The image of Samuel Pickwick, the protagonist of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, drawn and etched by Robert Seymour (1798-1836) had an immediate and lasting impact, reaching beyond the pages of Dickens’ novel. Seymour committed suicide shortly after the creation of this character and the iconography of the series—19 issues over 20 months between March 1836 and October 1837—went through several visual adaptations before it was completed. As new editions continued to appear, variant designs were used to present the words to the reading public, although none has yet to improve on Seymour’s original character.
No one understood the power of the visual image better than the advertising executive Samuel William Meek (1895-1981), Vice President at the J. Walter Thompson Company, who along with his wife Priscilla Mitchell Meek (1899-1999), collected Dickens. Mr. Meek helped build a worldwide advertising empire for the Thompson Company while manager of Thompson’s London office. He handled campaigns for the General Motors Corporation, Pan American World Airways, and Reader’s Digest among many others.
Meek assembled a collection of Pickwick iconography, including a unique binding proof, title pages, advertising designs, and subsequent promotional use of the Pickwick figures outside the world of literature. Thanks to the discerning eye of our generous donor Bruce Willsie, Class of 1986, two volumes of this valuable material have come to the Graphic Arts Collection. Here is a quick list (Pickwick Papers iconography ) and are a few samples: