Charles Dickens Autographs - A Signature Study

on Dienstag, 10 November 2015. Posted in Autograph forgeries

This is a very well researched article reprinted from the THE STRAND MAGAZINE, Vol VII., Issue 37. published January, 1894. The article shows how Dickens way of writing his name varied considerably over the years. Being able to authenticate Dickens signature despite is many variants is of great interest to collectors of Dickens memorabilia and autographs as well as any researcher wishing to verify whether correspondence alleged to have been written by Dickens was in fact written by him.

The Signatures of Charles Dickens (with Portraits).

FROM 1825 TO 1870.

(Born 7th February, 1812; died 9th June, 1870.)


"Everybody knows what Dickens's signature is like"—says the reader who bases acquaintance with it upon the familiar, gold-impressed facsimile on the well-known red covers of his works—"a free, dashing signature, with an extensive and well-graduated flourish underneath." (No. 1.)

dickens 1


Aye! But have you ever seen an original Dickens-letter? Have you ever handled, not one, but hundreds of his documents—letters, franked envelopes, cheques signed by Dickens, cheques indorsed by him, legal agreements bearing his signature, and the original MSS. of his works? Owing to the kindness of owners and guardians of Dickens-letters, etc. I have been able to supplement the materials in my own collection by numerous facsimiles taken direct from a priceless store of Dickens-MSS. Here are some of the specimens. We will glance over them, and in doing so will view them, not merely as signatures, but also as permanently-recorded tracings of Dickens's nerve muscular action—of his gesture. The expressive play of his facial muscles has gone, the varying inflections of voice have gone, but we still possess the self-registered and characteristic tracings of Charles Dickens's hand-gesture.

dickens 2

NO. 2.—WRITTEN IN 1825.

In No. 1 we have the signature of Dickens as he wrote it when aged forty-five to fifty; in No. 2 there is the boy's signature at the age of thirteen, written to a school-fellow. This youthful signature shows the existence in embryo form of the "flourish" so commonly associated with Dickens's signature. It is interesting to note that the receiver of this early letter has stated that its schoolboy writer had "more than usual flow of spirits, held his head more erect than lads ordinarily do," and that "there was a general smartness about him." We shall perhaps see that the direct emphasis of so many of Charles Dickens's signatures which is given by his "flourish" may be fitly associated with certain characteristics of the man himself. We may also note that high spirits and vigorous nervous energy are productive of redundant nerve-muscular activity in any direction—hand gesture included.

dickens 3

AGE 18.

From a Miniature by Mrs. Janet Barrow.
dickens 4

AGE 23.

From a Miniature by Miss R. E. Drummond.

Let us look at some other early signatures. Hitherto they have been stowed away in various collections, and they are almost unknown.

dickens 3_

NO. 3.—WRITTEN IN 1830.

The next facsimile, No. 3, is remarkable as being almost the only full signature out of hundreds I have seen which lacks the flourish; this specimen is also worth notice, owing to the "droop" of every word below the horizontal level from which each starts—a little piece of nerve-muscular evidence of mental or physical depression, which may be tested by anyone who cares to examine his own handwriting produced under conditions which diminish bodily vigour or mental élan.

dickens 4_

NO. 4.—WRITTEN IN 1831.

The writing of No. 4 is very like that of No. 3; the easy curves below the signature are cleverly made, and while they indicate much energy, they also point to a useful confidence in self, owing to the deliberate way of accentuating the most personal part of a letter—its signature.

dickens 5_

NO. 5.—WRITTEN IN 1832.

No. 5 is the facsimile of a signature to a letter which was written in the Library of the British Museum to "My dear Knolle"; the letter ends: "Believe me (in haste), yours most truly." At this time—1832—Dickens was a newspaper reporter, and it is curious to notice that in spite of "haste" he yet managed to execute this complex movement underneath the signature. Its force and energy are great, but we shall see even more pronounced developments of this flourish before it takes the moderated and graceful form of confident and assured power.

dickens 6_

NO. 6.—WRITTEN IN 1833 OR 1834.

There is still more force and "go" about No. 6: it was written on "Wednesday night, past 12," and also in haste. Dickens was reporting for the Morning Chronicle, and was just starting on a journey, but yet there are here two separate flourishes; one begins under the s of Charles and ends under the C of that name; the other starts under the capital D and finishes below the n of Dickens.

dickens 7_

NO. 7.—WRITTEN IN 1836.

dickens 8_

NO. 8.—WRITTEN OCT. 1, 1836.

