Dime novel

The dime novel is a form of late 19th-century and early 20th-century U.S. popular fiction issued in series of inexpensive paperbound editions. The term dime novel has been used as a catchall term for several different but related forms, referring to story papers, five- and ten-cent weeklies, "thick book" reprints, and sometimes early pulp magazines.[notes 1] The term was used as a title as late as 1940, in the short-lived pulp magazine Western Dime Novels. In the modern age, the term dime novel has been used to refer to quickly written, lurid potboilers, usually as a pejorative to describe a sensationalized but superficial literary work.

Seth Jones
Cover of Seth Jones; or, The Captives of the Frontier by Edward S. Ellis (1860)


Cover of Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter (1860)

In 1860, the publishers Erastus and Irwin Beadle released a new series of cheap paperbacks, Beadle's Dime Novels.[1] Dime novel became a general term for similar paperbacks produced by various publishers in the early twentieth century. The first book in the Beadle series was Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Ann S. Stephens, dated June 9, 1860.[2] The novel was essentially a reprint of Stephens's earlier serial, which had appeared in the Ladies' Companion magazine in February, March and April 1839. It sold more than 65,000 copies in the first few months after its publication as a dime novel.[3] Dime novels varied in size, even in the first Beadle series, but were mostly about 6.5 by 4.25 inches (16.5 by 10.8 cm), with 100 pages. The first 28 were published without a cover illustration, in a salmon-colored paper wrapper. A woodblock print was added in issue 29, and the first 28 were reprinted with illustrated covers. The books were priced, of course, at ten cents.

This series ran for 321 issues and established almost all the conventions of the genre, from the lurid and outlandish story to the melodramatic double titling used throughout the series, which ended in the 1920s. Most of the stories were frontier tales reprinted from the numerous serials in the story papers and other sources,[notes 2] but many were original stories.

As the popularity of dime novels increased, original stories came to be the norm. The books were reprinted many times, sometimes with different covers, and the stories were often further reprinted in different series and by different publishers.[notes 3]

The literacy rate increased around the time of the American Civil War, and Beadle's Dime Novels were immediately popular among young, working-class readers. By the end of the war, numerous competitors, such as George Munro and Robert DeWitt, were crowding the field, distinguishing their product only by title and the color of the paper wrappers. Beadle & Adams had their own alternate "brands", such as the Frank Starr line. As a whole, the quality of the fiction was derided by highbrow critics, and the term dime novel came to refer to any form of cheap, sensational fiction, rather than the specific format.

Nonetheless, the pocket-sized sea, Western, railway, circus, gold-digger, and other adventures were an instant success. Author Armin Jaemmrich observes that Alexis de Tocqueville's theses in Democracy in America (1835) says that in democratic and socially permeable societies, like that of the U.S., the lower classes were not "naturally indifferent to science, literature, and the arts: only it must be acknowledged that they cultivate them after their own fashion, and bring to the task their own peculiar qualifications and deficiencies." He found that in aristocratic societies education and interest in literature were confined to a small upper class, and that the literary class would arrive at a "sort of aristocratic jargon, ... hardly less remote from pure language than was the coarse dialect of the people."[4] According to Tocqueville, due to the heterogeneity of its population, the situation in the U.S. was different, and people were asking for reading matter. Since, in his view, practically every American was busy earning a living with no time for obtaining a higher education let alone for timeconsuming distractions, they preferred books which "may be easily procured, quickly read, and which require no learned researches to be understood ... they require rapid emotions, startling passages .... Small productions will be more common than bulky books ... The object of authors will be to astonish rather than to please, and to stir the passions more than to charm the taste." Written twenty-five years prior to the emergence of the dimes, his words read like an exact anticipation of their main characteristics.[5]


Adding to the general confusion as to what is or is not a dime novel, many of the series, though similar in design and subject, cost ten to fifteen cents. Beadle & Adams complicated the matter by issuing some titles in the same salmon-colored covers at different prices. Also, there were a number of ten-cent, paper-covered books of the period that featured medieval romance stories and melodramatic tales. This makes it hard to define what falls in the category of the dime novel, with classification depending on format, price, or style of material. Examples of dime novel series that illustrate the diversity of the form include Bunce's Ten Cent Novels, Brady's Mercury Stories, Beadle's Dime Novels, Irwin P. Beadle's Ten Cent Stories, Munro's Ten Cent Novels, Dawley's Ten Penny Novels, Fireside Series, Chaney's Union Novels, DeWitt's Ten Cent Romances, Champion Novels, Frank Starr's American Novels, Ten Cent Novelettes, Richmond's Sensation Novels, and Ten Cent Irish Novels.

