Twenty Volumes of "Phiz"

David Croal Thomson (1855-1930), Life and Labours of Hablôt Knight Browne “Phiz” (London: Chapman and Hall, 1884). 1 vol. in 20, extra-illustrated with 1250 plates. Graphic Arts (GAX) 2008- in process

Newly acquired by the graphic arts division is this unique twenty-volume extra-illustrated copy of Life and Labours of Hablôt Knight Browne. Browne was the 19th-century illustrator best known for his steel-plate etchings and wood engravings for ten books by Charles Dickens.

Dickens was already a popular author when his illustrator Robert Seymour committed suicide. The practically unknown Browne was selected to complete The Pickwick Papers and went on to collaborate with Dickens until 1859. Browne took the nickname “Phiz” to complement Dickens’ penname “Boz.”

As it was originally published in 1884, Thomson’s single volume biography contained an engraved portrait and 130 illustrations (GA Rowlandson 946). Princeton’s unique copy has been vastly expanded to 20 volumes, extra-illustrated with the insertion of more than 1250 plates, including 11 watercolours, 81 pencil and ink drawings (a few with a touch of colour or double-sided), and 11 autograph manuscript items signed by Browne.

Among the manuscripts are a group of charming illustrated letters to Frederick William Cosens, an avid collector of Dickens. Cosens commissioned Browne to furnish him with watercolor drawings of every image he had created for a Dickens novels (more than 400 in all). It has been speculated that this 20 volume set is the work or commission of Cosens, although the provenance is not certain.

These volumes present to researchers not only a wonderful collection of art by one of the great illustrators of the 19th century, but also a number of variant states of the final plates. The sketches and letters provide documentary information about Browne that cannot be obtained elsewhere.