Charles Dickens Had A Hipster 'Tache And Here's The Photo To Prove It

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 16 months ago

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Charles Dickens Had A Hipster 'Tache And Here's The Photo To Prove It
charles dickens profile picture in black and white. he's got a great big tache
Dickens as you've never seen him before. Image: Charles Dickens Museum

Think Charles Dickens and you picture that scraggly beard, stroked to within an inch of its life, presumably from musing over the daftest name for his next character.

But the great author was also fond of sporting a pair of 'taches — and there's a very rare photograph to prove it.

The profile portrait (see above and below) was taken by John Jabez Edwin Mayall at his 224 Regent Street studio, around 1852-55. At the time, Dickens would have been in the throes of writing Bleak House or Hard Times, and the image is so sharp, you can almost see the cogs whirring behind his eyes.

It's a 'crayon daguerreotype' — a method whereby the centre of the image was covered with blackened zinc; then the whole image was exposed to light, wiping out all details except those protected by the zinc.

The portrait is beautifully presented in a leather-bound case. Image: Charles Dickens Museum

The picture has been in a private collection for 20 years, but has now been loaned to the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury, where it's on show till 31 March.

This wasn't Dickens' first experiment growing a moustache; in 1844, he wrote a letter to his friend, artist Daniel Maclise, saying: "The moustaches are glorious, glorious. I have cut them shorter, and trimmed them a little at the ends to improve their shape. They are charming, charming. Without them, life would be a blank."

Bloody hipster.

a gilded framed portrait of dickens as a young man, with no facial hair
Dickens also appears clean shaven, in this portrait, also on display at the museum. Image: Charles Dickens Museum

Emily Smith, curator at the Charles Dickens Museum, said, "A moustachioed Dickens is hard to find! While his bearded visage is instantly recognisable, Dickens's early experiments with face furniture are far less well recorded... Dickens was image-conscious, definitely a dandy."

The acquisition means the museum now (temporarily) owns a triumvirate of Dickens' facial hair pictures: the classic beard, the dandy moustache, and his clean-shaven period, as seen in this long-lost portrait from his younger days.

Last Updated 12 December 2022