The New Dime Novel Series introduced color covers but reprinted stories from the original series

In 1874, Beadle & Adams added the novelty of color to the covers when their New Dime Novels series replaced the flagship title. The New Dime Novels were issued with a dual numbering system on the cover, one continuing the numbering from the first series and the second and more prominent one indicating the number in the current series; for example, the first issue was numbered 1 (322). The stories were mostly reprints from the first series. Like its predecessor, Beadle's New Dime Novels ran for 321 issues, until 1885.


Much of the content of dime novels came from story papers, which were weekly, eight-page newspaper-like publications, varying in size from tabloid to full-size newspaper format and usually costing five or six cents. They started in the mid-1850s and were immensely popular, some titles being issued for over fifty years on a weekly schedule. They are perhaps best described as the television of their day, containing a variety of serial stories and articles, with something aimed at each member of the family, and often illustrated profusely with woodcuts. Popular story papers included The Saturday Journal, Young Men of America, Golden Weekly, Golden Hours, Good News, and Happy Days.[notes 4]

Most of the stories in dime novels stood alone, but in the late 1880s series characters began to appear and quickly grew in popularity. The original Frank Reade stories first appeared in Boys of New York. The Old Sleuth, appearing in The Fireside Companion story paper beginning in 1872, was the first dime-novel detective and began the trend away from the western and frontier stories that dominated the story papers and dime novels up to that time. He was the first character to use the word sleuth to denote a detective, the word's original definition being that of a bloodhound trained to track. He is also responsible for the popularity of the use of the word old in the names of competing dime novel detectives, such as Old Cap Collier, Old Broadbrim, Old King Brady, Old Lightning, and Old Ferret, among many others. Nick Carter first appeared in 1886 in the New York Weekly. Frank Reade, the Old Sleuth and Nick Carter had their own ten-cent weekly titles within a few years.[notes 5]

Old Sleuth 40 pt 1
Old Sleuth Library, 1888
New York Detective Library 77
Frank Tousey's major black-and-white library, 1884

Changing formats

In 1873, the house of Beadle & Adams introduced a new ten-cent format, 9 by 13.25 inches (229 mm × 337 mm), with only 32 pages and a black-and-white illustration on the cover, under the title New and Old Friends. It was not a success, but the format was so much cheaper to produce that they tried again in 1877 with The Fireside Library and Frank Starr's New York Library. The first reprinted English love stories, the second contained hardier material, but both titles caught on. Publishers were no less eager to follow a new trend then than now. Soon the newsstands were flooded by ten-cent weekly "libraries". These publications also varied in size, from as small as 7 x 10 inches (The Boy's Star Library is an example) to 8.5 x 12 (New York Detective Library). The Old Cap Collier Library was issued in both sizes and also in booklet form. Each issue tended to feature a single story, unlike the story papers, and many of them were devoted to a single character. Frontier stories, evolving into westerns, were still popular, but the new vogue tended to urban crime stories. One of the most successful titles, Frank Tousey's New York Detective Library eventually came to alternate stories of the James Gang with stories of Old King Brady, detective, and (in a rare occurrence in the dime novel) several stories which featured both, with Old King Brady doggedly on the trail of the vicious gang.[notes 6]

The competition was fierce, and publishers were always looking for an edge. Once again, color came into play when Frank Tousey introduced a weekly with brightly colored covers in 1896. Street & Smith countered by issuing a weekly in a smaller format with muted colors. Such titles as New Nick Carter Weekly (continuing the original black-and-white Nick Carter Library), Tip-Top Weekly (introducing Frank Merriwell) and others were 7 x 10 inches with thirty-two pages of text, but the 8.5 x 11 Tousey format carried the day, and Street & Smith soon followed suit. The price was also dropped to five cents, making the magazines more accessible to children. This would be the last major permutation of the product before it evolved into pulp magazines. Ironically, for many years it has been the nickel weeklies that most people refer to when using the term dime novel.

Secret Service COLOR
One of the most popular color-covered nickel weeklies, Secret Service, no. 225, May 15, 1903

The nickel weeklies were popular, and their numbers grew quickly. Frank Tousey and Street & Smith dominated the field. Tousey had his "big six": Work and Win (featuring Fred Fearnot, a serious rival to the soon-to-be-popular Frank Merriwell), Secret Service, Pluck and Luck, Wild West Weekly, Fame and Fortune Weekly, and The Liberty Boys of '76, each of which issued over a thousand copies weekly.[notes 7] Street & Smith had New Nick Carter Weekly, Tip Top Weekly, Buffalo Bill Stories, Jesse James Stories, Brave & Bold Weekly and many others. The Tousey stories were generally the more lurid and sensational of the two.

