Tag Archives: first editions

The Ins and Outs of Collecting Serial Fiction for Children

By the 1890’s, dime novels were all the rage. They sold millions of copies each year. Teens and young adults were hardly immune to the allure of the often sensational stories. An ambitious author, Edward Stratemeyer saw an opportunity in publishing inexpensive novels especially for children and young adults. Stratemeyer had been around the publishing industry for years as both an author and an editor. He’d printed his first story at only fourteen years old, and was devoted to the industry from that moment on.

Judy_Bolton_Ghost_ParadeIn 1898, Stratemeyer got his big break: famous author Horatio Alger, Jr was ailing. Alger had already penned more than one hundred novels for boys, but he had a number of unfinished manuscripts. He invited Stratemeyer to complete one of the novels. Stratemeyer went a step further, negotiating for the copyright to four unpublished manuscripts, which he published under Alger’s name.

Stratemeyer published The Rover Boys at School in 1899 under the pseudonym Arthur Winfield. The book was so successful, it became the first of a thirty-book series that sold millions of copies. Stratemeyer founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate expressly to produce new series like The Rover Boys. He would pay writers fixed fees to write books based on his outlines. By the end of the twentieth century, Stratemeyer’s books had sold billions of copies and spawned multiple imitators.

Keene_Nancy_Drew_Tapping_HeelsThe Bobbsey Twins debuted in 1904. Written under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope, the series was a runaway hit. Stratemeyer followed up with Tom Swift (1910), written under the pen name Victor Appleton. By the time The Hardy Boys series began in 1926 (written under the name Franklin Dixon), about 98% of children named a Stratemeyer Syndicate series book as their favorite. Stratemeyer had truly established a publishing empire. Nancy Drew debuted four years later–and originally outsold The Hardy Boys.

Many of Stratemeyer’s series remain popular among children even today. They’re also favorites among collectors of children’s books because they evoke such nostalgia. Because the books were so popular, they were frequently reissued, but without changes to the copyright or edition information. Some were even updated to keep up with technological advances–again, often without any updated edition information. It’s difficult, then, to identify true first editions. While there are detailed bibliographies for Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Judy Bolton, little information is available on most other series. Collectors should only purchase books from these kinds of series if the seller cites the appropriate bibliography in the description.

Appleton_Tom_Swift_Sky_TrainIf you’re interested in collecting a particular series, don’t let the lack of bibliographic information dissuade you! Enthusiasts find collecting serial fiction particularly satisfying because the ideal contents of the collection are already well defined; the pursuit especially appeals to completists, who are often interested in building a collection whose value as a whole is more than merely the sum of its parts. A common approach is to assemble an entire set without regard to edition. Then you can work toward replacing less desirable editions as you become more confident and knowledgeable.


The Two Endings of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’


Charles Dickens, oil painting, William Powell Frith, 1859. (Victoria & Albert Museum)

Surely Charles Dickens took many secrets to his grave, but one of those secrets didn’t last long. Dickens made a significant change to the ending of Great Expectations–and in the nick of time! He’d already sent his manuscript off to the publisher when he decided on the change. Dickens’ indecision means that collectors have a few different editions of this great novel to add to their personal libraries.

A Considerable Emendation

It was relatively common for authors to change their work, sometimes even between printings. Henry James, for instance, was notorious for updating his drafts multiple times. So Dickens’ last-minute emendation to Great Expectations isn’t entirely unheard of–he, like James, actually made such changes with relative frequency.

However, Dickens had also originally promised that Great Expectations would be lighter fare than its predecessor, Tale of Two Cities. In an October 1860 letter to John Forster, Dickens wrote “You will not have to complain of the want of humor as in Tale of Two Cities. I have made the opening, I hope, in its general effect exceedingly droll.”* The novel took a different turn, and Dickens’ original ending was melancholy indeed.

“I was in England again–in London, and walking along Piccadilly with Little Pip–when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another.

‘I am greatly changed, I know, but I thought you would like to shake hands with Estella too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!’ (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.)

I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.”


Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Dickens submitted Great Expectations with this ending in 1861 and went to visit his friend and fellow author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Lytton was a popular figure in his own right as a writer of crime historical and crime novels. He was also a man of privilege, and it’s likely that Dickens respected Lytton as both an author and as a gentleman. Probably on these grounds, Dickens shared the Great Expectations manuscript with Lytton.

He may have been surprised with Lytton’s reaction. Rather than wholeheartedly praising Dickens’ latest novel, Lytton urged Dickens to rewrite the ending completely. Dickens intimated that “Bulwer was so very anxious that I should alter the end…and stated his reasons so well, that I have resumed the wheel, and taken another turn at it.” What Dickens came up with has been the standard ending since 1862:

“‘I little thought,’ said Estella, ‘that I should take leave of you in taking leave of this spot. I am very glad to do so.’

‘Glad to part again, Estella? To me, parting is a painful thing. To me, the remembrance of our last meeting has been ever mournful and painful.’

‘But you said to me,’ returned Estella, very earnestly, ‘”God bless you, God forgive you!'”And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now–now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but–I hope–into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.’

