Collection PS 648 D55 - Dime Novel Collection

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Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Dime Novel Collection

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Reference code

PS 648 D55

Edition area

Edition statement

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1886-1913 (Creation)

Physical description area

Physical description

approx. 4 metres textual material (45 boxes, 762 files; plus 164 files shelved separately)

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Biographical history

Introduced to American readers in 1860 by Irwin P. Beadle, the dime novel quickly grew in popularity, due to increased literacy rates, improved transportation systems, and mechanized, mass printing. England's version of the dime novel was the "penny dreadful", and these forms of paperback fiction, issued at regular intervals and priced at 10 cents an issue, were popular on both continents.

The dime novels were intended for the youthful, working-class population, and some series were eventually priced at only 5 cents, so as to make the weekly purchase more affordable for the average reader--typically, an adolescent working-class boy.

While the first dime novels contained extremely patriotic tales of Indians and pioneers, in the 1870s, different genres evolved, including detective stories, romances, urban outlaw tales, and "rags-to-riches" stories. The underlying theme of dime novel stories was that of sensationalism, and soon, the term "dime novel" came to apply to any fictional thriller released in serialised pamphlet form, regardless of the cover price. Well-respected authors' works were also reprinted in dime-novel format, including Jules Verne, Charles Dickens and Louisa M. Alcott, among others.

The most prolific publishing houses in the dime novel business were Beadle and Adams, which issued 25 series of novels, Frank Tousey, who issued 30 series, and Street and Smith, issuing 50 series.

The lurid cover illustrations were the novels' main selling point, along with familiar heroic characters featured in most series, usually having a catchy, alliterated name. Character development and continuity were secondary concerns to dime novel authors (of which there were many), and the practice of re-printing stories published in earlier dime novels was common. Many dime novel stories had also been previously published in the "story papers" that had been the choice of working-class readers before the introduction of the dime novel. The dime novel was meant solely as a light read, with enough action, suspense and heroic feats to keep the reader interested in buying the next issue. Today, they can provide us with unique insight into popular ideals and attitudes of late 19th and early 20th century America.

They can also provide us with a thrilling read.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The collection consists of a sampling of dime novels from ten novel series. Two series (the Deadwood Dick Library and Beadle's Frontier Series) are complete runs. A few issues have multiple copies. The detective story is the predominant genre in this collection, represented by significant holdings of issues from the Old Sleuth Library, the Nick Carter Library and the Secret Service series. Western adventure and romance stories are also well-represented in Beadle's Frontier Series. Despite the age and acidic paper of the dime novels, their condition ranges from Fair to Very Good, with the covers of only a few copies ripped, torn, or missing altogether. Novels are stored individually in 9 x 12 inch envelopes.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


The dime novels are arranged by series title. Series are numbered and listed in ascending chronological order, based on the original publication date of each series. Individual files within each series are arranged in ascending chronological order, based on their publication date. The folder number coincides with the individual issue number; hence, the numbering is not consecutive.

Arranged in 8 series:

file list available for all series.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

  • Latin

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

The items are housed in the University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections. Material is available for use by students, staff, and the general public in the library’s supervised reading room upon presentation of valid photo identification (e.g., ONEcard, driver’s license, passport, or citizenship card with photo).
All researchers (including students, faculty, visiting scholars, and members of the general public) must submit a Retrieval Request Form at least 24 hours before their visit to Bruce Peel Special Collections in order to be sure that library materials have been retrieved from storage and are available for their use.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

Associated materials

Three series are shelved separately in Bruce Peel Special Collections.
A copy of issue #36, along with a series description, is held in the Dime Novel Collection (Series 6).

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

July 19, 2005

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Script of description


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