Thursday, May 30, 2013

Look What I Found: Charles Dickens Globe editions ("won't injure the eyesight")

Look What I Found is an occasional series on books I've hunted-and-gathered at garage sales, used bookstores, estate sales, and the occasional pilfering from a friend's bookshelf when his back is turned. I have a particular fondness for U.S. novels written between 1896 and 1931. If I sniff a book and it makes me sneeze, I'm bound to fall in love.

It's not like I lack for any volumes of Charles Dickens' novels in my library.  I have Penguin, Modern Library and Signet paperbacks; a set of Nonesuch facsimiles I coveted three years ago; and at least three different versions of A Tale of Two Cities on my Kindle.  Why on earth would I want to add more book-poundage to my shelves already groaning under the weight of so many (too many!) dead-tree books?

Because I am a sick man (who's not in search of a cure).

When I saw these "Globe editions" of Dickens' works in an antique shop in Boise, Idaho two weeks ago, I knew I would walk out the store with them in the clutch of my covetous collector's hands.

Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company in 1881, these squat, dark-green books immediately caught my attention with the illustrations (about four per volume) by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert:

Via Google, I found an ad in a 19th-century edition of Literary World which noted these books were "the best cheap edition on the globe....The paper is good, the print is clear, and the type of a size that won't injure the eyesight."  They sold for $1.50 a volume--which, as another ad in The American Naturalist declares, shall "be within the reach of all classes."

Though time has bent the books' spines to a slouch so that the pages have a charming C-shaped edge, the set is overall in very good condition.  In fact, I'd hazard to say that, with the exception of Our Mutual Friend, they are unread by any of the owners.  Each book has a nameplate inside the front cover: "Library of Minnie Washburne" and are numbered sequentially.  I'm missing a few of the numbers (between 102 and 114), so I'm wondering if there are other Globe editions, or if Miss Washburne was cataloging several new acquisitions that day and got some other books interspersed with her set of Dickens.  And did Minnie read Our Mutual Friend, then find Dickens wasn't to her taste and left the other volumes unread?  Or was she stricken by influenza and on her deathbed called for a book, any book, by that fellow she'd never read (but always meant to)?  Call me odd, but I fantasize about previous readers' lives like this.

In Googling "Minnie Washburne," I found several mentions of a woman by that name who was prominent in social activism--primarily the suffrage cause--around the turn of the 20th century.  What's more, she lived in Eugene, Oregon.  This is an especially sharp freak of coincidence because on the day I stopped in the Boise antique mall, I was en route to Oregon (which you might have read about in yesterday's blog post).  Was it the same Minnie Washburne?  I'd like to think it was.


  1. "Or was she stricken by influenza and on her deathbed called for a book, any book, by that fellow she'd never read (but always meant to)? Call me odd, but I fantasize about previous readers' lives like this."

    Made me laugh right out loud...thanks. And great find on the books - enjoy!

  2. Nice score. Great story. My finds so far this year are a 1933 edition of Ulysses for $6 and a ten volume set of the collected works of Dostoevsky in the original Russian from Powell's.

  3. I have a set of "Dickens Works" that look the same only they are a reddish brown color from 1882 - 12 books. Are they valuable

  4. I have come across one of these books. "Dickens' Works, Barnaby Rudge Sketches, Globe Edition" published by Houghton, Osgood & Co. on 1867. However, it was signed on Jan. 18th, 1880 by a name that looks like "Geo. A. MiddWine" or "Geo. A. Middleline." Any thoughts on who this might be?

    1. Hmmm, not sure who Mr. MiddWine could be. Dickens playing a joke from beyond the grave, perhaps? (He'd been in the ground for nearly a decade by then.) Nonetheless, it's an interesting mystery. I'm always fascinated by owners' signatures or gift inscriptions in older books. Gives me a sense of the book passing from their hands to mine.