'Now wound up and going, preparatory to its striking on Saturday, the 28th March, Master Humphrey's Clock, Maker's name — "Boz". The Figures and Hands by George Cattermole, Esq. And "Phiz". (Advertisement cited in Browne, 77)

decorated initial 'B' ecause he and his publishers, Chapman and Hall, were about to embark upon a weekly serialisation which would require quick turnaround from the illustrator and woodblock engraver, Charles Dickens determined to assemble a small team of artists for his next novel, The Old Curiosity Shop (homepage), the weekly instalment of which would be the principal feature of Master Humphrey's Clock (1840-41) from the fourth number, a publishing experiment in a style of periodical harking back to Oliver Goldsmith's The Bee and Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's The Tatler and The Spectator in the eighteenth century. However, having failed to attract other contributors to provide the ingredients of a typical miscellany — poems, essays, and short stories, Dickens by the seventh number realized that it was his serialised novel and nothing else that the public was demanding. From the twelfth number of the weekly magazine, Dickens used Master Humphrey's Clock merely as a vehicle for publishing weekly instalments of the novel.

Although the mode of illustration upon which Dickens had decided for his novel, the woodblock, offered the advantage of being printed with the text rather than on a separate page, it was time-consuming to execute so that a single illustrator — Hablot Knight Browne or "Phiz" had become his usual collaborator — would not be equal to the task. The collaborative team (or "Clock Works" as Dickens dubbed it) consisted of Samuel Williams (1788-1853) and Daniel Maclise (1807-1870) supporting the chief illustrators, George Cattermole (1800-1868) and Phiz. However, in the end the supporting artists contributed only a single plate each while Phiz contributed the designs for most of the plates and Cattermole contributed fourteen drawings for ten plates and tail-pieces.

Since Cattermole's strength lay in the depiction of architectural backdrops as opposed to character drawings, his plates are set largely indoors; his execution of the old curiosity shop itself is highly effective. With his antiquarian and architectural bent, Cattermole was the logical choice for executing what Valerie Lester Browne describes as the story's "loftier" (78) subjects, including the highly emotional scene of Nell's death. Jane Rabb Cohen has described the scenes that Dickens allotted to Cattermole and Browne respectively as "picturesque" and "grotesque" (129). Chapman and Hall published the first volume edition of The Old Curiosity Shop on 15 December 1841, priced at thirteen shillings and printed from the Clock's stereotype plates. It bore the title:

The Old Curiosity Shop.
A Tale.
By Charles Dickens.
With Illustrations
George Cattermole And Hablot K. Browne.
Complete In One Volume.
[Cited in Stone, p. 5]

That Cattermole's name precedes Browne's may suggest that the older, more established artist was both Dickens's and the public's favourite at the time. It was not simply a strategy playing upon name recognition. Cohen states that Dickens deliberately placed Cattermole's name ahead of Browne's because he felt that "Cattermole's name would undoubtedly enhance the prestige of the undertaking" (127). Alternatively, the wording may simply reflect that of the wrapper (see below) that Cattermole designed.

To his initial contribution of 61 illustrations Phiz subsequently added four "extra illustrations" for Chapman and Hall's first Cheap Edition of 1848.

Cattermole's Plates and the Numbers of the Novel

Although the first number of Master Humphrey's Clock appeared on 4 April 1840, the first three weekly numbers contained no numbers of The Old Curiosity Shop. After Dickens realized that what had begun on 25 April as a short story would make a full-length story, mindful of his public's taste for serialised novels, he began publishing instalments of The Old Curiosity Shop in earnest on 16 May 1841. The initial number opened with a wood engraving by Cattermole of the shop's interior, and number 43 ended with "Kit hurries to his journey's end" by Cattermole. In both plates, the artist has subordinated figures to the furnishings and architectural elements. Usually two wood engravings accompanied each weekly number, but some numbers contained additional vignettes, elaborate initial letters, tail-pieces, and even regular illustrations. In all, 75 half-page plates were "dropped into the text," along with eight initial-letter vignettes, all of the latter being by Phiz. The wrapper design and the frontispiece of Volume One, however, were both by Cattermole. Not surprisingly, the weekly and monthly wrappers placed Cattermole's name before Browne's:

By "Boz."
With Illustrations
G. Cattermole and H. K. Browne.
[cited in Stone, p. 5; reproduced on p. 2 in Stone]

Concurrently, Master Humphrey's Clock appeared in 88 weekly numbers, whose wrappers were white, and four or five of the weekly parts as monthly instalments, whose wrappers were green. Consequently, although the weekly numbers were consistently priced at threepence, the cost of the monthly instalment varied, the four-part numbers costing a shilling, the five-part numbers one shilling threepence.


Chilvers, Ian, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Art. 3rd edition.Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. "George Cattermole. " Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980. 125-134.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture Book: A Record of the Dickens Illustrators. "Ch. XIII. The Old Curiosity Shop." The Charles Dickens Library. London: Educational Book Co., 1910. 171-211.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto & Windus, 2004.

Patten, Robert L. "Cattermole, George." In Schlicke, Paul, ed. Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1999.

Vann, J. Don. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Pp. 68-69.

Stone, Harry, ed. "The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841)." Dickens' Working Notes for His Novels. Chicago and London: U. Chicago Press, 1987. 1-13.

Last modified 5 December 2020