‘We are friends,’ said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

‘And will continue friends apart,’ said Estella.

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.

In his manuscript, the final line reads “I saw the shadow of no parting from her, but one.” And the first edition offers yet another variation of that closing line: “I saw the shadow of no parting from her.” Dickens was clearly ambivalent about the novel’s ending. But his eye for the market probably led him to write an ending that can be interpreted as Estella and Pip “walking off into the sunset” together. If he’d wanted that, wouldn’t he have made the ending more obviously happy, as he did in Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and David Copperfield?

Complications for Dickens Critics and Collectors

Critics have been rehashing the endings of Great Expectations since the book was published. The dual endings also create a bit of a complication for collectors; ordinarily the first edition of a work is enough for a collector to “check something off the list.” In the case of Great Expectations, however, true Dickens collectors will want a few more items.

Because Dickens slightly changed the wording of the ending after the first edition, most collectors look for both the first edition and the 1862 edition, which was the first to include the now-ubiquitous ending. Forster’s biography, where the alternate ending made its first appearance in print, is also a highly desirable volume. And finally, Dickens’ original ending did not appear alongside the text of Great Expectations until 1937, when George Bernard Shaw included it in his preface for the Limited Editions publication of the novel.

This is one example of an instance where collectors would seek both a first edition and subsequent editions for a complete collection of an author’s oeuvre. It also shows us the value of basic bibliographic resources that can identify and elucidate these kinds of circumstances, along with working with an expert professional bookseller who can guide your collecting efforts.


*This letter is apparently not currently extant, though we know of it through Forster’s Life of Dickens (vol 3, p 329). 


The Inimitable Boz and the Delightful Phiz

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ corpus of literary achievements established him as the preeminent author of Victorian England. Yet Dickens came from humble beginnings, and his first stories were published anonymously. His first signed work was published under the pseudonym “Boz,” a moniker which his colleague, illustrator Hablot Knight Browne, would echo in his own nom de guerre, “Phiz.”


The March 1837 issue of ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’ establishes that Dickens is indeed Boz. The issue also contains Browne’s first known sketch of Dickens.

Dickens the Inimitable
Dickens’ first piece of fiction, the sketch “Mr. Minns and His Cousin” (originally “A Dinner at Poplar Park”) appeared in The Monthly Magazine in December, 1833. Dickens continued to place his pieces in various periodicals, but it wasn’t until 1834 that any of the works bore a name. “The Boarding House” bore the name “Boz” when it appeared in The Monthly Magazine that August. In March 1837, Dickens was officially “outed” as Boz with a bit of doggerel in Bentley’s Miscellany:

“Who the dickens ‘Boz’ could be
Puzzled many a learned elf,
Till Time unveiled the mystery,
And ‘Boz’ appeared as Dickens’ self

The nickname itself has a rather odd provenance. Dickens had nicknamed his younger brother Moses, after a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield. When pronounced through the nose, “Moses” sounds like “Boses,” which Dickens shortened to “Boz.” He was often referred to as “the inimitable Boz,” but the last word eventually fell away, and Dickens was henceforth known only as “the Inimitable.”

Enter Phiz


Dickens published ‘Sunday under Three Heads’ under the pseudonym Timothy Sparks. He defended the working man’s rights on the Sabbath, which were under attack by Parliament at the time.

By the spring of 1836, Dickens was searching for a new illustrator for Pickwick Papers. He commissioned a small pamphlet from Hablot Knight Browne entitled Sunday under Three Heads, and the two collaborated well together. Thus Browne sought further work from the author. Both Browne and William Makepeace Thackeray offered sample sketches for Dicken’s review, and Dickens chose Browne.

Browne initially used the name NEMO, Latin for “nobody” as his pseudonym. But he soon began using “Phiz” instead, which was appropriate for someone responsible for creating phizzes, that is, delightful and lighthearted caricatures. By the time the parts issue of Pickwick Papers was complete, Dickens, notoriously opinionated with respect to his illustrations, had found “his” illustrator. He became quite friendly with Browne,  who even traveled with Dickens while he researched Nicholas Nickleby.

Browne would go on to illustrate ten of Dickens’ fifteen novels, notably David Copperfield and Martin ChuzzlewitBut before the publication of Tale of Two Cities, Dickens suddenly cut off Browne. Perhaps Dickens knew that Browne’s work was no longer fashionable. Browne, upset that Dickens refused to elucidate his complaint against Browne, conjectured in a letter to his assistant Robert Young, “Dickens probably thinks a new hand would give his puppets a fresh look, or perhaps he doesn’t like my illustrating Trollope neck-and-neck with him–though, by Jingo, he need have no rivalry there! Confound all authors and publishers, I say. There’s no pleasing on or t’other.”

Though Dickens would go on to work with many other illustrators–and had indeed worked with other illustrators even during Browne’s tenure–the works of Phiz remain most closely associated with Dickens’ novels. New illustrations were chosen for Tale of Two Cities, but Phiz’s plates are still the ones most often chosen to accompany the text in later editions.