The record-breaking sale of some of Charles Dickens' earliest work has pleased his family. The auction, which took place at Christie's in New York on Wednesday 2 April, raised $2 million. A first edition of Oliver Twist, with a inscription by Dickens to fellow novelist William Ainsworth, sold for a record $229,000.
"It was quite amazing," said Mark Dickens, great-great grandson of the famous author and current head of the family. "I think what's interesting is it shows there is still an enormous interest in Dickens' stuff even though he lived such a long time ago."
The auction offered the first part of the William E Self Family Collection, recognised as perhaps the finest collection in private hands. Mark got to meet Self, an avid Dickens collector, at the preview: "He's recently widowed and that's the reason why he decided to sell the library," said Mark. "He's a fascinating man and obviously a great lover of Dickens."
The collection is actually known as the Kenyan Starling library – Starling being another collector of the British novelist. Unusually, the two rival collectors eventually met and became great friends. As Starling didn't have any family he bequeathed his collection to Self when he died.
Although the Oliver Twist edition went for the most money, Mark picked an original page of manuscript from The Pickwick Papers as the item that most stood out for him. "Of course, The Pickwick Papers was the key to the whole of Dickens' life and what made him famous – although there isn't very much of it left," he said.
Mark has no qualms about the private collectors getting their hands on such important historical family documents. Most of the items that Dickens had left and which he didn't burn himself actually went, via his will, to his friend John Forster. "We don't mind at all," said Mark, "what is most important to us now is the bicentenary of his birth in 2012 – that's what we're all working towards."