Between 1858 and 1870 Charles Dickens undertook public reading tours, including one to the USA. For these tours, Dickens printed excerpts (largely from his earlier novels) with wide margins which he used to edit or alter the text as well as to annotate pages with stage directions. Dickens kept these copies in his personal library and they all contain his bookplate.
“Dickens knew the potential of his stories to be adapted and performed. These books are an extraordinary record of how he re-imagined his characters beyond the novel.” Louisa Price, Curator at the Charles Dickens Museum
In late 2019, the Charles Dickens Museum received a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to conserve, rehouse and digitise eight of their bound manuscripts; all valuable items that significantly contribute to our understanding of Dickens’s life and work.
The British Library were commissioned to digitise six of Dickens’s own reading copies.
These items are regularly requested by scholars and researchers, and the Museum digitised them in order to make full-page, downloadable PDFs of each title available through their new collections online database.
“Digitising these titles was a good decision not only from a conservation perspective, but also for Dickens scholarship generally. We are excited about new research that will emerge as a result of opening up these texts to the wider public.” Louisa Price, Curator at the Charles Dickens Museum
The digitisation process
Before starting the digitisation process, we had several preparatory questions for the Dickens Museum to ensure we fully met their requirements. These included determining the file-naming structure, file format, colour background, resolution and delivery method.
The Museum were sent samples to check the quality before we completed the full digitisation. Given the fragile nature of this collection, these heritage items were handled with utmost care throughout and the Museum placed their trust in our digitisation team’s expertise.
“I really enjoyed handling this beautiful and historic collection and I feel this might go down as one of my most memorable digitisation projects that I’ve done in my time in this job.” Barrie Cooper, Imaging Technician
The purpose of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust grant was to conserve, rehouse and digitise these manuscripts.
Following the digitisation process, the digitised pages were formatted by a design company and turned into downloadable PDF files attached to the records of each book. These PDFs are available via the Museum’s online database. The images will also be added to the Museum’s Picture Library and accessed by publishers and researchers. The digitised images will also be available for future exhibition content.
Digitisation has successfully opened-up access to the Charles Dickens Museum’s valuable collection without the risk of handling the precious originals.
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