Penny Dreadfuls • Newly acquired

Proof covers for the first 51 numbers of the Aldine Publishing Company’s “O’er Land and Sea” Library. 51 single octavo leaves, rough trimmed, some mounted on thin card, others showing signs of mounting. [London, 1890-1891]. Call number (Ex) Item 4697736.

The Aldine Publishing Company, 9 Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, London, “was the foremost of the reprint presses that, from the late 1880s, published American ‘dime novels’ in Britain, notably those featuring such favourites as Frank Reade Junior, Buffalo Bill, and Deadwood Dick.” * In 1890, A. P. C. issued number one in “The Aldine ‘O’er Land and Sea’ Library.” The series ran for 408 numbers, the last issued in 1905. A typical number cost 2 pence, and consisted of 64 closely-printed pages, with color-printed wrappers. The company thrived until the late 1920s to early 1930s, when changes in reading taste caused decline. A book salesman noted this change in a purchaser’s preference: “Highwaymen, pirates, and red Indians don’t excite his imagination; he wants fights with submarines, daring stunts in aeroplanes, and wonderful electric machines, … tales of Dick Turpin, Claude Duval, and Jack Sheppard interest him not.”

This gathering of the covers of the first 51 in the series came from the collection of Barry Ono, the Penny Dreadful King, whose collection was bequeathed to the British Library in 1941. Link here for details about the Barry Ono collection, including a portrait photograph of him surrounded by examples from his collection.

Among his many major purchases was the entire set of editorial file copies of the Aldine Publishing Company. Together with this gathering of covers is a photocopy of a typed note, dated May 31, 1940, signed by Ono announcing his purchase and stating that “these fine old wrappers are undoubtedly the only set in existence.”

*John Springhall, “‘Disseminating Impure Literature’: ‘: The ‘Penny Dreadful’ Publishing Business Since 1860,” The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 47, No. 3. (Aug., 1994), pp. 578.