Monumental Outdoor Theatrical Advertising for an American Dramatization of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens circa 1880


[Dickens, Oliver Twist] Monumental Theatrical Advertising, Three-Piece Color Composite Woodblock Theater Poster, a Printing of Scenes from Charles Dickens’ The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Hartford: Calhoun Printing Works, [188-].


[Dickens, Oliver Twist] Monumental Outdoor Theatrical Advertising, Three-Piece Color Composite Woodblock Theater Poster, a Printing of Scenes from Charles Dickens’ The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Hartford: Calhoun Printing Works, [188-].

Each of the three image sections measures 28 in x 42 in, combined (7 ft. x 3 ½ ft.). The individual sheets are irregular shapes and sizes. These images were adapted  from the original wrapper of Part II of The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. A New Edition Revised & Corrected. To be completed in Ten Numbers. London: Bradbury & Evans, 90, Fleet Street, and Whitefriars, 1846. Cohn 240. In the top panel of this triptych, the upper right-hand side recreates a reverse image of the second vignette from the left-hand side of Bradbury & Evans’ wrapper, now titled “Oliver Introduced to the Kind Old Gent,” from Part III. In the lower right-hand corner of the bottom panel, is a vignette titled, “Oliver’s Reception by Fagan and the Boys,” from Part III of the 1846 Bradbury & Evans edition. The central image occupying the entire center panel of the triptych is “Fagan’s Last Night Alive,” adapted from Cruikshank’s “Fagan in the Condemned Cell,” from Part X, appearing at the center bottom of Bradbury & Evans’ wrapper for Part II, as reproduced by Cohn, pp. 80 – 81.

In The New England Business Directory of 1875, the printer is identified as the Calhoun Printing Works. On the bottom sheet of the triptych the printer is given as “Calhoun Print, Harfford [sic] CT.” This image is believed to be the first issued, not to be easily confused with re-printings from the nineteen-twenties, noting this visibly corrected spelling mistake and the racial slur, “Fagin – the Jew,” which were deleted from only some of the later printings. Also, there is a marked difference in the quality of the nineteenth century paper from that used for the nineteen-twenties reprints. The later paper from the nineteen-twenties was very acidic and is now extremely brittle, as it did not absorb the color as well as the heavier, more absorbent nineteenth century paper. Also, the reprints are smaller and have even edges.

The Calhoun company was known for its large colorful posters, street banners, show bills and other large-format outdoor advertising, using hand-carved composite boxwood blocks, which were usually pasted on a strong cloth with eye-hole edges and suspended over the street with ropes. This copy of this poster was never used. It has never been backed, the only conservation it underwent was a painstaking dry surface cleaning to remove superficial and ground-in dirt, and a few marginal tears and weak areas were reinforced with mulberry paper and wheat starch paste. As it had been rolled in an open, unprotected environment, each of the three pieces was flattened by humidification and flattening between blotters. The over-all condition is extraordinarily fine. The original colors are brilliant. Special shipping arrangements will be necessary.

The racial stereotype depicted on this poster, as well as the anti-Semitic slur, do not reflect the views, opinions or belief of the bookseller.

Wrapper to “Oliver Twist,” 1846, Bradbury & Evans, London, 90 Fleet Street.
Detail from wrapper, showing Fagan in his cell.
Detail from wrapper, showing Oliver’s introduction to Fagan.

Copyright G. Gosen Rare Books & Old Paper. All rights reserved.


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