Perhaps the most confusing of the various formats lumped together under the term dime novel are the so-called "thick-book" series, most of which were published by Street & Smith, J. S. Ogilvie and Arthur Westbrook. These books were published in series, contained roughly 150 to 200 pages, and were 4.75 by 7 inches (121 mm × 178 mm), often with color covers on a higher-grade stock. They reprinted multiple stories from the five- and ten-cent weeklies, often slightly rewritten to tie them together.

AmDetSeries no. 21
An example of a "thick book" series, American Detective Series, no. 21, Arthur Westbrook Co.

All dime-novel publishers were canny about reusing and refashioning material, but Street & Smith excelled at it. They developed the practice of publishing four consecutive, related tales of, for example, Nick Carter, in the weekly magazine, then combining the four stories into one edition of the related thick-book series, in this instance, the New Magnet Library.[notes 8] The Frank Merriwell stories appeared in the Medal, New Medal and Merriwell libraries, Buffalo Bill in the Buffalo Bill Library and Far West Library, and so on. The thick books were still in print as late as the 1930s but carry the copyright date of the original story, often as early as the late nineteenth century, leading some dealers and new collectors today to erroneously assume they have original dime novels when the books are only distantly related.


In 1896, Frank Munsey had converted his juvenile magazine Argosy into a fiction magazine for adults, the first of the pulp magazines. By the turn of the century, new high-speed printing techniques combined with cheaper pulp paper allowed him to drop the price from twenty-five cents to ten cents, and sales of the magazine took off.[6] In 1910, Street and Smith converted two of their nickel weeklies, New Tip Top Weekly and Top Notch Magazine, into pulps; in 1915, Nick Carter Stories, itself a replacement for the New Nick Carter Weekly, became Detective Story Magazine, and in 1919, New Buffalo Bill Weekly became Western Story Magazine. Harry Wolff, the successor in interest to the Frank Tousey titles, continued to reprint many of them into the mid-1920s, most notably Secret Service, Pluck and Luck, Fame and Fortune and Wild West Weekly. These two series were purchased by Street & Smith in 1926 and converted into pulp magazines the following year, effectively ending the era of the dime novel.


The Liberty Boys Running the Blockade, by Harry Moore - April 7 1922
Cover of The Liberty Boys Running the Blockade, by Harry Moore, in The Liberty Boys of '76, April 7, 1922
The Boy Nihilist, by Allan Arnold in Pluck and Luck June 16 1909
Cover of The Boy Nihilist, by Allan Arnold, in Pluck and Luck, June 16, 1909

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, collecting dime novels became popular, and prices soared. Even at that time, the cheap publications were crumbling into dust and becoming hard to find. Two collectors, Charles Bragin and Ralph Cummings, issued a number of reprints of hard-to-find titles from some of the weekly libraries.[notes 9]

See also


  1. ^ The English equivalents were generally called penny dreadfuls or shilling shockers. The German and French equivalents were called "Groschenromane" and "livraisons à dix centimes", respectively. American firms also issued foreign editions of many of their works, especially as series characters came into vogue.
  2. ^ Lax copyright enforcement allowed the publication of many foreign literary works without payment of royalties.
  3. ^ The proliferation of reprints has been a source of confusion about first printings. As a general rule, the date of the printing can be determined from the other titles in the series listed on the back cover. Dime novels were issued in twos or sometimes fours, so a first printing does not list more than three numbers beyond the number on the cover, whereas a later printing may list a hundred titles beyond the cover number. The books are so rare now that the lateness of the printing does not much affect their price.
  4. ^ There were English story papers as well, containing much the same sort of content. The stories were similarly reprinted in various other formats.
  5. ^ Nick Carter has proved to be one of the most durable, if bland, fictional characters of all time. In one incarnation or another, he has been active for over 100 years, most recently as Nick Carter, Killmaster, in a long-running paperback series.
  6. ^ Nick Carter was also a character in stories featuring other detectives, such as Old Broadbrim, much as superheroes crossover in today's comic books.
  7. ^ Several shorter runs are among the most collectible today: Frank Reade Weekly (the color-cover followup to the Frank Reade Library) and The James Boys.
  8. ^ In addition, Street & Smith bought the rights to other detective stories and had them strung together and rewritten into Nick Carter stories, allowing the New Magnet Library to run for over 1000 issues.
  9. ^ These reprints turn up frequently and are often confused with originals, as the notice of their reprint status is not prominent.


