Auction News

Dickens watch makes over £11k at auction


Pocket watch owned by Charles Dickens.

A pocket watch given to a young magazine editor called Charles Dickens has realised £11,500 at auction.

It is an early memento of one of the most extraordinary careers in English letters and captures the author at a crossroads in his life.

Dickens was given the watch in December 1836, to mark one year as editor of Bentley’s Miscellany.

The magazine was published by Richard Bentley between 1836 and 1838. Dickens was editor for two years before falling out (far from uniquely) with Bentley.

Dickens became more than just a writer, he was an enormously popular public figure.

Dickens was the launch-editor of the magazine and published Oliver Twist in serial form through it. But he wanted more editorial control than the publisher would allow him.

Things were going well in December 1836 though, when Dickens was given this open-faced, key-wind watch. It was inscribed with his initials, CD, and “Dearest Box editor Bentleys Miscellany Dec. 1836.”

Dickens used Boz, a childhood nickname, as a pen name in his early career, publishing a popular series of sketches of London life that showcased his observational skills. The watch still winds and ticks and it is in good condition.

Much of Dickens’ early journalism was published as by BOZ, to whom this watch is inscribed.

Dickens gave the watch to his daughter, and it came to auction via a deceased estate in Portsmouth. Although it had no certificate of authenticity the watch showed every sign of being the real deal and sold for more than three times its estimate.

At the same sale a desk set Dickens gave to his daughter (inscribed “Happy Birthday Little Lucifer Box” as a tribute to her temper) made over five times estimate to sell for £3,400.

Both were sold to an overseas buyer who has not been named. The listing of two Dickens items in the same sale from the same source no doubt helped their authenticity claims.

Dickens was one of the first modern celebrities, touring the world giving readings.

His novels are still read and dramatised today and he had such a popular impact that a word, dickensian, was coined to reflect the power of his works.

His letters can make several thousand pounds at auction. Manuscript pages from his most popular works can be found listed for £80,000 and up. Signed first editions can make similar amounts.

A year after receiving this watch, Dickens finished his serialisation of The Pickwick Papers with the magazine and resigned. He went on to write the monumental Nicholas Nickleby and 17 more works.

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