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Dime novels | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Dime novels

Historical Note:

Dime novels first appeared on the American literary scene in 1860 with the publication of Beadles Dime Novels No. 1, "Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter," by Ann S. Stephens (1813-1886). Numerous dime and half-dime publications soon flooded the market. Irwin Beadle was the first publisher to issue cheap paper covered novels in continuous series. The term dime novels had little reference to the price at which they booklets were sold, but it was applied especially to any "sensational detective" or "blood-and-thunder" novel in pamphlet form.

Erasmus Beadle (1821-1894) published popular songbooks and a number of dime novels, with heroes such as Nick Carter and Deadwood Dick. His "Dime Novels" monopolized the popular literature field for much of the latter half of the 19th century. Subject matter for the stories included the historical frontier of early New York, Ohio and Kentucky, the contemporary frontier of the prairie and of gold mining in the west, sea stories, historical tales of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and of the colonial wars. During the 1870s through the 1890s, city stories (stories of street boys and gamins who made their way up in the world) flourished, particularly those of Horatio Alger, Jr.

Beadle issued at different times about twenty-five series of novels, seven story papers and magazines, and innumerable handboks, songbooks, dialogues, speakers, baseball books, and so on.

By 1891, new "libraries" of other publishers proliferated. In 1891, the Nick Carter Library and Gem Library appeared, followed by others such as the Bob Brooks Library (1893), Tip Top Library (1896), and the Diamond Dick Library (1896). By 1937, most dime and half-dime novel publishers folded.

Sources: Prepared by Richard Wisneski, May 30, 2004

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