2009 Archives

Best of Times for Dickens' Pickwick Papers collector

Excerpt

The following is from the fall 2009 edition of Annotations, the newsletter of SMU's Central University Libraries.

November 30, 2009

For the Weeks family, no college campus visit is complete without a stop at the university library.

Steve Weeks with Professor Beth Newman
SMU parent Steve Weeks talks with English Professor Beth Newman about the Pickwick Papers.

“The library is key to any university,” Steve Weeks says.

A collector of works by Charles Dickens, Weeks found a kindred spirit when the family visited SMU – DeGolyer Library director Russell Martin.

Martin collects rare books for DeGolyer, holds a Ph.D. in English and knows firsthand that private collectors and their collections are essential ingredients in any research library.

Weeks’ collection includes 1,000 volumes of Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers, representing first editions and parts editions. The novel originally was published as a 19-month serial beginning in March 1836. Just 400 copies of the first installment were printed. By the time 29,000 copies of the last installment were printed, the 25-year-old Charles Dickens was a celebrity.

“In The Pickwick Papers you can see Dickens develop as an author,” says Weeks, who now visits DeGolyer regularly when he and his wife, Cindy, visit their daughter, SMU sophomore Jennifer. “He goes from obscurity to the best-known author in England.”

Charles Dickens
Young Dickens
Weeks’ collection also contains 2,000 Pickwick Papers illustrations, including proof sets and hand tinted works representing all the artists who illustrated every Pickwick edition.

Weeks started collecting books in high school with the works of Horatio Alger. The rags to riches stories inspired him to become an entrepreneur, says the retired mortgage business owner. A. Edward Newton’s classic books, The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections (1918) and A Magnificent Farce, And Other Diversions of a Book-collector (1921), inspired Weeks to begin collecting Dickens.

Pickwick Papers sketch
"Mr. Pickwick in chase of his Hat."
The Pickwick Club
“Steve has some incredible collections, and he also has great enthusiasm and knowledge about his subjects, whether Charles Dickens, Horatio Alger, Mark Twain or A. Edward Newton. By a happy coincidence, these are all writers we are interested in, for scholarly and sentimental reasons,” Martin says. “In 1914, the first book Mr. DeGolyer purchased was The Pickwick Papers. But, alas, Mr. DeGolyer gave virtually all his literary first editions, including Pickwick, to the University of Texas after World War II, where they are now part of the Harry Ransom Center. We’ve longed for it ever since.”

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth in February 2012, Weeks, now a member of the SMU Libraries Executive Board, is lending parts of his Dickens collection to DeGolyer for an exhibit.

“The Department of English and DeGolyer are just delighted by the prospects. Steve will be the curator, and the exhibition will be a major event for scholars, SMU students and lovers of Dickens,” Martin says. “The iconography of Pickwick alone could be the focus – his collection is so rich – but we’ll probably try to document the entire range of Dickens’ life as a writer. It will be interesting to see how it takes shape.”

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