The intricacy of the next facsimile, No. 7, is an ugly but a very active piece of movement. This group of curves is equal to about a two-feet length of pen-stroke, a fact which indicates an extraordinary amount of personal energy. Dickens was then writing his "Sketches by Boz," and this ungraceful elaboration of his signature was probably accompanied by a growing sense of his own capacity and power. During the time-interval between the signatures shown in Nos. 7 and 8, the first number of the "Pickwick Papers" was published—March, 1836—and Charles Dickens married Catherine Hogarth on the 2nd of April in that year. The original of a very different facsimile (No. 9) was written as a receipt in the account-book of Messrs. Chapman and Hall for an advance of £5.

dickens 9_

NO. 9.—WRITTEN IN 1837.

The six facsimiles numbered 9 to 15 deserve special notice. The originals were all written in the year 1837, and I have purposely shown them because their extraordinary variations entirely negative the popular idea about the uniformity of Dickens's handwriting, and because these mobile hand-gestures are a striking illustration of the mobility and great sensibility to impressions which were prominent features in Charles Dickens's nature.

dickens 10_

NO. 10.—WRITTEN IN 1837.

dickens 11_

NO. 11.—WRITTEN NOV. 3, 1837.

Common observation show us that a man whose mind is specially receptive of impressions from persons and things around him, and whose sensibility is very quick, can scarcely fail to show much variation in his own forms of outward expression—such, for example, as facial "play," voice-inflections, hand-gestures, and so on. Notice the originality in the position of the flourishes shown in No. 9, and compare the ungraceful movement of it with the much more dignified and pleasing flourishes in some of the later signatures. A whimsical originality of mind comes out also in the curious "B" of "Boz" (No. 10).

dickens 12_

NO. 12.—WRITTEN NOV. 3, 1837.

The next pair—Nos. 11 and 12—are interesting. No. 11 shows the signature squeezed in at the bottom of a page; the flourish was attempted, and accompanied by the words: "No room for the flouish," the r of flourish being omitted. No. 12 was written on the envelope of the same letter.

thumb dickens 13

AGE 25.

From a Drawing by H. K. Browne.

dickens 14

AGE 29.

From a Drawing by Alfred Count D'Orsay.

dickens 15


From a Drawing by R.J. Lane, A.E.

thumb dickens 13

NO. l3.—WRITTEN NOV. 18, 1837.

Taken from the Legal Agreement re "Pickwick."

No. 13 is a copy of a very famous signature: the original is on a great parchment called "Deed of License Assignment and Covenants respecting a Work called 'The Pickwick Papers,'" and which, after a preamble, contains the words: "Whereas the said Charles Dickens is the Author of a Book or Work intituled 'The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,' which has been recently printed and published in twenty parts or numbers," etc. It is probable that the fact of the seal being placed between Charles and Dickens prevented the flourish which almost invariably accompanied his signatures on business documents; the marked enlargement of this signature takes the place of the flourish, and shows an unconscious emphasis of the ego. It would be almost unreasonable for us to expect that so impressionable a man, who was also feeling his power and fame, could abstain from showing outward signs of his own consciousness of abnormal success. Yet, in the private letters of Dickens, the simple "C. D." is very frequent; a few examples of it are given in this article, and their present number in no way represents the numerical relation of these simple signatures to the more "showy" ones. It may at once be said that this point of difference is alike interesting to the student of gesture and to the student of Dickens's character. He was certainly a very able man of business, and the wording of his "business" letters fully bears out the idea conveyed by his "business" signature—so to speak—that Dickens was fully aware of his own powers, and that, quite fairly, he did not omit to impress the fact upon other people when he thought fit. Both the wording and the signature of many of his private letters are simple and unostentatious to a high degree. This curious fact, which is now illustrated by Charles Dickens's own hand-gesture, ought to be remembered when people talk about Dickens's "conceit" and "love of show." My explanation is, I think, both logical and true.

thumb dickens 16

AGE 30.

From a Portrait-Bust by H. Dexter.

thumb dickens 14

NO. 14.—WRITTEN IN 1837.

dickens 17


From the original Sketch by David Maelise, R.A.

dickens 15_

NO. 15.—WRITTEN MARCH 12, 1841.

(Announcing the Death of "Raven", a prominent character in "Barnaby Rudge")

No. 15 shows part of a very humorous and famous letter announcing the death of the raven which figures in "Barnaby Rudge." Notice the curious originality of form shown in the capital Yand R. The wording of this letter is also quaintly original, and the sensitive mind of this man again caused his nerve-muscular action—his gesture—to harmonize with his mood. Points of this kind, which the handwriting of Dickens illustrates so well, have a deeper meaning for the observant than for the casual reader of a magazine article; they indicate that these little human acts, which have been so long overlooked by intelligent men, do really give us valuable data for the study of mind by means of written-gesture.

dickens 18


From a Painting by C.R. Leslie, R.A.

thumb dickens 16

NO. 16.—WRITTEN IN 1841

dickens 17

NO. 17.—WRITTEN IN 1841.

dickens 18

NO. 18.—WRITTEN IN 1843.

dickens 19

NO. 19.—WRITTEN IN 1845.

