Dime Novels Provide Slice of Texas Culture

Dime novels, first published in the 1860s, are one of the many types of popular literature found in The Texas Collection. The publishing house of Beadle and Adams sold the books for 10 cents, and they were an instant success.

The Texas Collection has more than 300 dime novels in addition to pulp magazines, comic strips, story serials and paperbacks,” said Michael Toon, librarian. The oldest dime novel in the collection was published in 1863.

“The earliest titles were frontier adventure tales of the Wild West, based on how Eastern writers saw Texas,” Toon explained.

The novels came of age during a time of industrial revolution, rapid population growth with resulting social changes, and advances in the democratic education of all children. Dime novels benefited from all these influences and remained on the stage of American popular literature for over 50 years.

The first issues proved to be popular in both the United States and Great Britain, where they were known as “penny dreadfuls”. New titles appeared every other week and were distributed through newsstands, dry goods emporiums and general stores.

In the beginning, there were no illustrations or color included in the early Wild West adventures. Printed on newsprint, the publishers soon realized that a lurid color cover would sell the title, no matter how poor the prose. Other publishers began cashing in on the dime novel boom. Competition grew fierce as a host of imitators joined the first publishing frenzy in American history.

Although the earliest titles were frontier adventure tales, many other sub-genres developed over the years. Dime novels enjoyed immense popularity through the 1890s and early 1900s before other forms of working class literature eclipsed them.

To make arrangements to see any of the dime novels in The Texas Collection, contact Michael Toon, librarian, at ext. 1268, or come by the library.

Michael Toon
The Texas Collection