Introduction by Helen R. SmithYellowbacks were the travellers' companion and the poor man's handbook during the second half of the nineteenth century. To some extent they replaced the penny dreadful as a cheap source of entertaining reading, in a colourful and attractive compact format, and of a higher literary standard for a now better educated population.
Michael Sadleir, in New Paths to Book Collecting, 1934, reprinted as Collecting Yellowbacks (Victorian Railway Fiction), 1938, discussed their development from the printed and ornamental glazed boards introduced as a cheaper and more decorative method of casing in the first half of the nineteenth century. From the late 1840s the yellowback soon settled into standard formats: first a narrower 12mo in various colours, and then a fatter 8vo, most often in yellow or cream boards priced at two shillings, with a pictorial design on the front. Ornamental spines usually represented the publishers' series or an author's sub-series. Artists such as Cruikshank, Phiz and A.C. Corbould were employed to illustrate the front covers.
In many cases publishers' advertisements are printed on the back cover and on the endpapers, and these are sometimes the only way of dating the volumes. Product advertising seems to be aimed mainly at women; the most common advertisements are for Pears' and Brookes' soaps, also medical and toilet preparations, noticeably Eno's Fruit Salt with its attractive chromolithographed inserts in many 1890s volumes. Specialised volumes reflect an interest in country pursuits: fishing tackle shops, a taxidermist, natural history specimen shops and Naldire's Dog Soap.
George Routledge developed a "Railway library advertiser" on the endpapers of many of his yellowbacks from 1884 - c.1896. These printings are usually date coded, and also give the number printed. The "Advertiser" may have been used in other places, but the figures are an interesting reflection of the growth in yellowback publication. From 1884 - 87 there were about 50,000 printed each year. In 1888, exceptionally, there were two printings, of 50,000 and 100,000, but the numbers increased steadily and in 1893 three batches of 100,000 were printed. After this the numbers decline.
Most works of fiction in yellowback format are stereotyped reprints of earlier cloth editions, or cheaper issues of the first one-volume edition of three-deckers - though some are actual first or first one-volume editions. They often remained in print over long periods, and are sometimes difficult to date. By the end of the century the yellowback was the chosen format for sensational fiction and adventure stories which today would appear in paperback. Another type of content well represented in this catalogue is cheap educational material, which remained largely in the smaller 1/- or 1/6d format. A wide range of manuals and handbooks provided information on the natural world, domestic and legal matters as well as cheap biographies of national heroes and statesmen.
This catalogue contains an excellent representative selection of yellowback production
from all periods of its development. Fiction includes cheap literary classics by Fielding, Richardson and Jane Austen, railway reading of contemporary novelists from Ainsworth and Lever to Trollope, Hardy and Henry James, through to the hunting and sporting novels of the '80s and '90s and more ephemeral Ruritanian adventure stories, usually by Americans.
Since the last Jarndyce catalogue of good - fine yellowbacks, LXX, published in Summer 1990, much bibliographical work on this genre has been done by Dr. Chester W. Topp. Michael Sadleir listed a large collection in the second volume of Nineteenth Century Fiction, 1951, but Dr. Topp has now published four substantial volumes based on his own extensive collection, and five more are projected. These are listed on the final page of this catalogue; those in print are available from Jarndyce, and orders can be taken for future volumes. Topp attempts to chart the chronological output of all the major publishers with full publishing history of the volumes, and this catalogue gives Topp references where possible. We have here issues, and even a few works, not to be found in his collections, and this is another indication of the massive scale of yellowback production.
Despite the numbers produced, one hundred years and more later very few survive in good-plus condition. It has taken more than ten years for us to assemble another 'goodplus to fine' catalogue.
Note on description & condition
All items here are in yellow or cream boards, with advertisements on the endpapers and were originally priced at two shillings, unless otherwise stated. Included here are books in at least 'good-plus' condition; the vast majority are v.g., v.g.- fine or FINE. Yellowbacks in good-poor condition are listed in the accompanying catalogue, CXLII.
Spine styles of the Select Library of Fiction.
Chapman and Hall revived its earlier Select Library of Fiction in conjunction with W.H. Smith in 1862. The first volumes reissued included many titles by Lever and Trollope issued with the royal arms style spines in ordinary and double-volume styles (A: item no. 514, 1866 and B: item no. 527, 1877) and with a harp for novels with an Irish theme (C: item no. 310, 1873). The most common Chapman and Hall style in the 1870s was that of Atlas bearing the globe (D: item 282, 1882). When W.H. Smith sold his copyrights in 1881, Ward, Lock bought the majority. They issued their own style with a small dolphin in a roundel for their renumbered Select Library (E: item no. 8, 1894 - a late example) but also occasionally reused the royal arms for their own Library of Select Authors (F: item no. 289, 1885). This became the name of the whole series with its Author sub-series (G: item no. 515, 1882).
|G.||Trollope||Dr. Wortle's School||515||1882|