  1. ^ Lyons (2011), p. 156.
  2. ^ Lyons (2011), p. 156.
  3. ^ Lyons (2011), pp. 156–157.
  4. ^ Jaemmrich (2016), Chapter XIII.
  5. ^ Jaemmrich (2016)
  6. ^ Lyons (2011), p. 156.
  7. ^ "Dime Novel Collection". The Library of Congress: Special Collections. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Dime Novels: The Rise of the American Hero". YouTube. Retrieved 8 May 2018.


External links

Deadwood Dick (serial)

Not to be confused with the nineteenth century dime novel hero, Deadwood Dick

Deadwood Dick (1940) was the 11th serial released by Columbia Pictures.

Detective Story Magazine

Detective Story Magazine was an American magazine published by Street & Smith from October 15, 1915 to Summer, 1949 (1,057 issues). It was one of the first pulp magazines devoted to detective fiction and consisted of short stories and serials. While the publication was the publishing house's first detective-fiction pulp magazine in a format resembling a modern paperback (a "thick book" in dime-novel parlance), Street & Smith had only recently ceased publication of the dime-novel series Nick Carter Weekly, which concerned the adventures of a young detective.

From February 21, 1931 to its demise, the magazine was titled Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine. During half of its 34-year life, the magazine was popular enough to support weekly issues. Ludwig Wittgenstein, the eminent philosopher, was among the magazine's readership.

Dime Western

A Dime Western is a modern term for Western-themed dime novels, which spanned the era of the 1860s—1900s. Most would hardly be recognizable as a modern western, having more in common with James Fennimore Cooper's Leatherstocking saga, but many of the standard elements originated here: a cool detached hero, a frontiersman (later a cowboy), a fragile heroine in danger of the despicable outlaw, savage Indians, violence and gunplay, and the final outcome where Truth and Light wins over all. Often real characters — such as Buffalo Bill or the famous Kit Carson — were fictionalized, as were the exploits of notorious outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James. Buffalo Bill's literary incarnation provides the transition from the frontier tales to the cowboy story, as he straddles both of the genres.

There were several different formats. From 1860 to roughly 1880, the stories appeared in small pamphlets, generally about 100 pages each, and sold for ten to fifteen cents. These books were issued at irregular intervals, and they were kept in print for years, as well as being reprinted under different titles. Later, the weekly magazine format came to predominate. These libraries were 32 pages, and sold for a nickel or a dime. Both formats were printed on cheap acidic paper, and relatively few have survived the years, despite circulation measured in the tens of millions.

In 1919, Street & Smith canceled the last of their five-cent weeklies (New Buffalo Bill Weekly) and replaced it with the pulp Western Story Magazine, which brought the western into its modern form. The genre continued to evolve as new media came along, and mass market paperbacks and comic books maintained the western story's popularity well into the late twentieth century. Its popularity has waned in the 21st century.

Frank Reade

Frank Reade was the protagonist of a series of dime novels published primarily for boys. The first novel, Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, an imitation of Edward Ellis's The Steam Man of the Prairies (1868), was written by Harry Enton and serialized in the Frank Tousey juvenile magazine Boys of New York, February 28 through April 24, 1876. The four Frank Reade stories concerned adventures with the character's inventions, various robot-like mechanisms powered by steam.

A very long series of juvenile novels followed which featured the son of Frank Reade, Frank Reade Jr., as its teenaged inventor-hero. These stories were written by Luis P. Senarens (1865–1939) with the pseudonym Noname. Extremely popular during their time, they were often reprinted and new stories have been created as recently as 2011, in the pulp short story collection, Wildthyme in Purple.

His inventions included airships of the dirigible-balloon and helicopter type, submersibles, steam-driven and electrical land vehicles, and steam- and electric-powered robots.

The Frank Reade stories are perhaps the best known of the many boys' invention fiction series published in America during the later 19th century. Frank Reade Jr. has appeared as an older man in Alan Moore's Nemo: Heart of Ice, and the Reade family as a whole has also been featured in Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention.

