickens Fellowship.
Among the notes and letters was a note from Dickens to his butler detailing dinner party arrangements. Under the heading “Wine”, Charles wrote: “At supper, let there be a good supply of champagne all over the table. No champagne before supper, and as little wine as possible, of any sort, before supper.”
Speaking of his own gin punch, which he would make extra strong, Dickens wrote: “Mitchell or John [staff] to keep gin punch in ice under the table, all evening, and to give it only to myself or Mr Lemon [editor of Punch].”
Sughrue said: “I love his letters whether published or unpublished because they are immediate, always passionate, often very funny and gloriously descriptive … you get unfiltered Dickens.”
Among the collection is some of Charles Dickens’ hair, stored in a locket that belonged to his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, who died at Doughty Street in 1837 at the age of 17; household account books from Gad’s Hill Place; among some original drawings are watercolours depicting scenes from Oliver Twist by the illustrator George Cruikshank, who created all 24 illustrations for the novel; many letters between Dickens and his friends and family; and a gold writing implement that doubled as a pen and a pencil.
Mark Dickens – great-great-grandson of Charles and chair of the museum– said the purchase was highly significant:
“The museum already holds an impressive collection of Dickens-related material, and his quite staggering material brings us even closer to the man himself, his character, feelings, family and friends.”