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The Collections: Special databases: Chapbook Collection

User's Guide to the Lilly Library Chapbook Index

Search the Chapbook Collection

The Lilly Library Chapbook Collection has at its core 1,900 chapbooks from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and the United States, which were part of the Elisabeth W. Ball collection of children's books, received by the Library in 1983 from the Ball Foundation.

Chapbooks, as included in this collection, are "booklets, normally of eight or twenty-four pages, though other multiples of four can be encountered, usually illustrated on the title-page by a wood-cut, containing verse or prose matter calculated to appeal to a popular readership and sold most commonly for a penny either by pedlars or in some cases by the printer himself" (T, p. 76).

"Although they varied in size, the small ones, as a rule, being intended for children, the majority were about 5 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches in size . . . but there was really nothing fixed about their size or about the number of their pages. Selling foramounts ranging from a few farthings to a shilling, they were distributed by thousands, going into numerous homes and constituting the only reading matter of the family. The printing, in many cases, was execrable, the paper was even worse, and the woodcut illustrations, some of which did duty for various tales regardless of their fitness, were sometimes worse than the type, paper, and presswork combined" (NY, p. 3).

"They contained tales of popular heroes, legend and folklore, jests, notorious murders, ballads, almanacs, nursery rhymes, school lessons, farces, biblical tales, dream lore and other popular matter" as well as songbooks known as garlands (EB 277:5).

Although chapbooks in some form have existed virtually since the invention of printing, the vast majority were printed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The rise of popular magazines and newspapers finally resulted in the demise of the chapbook by about 1850 to 1875.

In this collection we are specifically including several types of chapbooks which may, at first glance, seem to violate some of the details of the definition. For the most part these chapbooks fall into two categories, those with a non-standard (other than 4-8-16-32) number of pages and those with exceptional kinds or numbers of illustrations. Towards the end of the chapbook period (1850-1875) the readership was becoming more urban and just a shade more sophisticated. As a result printers began to produce chapbooks which were slightly more substantial either in illustration or numbers of pages. These were all cheaply printed, were frequently sold for between three-pence and six-pence, dealt with standard chapbook subject matter, and sometimes included colored printed paper wrappers. Sensational fold-out frontispieces in garish colors began to appear in the 1820s, such as in the publications of Thomas Richardson of Derby and Dean and Munday of London. Occasionally engravings of poor quality replaced the woodcut illustrations. Because these pieces seem to represent the final period of chapbook printing just prior to the appearance of popular literature in true book or serial form, they are included in the chapbook collection. Cheap juvenile picture books with one poorly colored woodcut per page, usually eight pages long and with thin colored paper covers were produced by printers such as Catnach and his successors, Ryle and W. S. Fortey, A. Park, and M. L. Marks, all of London. In America similar chapbooks appeared with decorated, colored paper wrappers, and were often designated as "Albany Edition" or "Mark's Edition." Because of the poor quality of printing and coloring, and the generally insubstantial nature of such pieces they are included in this collection of chapbooks. Similar, but larger, and often bound productions of McLoughlin in New York and T. Goode in London are not included for they are clearly across the border and within the realm of children's picture books.

Cataloging for the Chapbook Collection consists of fourteen basic pieces of information: call number, author, title, uniform title, publisher or printer, place of publication, secondary publisher and place, date, date source, pagination, country of publication, subject, and various comments. Each chapbook was assigned one of nineteen subject categories. These categories are:

The Date Source Bibliography lists the sources used to determine the dates of publication of the chapbooks.

Chapbook Collection call number: PR974.A1

For further information about the Chapbook Collection and any related materials contact The Lilly Library, Indiana University, 1200 E. Seventh Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47405. Telephone: (812) 855-2452. Fax: (812)855-3143. E-mail:

This guide was preparted by by Diane K. Bauerle and Judith E. Endelman, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, June 1985.

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Last updated: 29 November 2011

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