Popular fiction of the late-19th and early-20th centuries captivated the imaginations of readers through tales of the Wild West and pirate escapades on the high seas. Often, these gripping sagas were the indispensible content presented in dime novels, paperback publications first printed in the mid-1800s and marketed for their ease of consumption and affordability.
Now, a substantial collection of dime novels-750 in all-is one of the recent additions to the Hobart and William Smith Colleges archives, which houses the rare books, photographs, manuscripts, and other historical materials of HWS.
Featuring fictionalized characters of the American frontier such as Buffalo Bill, the newly acquired dime novel collection offers a sweeping view of the popular literature from an era gone-by. The stories, which often targeted the interests of young readers, served as an important form of entertainment during the time period.
“Many of the first issues had Western themes, but as the interests of the readers changed, the publications turned toward urban life for stories, even writing about detectives in the city,” says Katie Lamontagne, HWS archivist and special collections librarian.
Lamontagne says the publishers attempted to draw the attention of more readers by experimenting with the format of dime novels, often changing the size of the works over the decades. The dime novel paperbacks were published in four different sizes, she says, but most are similar in size and shape to the modern-day comic book.
The covers of the works were printed either in color or black and white, with the later of the two indicative of earlier publication years. Many of the story’s authors were women, even though women weren’t necessarily the target readership at the time.
Lamontagne says the content and context of the dime novels could serve a range of research purposes for scholarly interests such as history, literature, culture, race and gender.
Overall, the collection is a significant acquisition for the archives, which is located in the Warren Hunting Smith Library. Arriving this past July from St. John Fisher College, the dime novels rejoin the extensive Joseph J. Myler ’19 Collection of Half Dime Novels, which includes more than 1,000 issues.
“The Myler family has donated several historical items of interest to the archives in recent years. We’re delighted to be able to reunite Joseph Myler’s dime novel collection and to have it housed in the Warren Hunting Smith Library,” says Vincent Boisselle, director of the Warren Hunting Smith Library, which houses the archives. “Dime novels are a unique reflection of 19th century popular fiction, and we are happy that the HWS community will have the opportunity to make use of them in the classroom and in their research.”
The Joseph J. Myler ’19 Collection of Half Dime Novels includes 992 of Beadle’s Half Dime Library, with publication dates ranging from 1877 to 1905, as well as 44 issues of the Dime Novel Club, which commenced publishing in 1945. The collection, along with Myler’s records and correspondences concerning the comprehensive collection, was donated to the Colleges by Myler’s son, Gene Myler.
Myler, who was a member of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Board of Trustees from 1939-1959, served as chair of the board from 1948-1952. He was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from HWS in 1959.