It’s well known that several of Dickens’ novels were first published in the UK in monthly parts. Dickens was extremely popular at the time, and some of the print runs must have been very high. But they were fragile things and naturally relatively few have survived. Sets of the original part-issues are now scarce and can be very valuable. A first printing set of the part-issues for ‘David Copperfield’ or ‘Oliver Twist’ would now set you back many thousands of pounds.
Perhaps less well known is that the Continental editions of some of the novels, published by Tauchnitz, were also issued in the same monthly parts, concurrently with the UK instalments. They were not quite as lavish as the UK issues, in plain covers and without all the illustrations (or adverts) and it’s unlikely that they would command prices anywhere near those quoted for the UK editions. But it’s almost certain that they’re much rarer, to the extent that there are no known surviving copies of most of them. And it’s possible that some of them may have been published ahead of the UK parts and so represent the very first printing.
Five of Dickens’ novels were treated in this way, starting with ‘Bleak House’ in 1852 to 1853, followed by ‘Little Dorritt’ in 1856 to 1857, and later ‘Our mutual friend’ in 1864 to 1865. Each of these novels was made up of 20 monthly parts, of which the last two parts were combined in a single issue. At least one full set of the parts of ‘Bleak House’ has survived, and is illustrated below, although I don’t know where it currently is. A small number of other individual parts of all three novels are also known.
As well as these three long novels, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is believed to have been issued in 8 parts in 1859, and then finally ‘Edwin Drood’, for which the first 6 parts were issued in 1870, before being interrupted by the death of Dickens. I am not aware of any surviving copies even of a single part of either of these novels, although I’d love to hear of one. Overall of around 70 different part-issues from Tauchnitz, fewer than 25 are known to have survived in even a single copy.