In 1866 George Cruikshank produced a set of 24 coloured drawings (and one coloured ‘title-page’) for his friend F.M. Cosens. These coloured illustrations would later be published as photogravure plates, with Dickens’ text, by Chapman and Hall in 1895.
It appears, however, that the set of plates (expanded to 25 illustrations and one ‘title-page’) was also produced in a variety of different forms. The British Library holds a set of trial proofs ‘in bistre’ thought to be a unique set (see Dex.297(1)). The same collection at the British Library includes an incomplete set of hand-coloured plates and a further incomplete set of hand-coloured plates thought to comprise a set of proofs (showing plate marks). The British Library sets were all owned by the collector J.F. Dexter who acquired the collection from G. Etheridge of Chapman and Hall. The sets were all instigated by Joseph Grego (1843-1908), the art collector and authority on Dickens.
In the Richard Gimbel collection of Dickens and Dickensiana (Yale University Library), there are ‘24 handcolored etched copies by F.W. Pailthrope of the original plates for Oliver Twist. Printed on paper watermarked “Whatman 1889,” these etchings, which are beguiling and meticulously exact copies of Cruikshank’s originals, bear no titles. At the foot of several prints there are pencilled instructions to the colorist’ (see John B. Podeschi, Dickens and Dickensiana, 1980, item H1053). The present set, however, has no watermark.
In 1903 Grego published a set of 67 plates for Oliver Twist, The Miser’s Daughter and The Irish Rebellion in a limited edition of 300 copies. These were not hand-coloured.
The present set therefore appears to be part of a very small hand-coloured edition produced around 1889. There are no published titles. A clipping from the bookseller’s catalogue of Sucking and Co (dated December 1916) and included with the British Library material notes that set is ‘scarce’ and ‘a very small number only of these were done by the late Joseph Grego’.
The additional plate, ‘Rose Maylie and Oliver’, was made by Joseph Grego from the cancelled drawing by Cruickshank. The plates ‘Oliver asking for more’, ‘Oliver’s reception by Fagin and the boys’, ‘Mr Bumble and Mrs Corney taking tea’ and ‘The evidence destroyed’ are lacking from the present set. A number are on trimmed leaves (as with the British Library incomplete set).
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