Denis J. Hickey takes a look at the inexpensive paperbacks which championed adventurers in the Wild West and were read by millions …
Erastus flavel Beadle is the man we have to thank for the dime novel series that led to thousands of imitations over thirty years.
Beadle was attracted to the idea of a sequence on Wild West characters, real or imaginary, when his earlier ten-cent songbooks proved successful. But even he was surprised by public reaction to the new series: between 1860-65 total sales were almost five million copies.
The astute Beadle realised that in order to attract and maintain a mass readership one must offer a standardised product and, with his editor, Orville J. Victor, and a pool of writers, they perfected a formula of imaginative characters that readers would avidly follow.
The idea was not strictly an original one, being borrowed from a successful series of adventure tales that had been published in Boston from 1844 by Maturin Ballou and Frederick Gleason.
Beadle assembled a group of writers that could complete a novel over a couple of days. His most prolific writer, Colonel Prentiss Ingraham (1843-1904), wrote over six hundred of the novels and is said to have written a complete thirty-thousand novelette in twenty-four hours! Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Ann S. Stephens was the first of the dime novels (pictured above).
It sold over 65,000 copies following its June 9, 1860 appearance and ran to over 320 issues to the 1920s. Beadle ultimately became a millionaire, retiring to his Cooperstown, New York, estate where he died in 1894.
The term ‘Dime Novel’ is a misnomer as there was a slight variation in price depending on a particular publisher and length of novel. The earlier Dime editions were issued with a plain cover but issue no. 29 had a woodblock print.
Reader-interest was maintained through the novels being short, rarely in excess of thirty thousand words of some 100 pages.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own