Kit brings a Letter — the fifty-fifth illustration for the novel: 3 ⅜ x 4 ½ inches (8.9 cm high x 11.2 cm wide). — Charles Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication of Part 30: headpiece for 5 December 1840 instalment of Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 33, Vol. 2: 109.

Context of the Illustration: The Plot against Kit Nubbles begins to Thicken

"As to young Snob, sir," pursued Mr. Chuckster with a prophetic look, "you’ll find he’ll turn out bad. In our profession we know something of human nature, and take my word for it, that the feller that came back to work out that shilling, will show himself one of these days in his true colours. He’s a low thief, sir. He must be."

Mr. Chuckster being roused, would probably have pursued this subject further, and in more emphatic language, but for a tap at the door, which seeming to announce the arrival of somebody on business, caused him to assume a greater appearance of meekness than was perhaps quite consistent with his late declaration. Mr Swiveller, hearing the same sound, caused his stool to revolve rapidly on one leg until it brought him to his desk, into which, having forgotten in the sudden flurry of his spirits to part with the poker, he thrust it as he cried "Come in!"

Who should present himself but that very Kit who had been the theme of Mr Chuckster’s wrath! Never did man pluck up his courage so quickly, or look so fierce, as Mr Chuckster when he found it was he. Mr. Swiveller stared at him for a moment, and then leaping from his stool, and drawing out the poker from its place of concealment, performed the road-sword exercise with all the cuts and guards complete, in a species of frenzy. [Chapter Fifty-six, 112]


Kyd's companion studies of the two young clerks for Player's Cigarette Cards (1910).

Just as Quilp has presumably directed, the framing of Kit Nubbles for petty theft all begins innocently enough. Kit has become accustomed to dropping by the office of Sampson Brass & Associates (namely, Sally) to deliver letters from his employer, Mr. Garland, to the Brasses' lodger, the never-named Single Gentleman. The devious Brasses have lulled the naive Kit into complacency by presenting him with half-crowns as tips. This freshly-minted coin, equivalent to two shillings and sixpence, or one-eighth of a pound, in 1840 bore the likeness of the young Queen, facing left. At the time of writing, half-a-crown would have had the purchasing power of about £8.00 today. The coin proclaims Victoria, with ribbons in her hair, as the new monarch "by the grace of God" (Victoria dei gratia), and on the reverse shows the plant symbols of the United Kingdom — a rose (England), a thistle (Scotland), and a shamrock (Ireland) — accompanied by a crowned shield in a wreath with the coats of arms of the three kingdoms in the quadrants. Thus, the coins that Sampson Brass occasionally gives Kit constitute most generous rather than nominal tips.

These apparently benign transactions occur while Dick Swiveller runs errands across town, and is therefore not present to observe them. Gradually the Brasses leave the unsuspecting messenger to tend the office during their brief but carefully timed absences. Thus, Dickens sets the stage for Brass's accusations of theft in the next chapter, and of Kit's arrest for the theft of a five-pound note. The subsequent scenes of Kit in lockup suggest that Quilp will succeed in his plot to have the judicial system sentence Kit to Australian penal transportation.

Kit brings a Letter, although hardly a brilliant drawing, functions effectively as the headpiece for the December part of Master Humphrey's Clock (Part 33). Here Phiz shifts the scene from the remote Shropshire village where the Trents have taken refuge to the metropolis, and the plot involving Quilp, the Brasses, Dick Swiveller, and Kit Nubbles. Phiz economically establishes the setting as the law offices at Bevis Marks through the familiar figures of Chuckster (centre) and Swiveller (right), and through such office realia as the high-stools, writing-desk, assorted law-books, and ledgers. Phiz has added new element, the elegant uniform and stylish hat that Kit wears, making him look decidedly older and smarter than in his last appearance (in Chapter 40, Mr. Garland and Kit). Thus, almost without the reader's noticing the shift, Kit has assumed centre stage, and his fortunes rather than Nell's now come to the fore as the working-class boy who has made good becomes the active protagonist of the novel. His appearance here, well-dressed but comfortable in his new identity (as signified by the hand in the pocket of his fashionable stirrup-pants), signals Dickens's shifting the plot to the fates of Kit and Dick. For the first time in the narrative-pictorial sequence Phiz majes Kit a character rather than a mere caricature: we are to identify with him rather than merely laugh at him.

Ten Other Scenes Involving the Rise of Kit Nubbles

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

Scanned images and texts by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

Last modified 11 November 2020