What the Dickens? Popular characters brought to life

Royal Mail is celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Britain’s greatest novelist, Charles Dickens, with a set of six stamps and a miniature sheet to be issued on June 19.

They feature popular characters from 10 of his most famous novels, as drawn during the 19th century. In the case of the sheet stamps, the illustrations are adapted from Character Sketches from Charles Dickens by Joseph Clayton Clarke (known as ‘Kyd’); in the case of the miniature sheet, they are from book illustrations by Hablot Knight Brown (known as ‘Phiz’).

The set stamps and miniature sheet were designed by Howard Brown and printed in litho by Cartor.
Philip Parker of Royal Mail Stamps said: ‘Charles Dickens was one of the truly great British novelists, a man who changed the world in which he lived thanks not just to his novels, but his campaigning journalism and philanthropy.’

Charles Dickens and his work has been celebrated on two previous British stamp issues, the Literary Anniversaries set in 1970 and the Christmas set in 1993, and also on a series of booklet covers in 1988-89 (see page 58).


COMMEMORATIVE WORTH  Dickens has been honoured before, but this is a major anniversary for Britain’s greatest novelist

Keeping to simpler images means the sheet stamps work better

The illustrations are original and classy, but won’t stop anyone in their tracks

2nd class Mr Bumble
In Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble is the parish beadle who removes the nine-year-old Oliver from the baby farm and takes him to the workhouse, where he is put to work picking oakum. Bumble considers himself very dignified, but whenever he opens his mouth he mangles his words.

1st class Mr Pickwick
In The Pickwick Papers, Samuel Pickwick is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, and the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that the ‘Pickwickians’ should make journeys around England and report on their findings.

77p The Marchioness
In The Old Curiosity Shop, the Marchioness is the nickname given to the wicked Miss Brass’s mistreated maidservant by Dick Swiveller, who later marries her. In the original manuscript it was explicit that the Marchioness is the illegitimate daughter of Miss Brass, but only a suggestion of this survived in the published edition.

87p Mrs Gamp
In Martin Chuzzlewit, Sarah Gamp is a dissolute and drunk nurse, a stereotype of the secular nurse in the early Victorian era before the reforms of religious campaigners such as Florence Nightingale. Umbrellas became widely known as ‘gamps’, as hers was displayed with particular ostentation.

£1.28 Captain Cuttle
In Dombey & Son, Edward Cuttle is the comical but likeable hook-handed former sea captain left in charge of The Midshipman, the maritime instrument maker’s shop, when Soloman Gills goes off in search of his nephew. Dombey’s daughter, Florence, later lodges with Cuttle after she running away from her father.

£1.90 Mr Micawber
In David Copperfield, Wilkins Micawber is a kindly man who is perennially in financial difficulty but remains ever optimistic that his fortunes will improve. Eventually they do. He is thought to have been modelled on Dickens’ own father, who like Micawber spent time in a debtors’ prison.


1st class Nicholas Nickleby
Nicholas takes his cane to the bullying headmaster of Dotheboys Hall school, Wackford Squeers, before escaping and setting off for London

1st class Bleak House
The army wife Mrs Bagnet is charmed by Inspector Bucket, the detective who investigates the murder of Mr Tulkinghorn and the disappearance of Lady Dedlock

1st class Little Dorrit
Amy Dorrit introduces Maggy, the daughter of her old nurse, to Arthur Clennam outside Marshalsea debtor’s prison.

1st class A Tale of Two Cities
The virtuous aristocrat Charles Darnay is arrested by the French Revolutionaries.

The presentation pack that accompanies the issue is written by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, who considers her great-great-great-grandfather’s life and works.

A coin cover is available, as well as the usual presentation pack, stamp cards and first day cover. 


Set of 6 stamps £5.92
Miniature sheet £2.40
Stamp cards £4.95
Presentation pack £8.85
First day envelope £0.30
First day cover (stamps) £7.58
First day cover (miniature sheet) £3.36
Coin cover £15.95
TOTAL £49.31