The Dime Novels Collection: Windows Into 19th Century American Pursuits and Values
A new form of popular literature--dime novels--emerged in the United States in the 1860s and flourished until around World War I. They enjoyed great popular appeal and widespread readership, especially among young boys and adults. Story plots grouped around familiar themes: the frontier and the West, war, science fiction and fantasy, sea stories, boarding schools, detectives, railroads, sports and athletics.
Rare Books and Special Collections holds an extensive collection of some ten thousand of these American dime novels in various formats. Issues were typically thin paper-covered booklets published at regular intervals, with each issue containing one or two stories with a sensational and melodramatic plot. Brightly colored cover illustrations attracted readers by depicting a thrilling scene from the story within. Dime novels were a new format developed by enterprising publishers to take advantage of the convergence of higher literacy rates, new high speed presses, cheaper paper, and linked railways that facilitated widespread distribution.
The collection serves as a rich resource for studying prevailing popular beliefs, attitudes, and values in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century United States.
Undergrad Daniel Gorman, Jr. (UR 2014) worked in the department's Dime Novels Collection to develop, research, and write his History 252 paper: The Joy of Piracy: Ned Buntline and the Legacy of the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main . Dan consulted the Rare Books/Special Collections 1852 reprint edition of The Black Avenger as well as the 1847 first edition now available online through the Google digitizing project with Harvard University.
Dan's paper provides an excellent example of the potential of the Dime Novels Collection as a resource for student thinking and writing. Dan is a history major, but the collection can be approached from a wide variety of angles including inquiries from literature, art history, sociology, and marketing.
Jacob Goldstein (UR 2010) studied four dime novels from an altogether different angle: The Ghost Dance in Popular Culture . A student of History 252 in Spring 2010, Jake focused on how popular western dime novel writer Joseph Badger drew from his understanding of the Ghost Dance as historical event to portray the Dance in his fictional stories. For his research, Jake consulted three of Badger's novels in their paper originals in Rare Books/Special Collections, and for all four of the Silverblade novels, he consulted online digital copies of the originals found through Bowling Green State University Libraries.