A True and Affecting History
July 7, 2014 7:41 PM   Subscribe

From the early modern period to the nineteenth century, one of the most popular forms of inexpensive literary entertainment was the chapbook. (The phenomenon was not limited to English-speaking countries.) Encompassing everything from nursery rhymes to shocking tales, chapbooks (also known as "small books." among other things) were targeted at both adults and children. Frequently, as in the case of Gothic chapbooks, these ephemeral books provided readers with (much shortened) access to popular novels. (Other chapbooks were more wholesome and/or educational in intent.) McGill Library and Ball State University have some of the most extensive chapbook collections now online.
posted by thomas j wise (3 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
This a great post! I look forward to flipping through these further. Very charming.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:46 PM on July 7, 2014

A great post indeed! Thanks for not lazily making the first ("chapbook") link a Wikipedia one; it's always worthwhile seeking out a better, more scholarly and focused source like the one you found. I always vaguely wondered what a chapbook was, and now I know! And as a bonus I learned the origin of the "penny plain" phrase:
Printer-publishers would often try to appeal to a slightly more affluent readership by adding a card or coloured-paper cover (or 'wrapper') or by having the illustrations hand-coloured. These additional embellishments might more than double the price raised – the famous phrase was 'penny plain, twopence coloured'.
Chapbooks remind me of the Russian lubok, similarly cheap and ubiquitous (though with fewer words, as befit a largely illiterate society).
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The artwork is amazing on some of these. I have cover envy right now.
posted by the webmistress at 7:06 AM on July 8, 2014

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