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Reading desk designed and used by Charles Dickens on his American reading tour

Collection

object

Object number (per part)

DH300, 1927

Object name (per part)

desk

Production date

1858-1868

Label

This is a reading desk, lined with red trim, that was designed by Charles Dickens and used on his American reading tour in 1868. Dickens utilised this desk when delivering public readings of his work, and it previously had a small wooden box on the top, on which he would rest his arm. It was designed to suit his stature, with open space around the legs of the desk to ensure the audience could see his whole body as he acted out scenes from his books.

Other number

2293 (2009 DH object access database number)

Acqusition history

Commissioned by Charles Dickens
Gifted to Dickens's daughter Katey Perugini between 1868-1870.
At some point, c.1900, acquired by B.W. Matz and then passed to Charles Cheers Wakefield.
Donated to the Charles Dickens Museum by Charles Cheers Wakefield in 1927.

Physical description

The wooden desk is comprised of four legs, all connected by an open rectangular base. The desk's tabletop is covered in a red, felt-like fabric, some of which drapes beneath the tabletop in tasseled arches. It is shaped like a podium, but lacks side walls. The desk also includes a small solid box which rests on the right side of the tabletop.

Object history note

This reading desk was made for Charles Dickens's American reading tour. Although there is no known date for the desk's production, a 1978 article in the Dickensian, by Philip Collins, claims that Dickens had switched to using desks with red fabric by 1858, rather than the previously preferred green fabric. Furthermore, because we know that the desk was made for the American portion of the tour, which had completed by 1868, it can be concluded that this desk was produced between the years 1858 and 1868.

After his final reading, Dickens presented the desk to his daughter, Kate Perugini, as a gift. In the manuscript of her book Dickens and Daughter Gladys Storey relates how the desk came into Katey’s possession: 'Neither Charles Dickens nor his daughter Kate set any store in possessions, as such. During breakfast at Gad’s Hill – in the presence of Mamie and Miss Hogarth – her father said: "I must destroy the reading-desk", adding somewhat sadly, "I have no further use for it." "Don’t destroy it, papa," said Mrs. Perugini, "give it to me". He appeared touched and pleased, not to say surprised, that she should want to possess it, and immediately gave it to her.'

According to the aforementioned Collins article, this gift was commemorated by a brass plate once affixed to the desk, which read: "This table Charles Dickens used for all his readings and took with him to America. He gave it to his daughter Kate the night of his last reading, 16th March 1870." Collins, however, points out that this plate includes two inaccuracies. First, Collins states that the date listed for the final reading is incorrect. Rather, the final reading occurred on 15 of March 1870. Second, Collins notes that the desk was one of several used by Charles, and not the desk used for "all his readings," as the plaque claims.

After Kate Perugini's death, the desk was then passed on to B.W. Matz, founder of the Dickens Fellowship. Later on, the desk was acquired by Charles Cheers Wakefield, Bt. who was President of the Dickens Fellowship from 1927-1929. In 1927, Wakefield donated the desk to the Museum.

The Museum also holds a sketch design of a previous reading desk (DH311). This desk would have predated 1858, seeing as a note below the sketch calls for green fabric.
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