John R. Coryell

John Russell Coryell (1851–1924) was a prolific dime novel author. He wrote under the Nicolas Carter and Bertha M. Clay house pseudonyms, and, like many of his fellow dime novelists under many other pseudonyms, including Tyman Currio, Lillian R. Drayton, Julia Edwards, Geraldine Fleming, Margaret Grant, Barbara Howard, Harry Dubois Milman, Milton Quarterly and Lucy May Russell.Coryell also was an anarchist and close friend of Emma Goldman. He was an early and frequent contributor to Mother Earth (magazine), Goldman's journal, as well as a teacher at the Modern School (United States), founded by Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

Justice Riders

Justice Riders is a 1997 Elseworlds prestige format one-shot, from DC Comics, written by Chuck Dixon, with art by J.H. Williams III.

The story involves the Justice League of America recast in assorted roles in the Wild West. Wonder Woman is a Marshal, Booster Gold is a Maverick-style gambler, and Wally West is an outlaw, wrongly accused of the death of Barry Allen. Ted Kord is an inventor wearing a pair of antennae. Guy Gardner is a Pinkerton detective hunting Flash. Hawkman and Martian Manhunter also appear. There is also a cameo at the end by Clark Kent, as a dime novel writer.

Maxwell Lord is the villain, prefiguring his eventual unmasking as a criminal mastermind out to destroy meta-humans in actual DC continuity years later.


Laird () is a generic name for the owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate, roughly equivalent to an esquire in England, yet ranking above the same in Scotland. In the Scottish order of precedence, a laird ranks below a baron and above a gentleman. This rank is only held by those lairds holding official recognition in a territorial designation by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. They are usually styled [name] [surname] of [lairdship], and are traditionally entitled to place The Much Honoured before their name.Although the UK Government deems that "for Scottish lairds it is not necessary for the words Laird of to appear on any part of a passport, requests from applicants and passport holders for manorial titles and Scottish lairds to be included in their passports may be accepted providing documentary evidence is submitted, and recorded in the passport with the observation e.g.: THE HOLDER IS THE LORD OF THE MANOR/LAIRD OF ....... ".

The Lord Lyon, Scotland's authority on titles, has produced the following guidance regarding the current use of the term laird as a courtesy title:The term ‘laird’ has generally been applied to the owner of an estate, sometimes by the owner himself or, more commonly, by those living and working on the estate. It is a description rather than a title, and is not appropriate for the owner of a normal residential property, far less the owner of a small souvenir plot of land. The term ‘laird’ is not synonymous with that of ‘lord’ or ‘lady’.

Ownership of a souvenir plot of land is not sufficient to bring a person otherwise ineligible within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon for the purpose of seeking a grant of arms.

Historically, the term bonnet laird was applied to rural, petty landowners, as they wore a bonnet like the non-landowning classes. Bonnet lairds filled a position in society below lairds and above husbandmen (farmers), similar to the yeomen of England.

List of Old West gangs

A number of Old West gangs left a lasting impression on American history. While rare, the incidents were retold and embellished by dime novel and magazine authors during the late 19th century. The most notable shootouts took place on the American frontier in Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Some like the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral were the outcome of long-simmering feuds and rivalries but most were the result of a confrontation between outlaws and law enforcement.

Some of the more notable gangs.

Nick Carter (literary character)

Nick Carter is a fictional character that began as a dime novel private detective in 1886 and has appeared in a variety of formats over more than a century.

Ralph Adimari

Ralph T. Adimari (1902 – 1970) was an editor, researcher, and historian of the dime novel, a class of popular fiction that thrived in the mid to late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. The term "dime novels" refers to inexpensive, cheaply produced paperbacks and serials, often romance, adventure, westerns, or detective stories.

The Steam Man of the Prairies

The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis was the first U.S. science fiction dime novel and archetype of the Frank Reade series. It is one of the earliest examples of the so-called "Edisonade" genre. Ellis was a prolific 19th century author best known as a historian and biographer and a source of early heroic frontier tales in the style of James Fenimore Cooper. This novel may be inspired by the steam powered invention of Zadoc Dederick. The original novel was reissued six times from 1868 to 1904. A copy of the first 1868 printing with its cover intact is owned by the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

Western fiction

Western fiction is a genre of literature set in the American Old West frontier and typically set from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. Well-known writers of Western fiction include Zane Grey from the early 20th century and Louis L'Amour from the mid 20th century. The genre peaked around the early 1960s, largely due to the popularity of televised Westerns such as Bonanza. Readership began to drop off in the mid- to late 1970s and has reached a new low in the 2000s. Most bookstores, outside a few west American states, only carry a small number of Western fiction books.

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