A CAR-boot sale in Bordon led to the discovery of a signed first edition copy of Charles Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby.

Alton resident Jeremy Bayliss bought “a tatty old copy” of the Portsmouth-born author’s classic for just £1.50 when he visited the sale 18 months ago.

Only recently did Mr Bayliss spot that the leather-bound book – published by Chapman and Hall in 1839 – had been signed in “quirky” fashion by Dickens, making it considerably more valuable than its purchase price.

Following authentication by local printing expert Luath Grant Ferguson, it is set to go on show in Alton’s Curtis Museum.

Mr Bayliss has been swept along in a sea of circumstance in his bid to identify its provenance following a chance meeting on a bus with Curtis Museum manager Toby Mearing.

One of the few first edition copies to survive, it features a “fine engraving” of the author aged 27 and Dickens’ signature, “but with a difference”.

Mr Ferguson said: “Dickens was not only a great writer, he was also a shrewd salesman and performer on stage.

“Hitting on the idea of reading his own works to audiences who paid good money to hear him, he always made sure a good supply of his latest book was on hand, ready to be signed and sold.

“Usually, Dickens had time to write his own short message before signing his name with a magnificent flourish.

“But this copy is different. Dickens seems to have been pushed for time, or else he was trying to sell more copies than usual.

“His regular message, ‘Faithfully yours’, seems to have been written by a different hand in advance, using a different pen nib – a new invention, by the way! – but so low on the page that poor Dickens can just squeeze in a meagre flourish!

“This signature gives a glimpse into the early career of a young author who was definitely going places!”

Mr Mearing has a special reason to be pleased Mr Bayliss has agreed to put the book on display at the museum.

“In 1843, four years after Nicholas Nickleby featured Smike – a youngster disabled by brutal mistreatment – Tiny Tim, a child disabled from birth, stole people’s hearts in A Christmas Carol.

“Also born in 1843 was William Treloar, who grew up to be such a Dickens fan that, in 1907, as Lord Mayor of London, he published a special edition of A Christmas Carol to raise funds for his new hospital, school and college for disabled children in Alton, which opened the following year.

“The hospital and its special school are gone, but the project, launched by a lord mayor who, as a young man, heard Charles Dickens bring Smike and Tiny Tim to life, lives on in the splendid Treloar campus in Holybourne.”