In No. 16 we see another and very original form of the "Boz" signature. No. 17 has a curious stroke of activity above the signature. No. 18 is a fine, strong signature.

dickens 19

AGE 44.

From the Painting by Ary Scheffer.

dickens 20


No. 19 is remarkably vigorous and active. The well-controlled activity and energy of the signatures are now strongly marked. No. 20 explains itself; the curious P of Pass is worth notice.

dickens 21

NO. 21.—WRITTEN JULY 22, 1854.

No. 21 is a stray illustration of clever and gracefully-executed movements which abound in Dickens's letters.

dickens 21

From a Painting by Augustus Egg, R.A.

dickens 20


From the Picture by E.M. Ward, R.A.

dickens 22

NO. 22.—WRITTEN WHEN ILL, OCT. 29, 1859

See, in No. 22, how illness disturbed the fine action of this splendid organism; but illness did not prevent attention to detail—the dot is placed after the D.

dickens 22

AGE 47.

From an Oil Painting by W.P. Frith, R.A.

dickens 23

NO. 23.—WRITTEN NOV. 1, 1860.

dickens 24

NO. 24.—WRITTEN JAN. 17, 1861.

dickens 25

NO. 25.—WRITTEN NOV. 25, 1861.

When on a reading tour, Dickens wrote at Bideford the letter from which No. 23 has been copied. After writing that he could get nothing to eat or drink at the small inn, he wrote the sentence facsimiled. The exaggeration of the words is matched by the use of two capital T's in place of two small t's. The letter continues: "The landlady is playing cribbage with the landlord in the next room (behind a thin partition), and they seem quite comfortable." No. 24 is another instance of the variation which, in fact, obtained up to the very day before death. No. 25 was written at Berwick-on-Tweed; it is an amusing letter, and states how the local agents wanted to put the famous reader into "a little lofty crow's nest," and how "I instantly struck, of course, and said I would either read in a room attached to this house ... or not at all. Terrified local agents glowered, but fell prostrate." By the way, notice, in No. 25, the emphasis of gesture on the me.

dickens 23


dickens 24


From a Photo. by Mason.

dickens 25

AGE 49.

From a Photograph.

dickens 26

AGE 51.
From a Photo. by Alphonse Maze, Paris.

dickens 27

AGE 56.

From a Photograph by Garney, New York.

dickens 28


From a Photograph by R. H. Mason.

dickens 26

NO. 26.—WRITTEN FEB. 3, 1864.

dickens 27

NO. 27.—WRITTEN JUNE 7, 1866.

No. 26 is written in one continuous stroke with a noticeably good management of the curves. The graceful imagination of this is very striking.

No. 27 shows the endorsement on a cheque.

dickens 28


dickens 29


But we near the end. Doctors had detected the signs of breaking up, which are not less plain in the written gesture, and had strenuously urged Dickens to stop the incessant strain caused by his public readings. The stimulus of facing an appreciative audience would spur him on time after time, and then, late at night, he would write affectionate letters giving details of "the house," etc., but which are painful to see if one notices the constant droop of the words and of the lines across the page. Contrast the writing in No. 28, broken and agitated, with some of the earlier specimens I have shown you. This was written three days before death. The wording of the letter from which No. 29 has been copied tells no tale of weakness, but the gesture which clothes the words is tell-tale. The words, and the lines of words, run downward across the paper, and No. 29 is very suggestive of serious trouble—and it is specially suggestive to those who have studied this form of gesture: look, for example, at the ill-managed flourish.

dickens 30


From the last letter written by Charles Dickens.

Now comes a facsimile taken from the last letter written by Charles Dickens. It has been given elsewhere, but, not satisfied with the facsimile I saw, I obtained permission to take this direct from the letter in the British Museum. This was written an hour or so before the fatal seizure. Every word droops below the level from which each starts, each line of writing descends across the page, the simple C. D. is very shaky, and the whole letter is broken and weak. Charles Dickens was not "ready" at "3 o'clock"—he died at ten minutes past six p.m. And so ends this too scanty notice of a great man's written-gesture.

NOTE:—Considerations of space and of the avoidance of technicalities have prevented a really full account of the written gesture of Charles Dickens; scanty as the foregoing account is, the illustrations it contains could not have been supplied by any one collector of Charles Dickens's letters. I express my sincere gratitude to the many persons who have enabled me to give these illustrations, and only regret that one collector refused my request for the loan of some very early and interesting letters.


full article: