Tag Archives: dime novels

Be Rootin’, Be Tootin’, Be Readin’: A Look Into Cowboys Across Special Collections

The Wild West has been a source for literary inspiration as long as people have lived and settled there. Special Collections and Archives hosts a variety of Wild West stories across popular mediums, including dime novels and small books.

First published in 1860, dime novels became a popular source of media for young audiences and adults alike (Cassidy, 2011). Dime novels provided cheap entertainment and were popular among Civil War soldiers as well as children, although there was quickly a rising moral panic about the contents of these inexpensive texts corrupting America’s youth. Filled with tales of cowboys, Native Americans, gold, and adventure, the dime novels were exciting and sometimes scandalous material churned out at an impressive rate. Margaret Cassidy cites an 1896 copycat train robbery by young men with a collection of “blood and thunder” dime novels stashed away in their den in her speech “Pernicious Stuff”. This robbery and other crimes like it pulled the same moral panic that video games inspired nearly a century later, as violent and dangerous media that confuses their parents and corrupts the youth.

Dime novels were often set in the heyday of Manifest Destiny, as the American government pushed settlements west, spearheaded by cavalry, wagon trains, and cowboys. Antagonists were created from individuals who stood as barriers this aim: train robbers, Native Americans. In this manner, dime novels seem to follow the narrow point of view of white men, however women are occasionally given the spotlight, as in “Fred Fearnot and the Ranch Girl Owner; And How She Held Her Own.” by Hal Standish, published in 1918.

Perusing these dime novels also allows readers to view ads and propaganda statements that reflected their times, including wartime rationing during World War I, as well as advertisements for other dime novels, as included in these 1918 dime novel advertisements. (For more information on the Dime Novels Collection, click this link.)

The Western remained to be a popular setting for stories for decades to come. The Robert M. Ervin Jr. Collection contains a wide variety of comic books, serials, and monograph that covers a multitude of genres including science fiction, fantasy, and Westerns. The Ervin Collection contains multiple Better Little Books, petite texts containing stories and illustrations involving popular characters, such as the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, and Gene Aughtry. These tiny tomes cost about fifteen cents and were popular with young readers.

References:
“Pernicious Stuff” Nineteenth Century Media, the Children Who Loved Them, and the Adults Who Worried about Them. (2011). ETC: A Review of General Semantics68(3), 304–315. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hus&AN=64432725&site=eds-live&scope=site

Finding aid: https://archives.lib.fsu.edu/repositories/10/resources/1169

(re)Introducing the Dime Novels Collection

Subbasement
A view of one of the Special Collections & Archives storage modules in the subbasement

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Bilbo tells his nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business… going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same might be said for visiting the subbasement of Strozier Library; it’s a dangerous thing, because you never know what new projects you might stumble upon. In this case, it was six boxes of uncatalogued dime novels stuffed unceremoniously into Hollinger boxes. Where did they come from? How long had they been here? Although we seemed to have more questions than answers, we knew we wanted to get these items stored properly and cataloged so that they would be available to researchers. And so, I was given the opportunity to rehouse and process my very first archival collection. Now, I would like to (re)introduce the Dime Novels Collection!

Dime Novels
Different dime novel formats (MSS 2015-003)

“Dime novels” is the term given to mass-market fiction publications from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, which really ranged in price from five to twenty cents. They are essentially the American equivalent of Great Britain’s “penny dreadfuls.” Dime novels revolved around themes of action, adventure, and crime, sometimes drawing on contemporary and historical events like the American Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. Some come in a magazine-sized format, others as thicker, twenty cent pocket-sized editions. While they were never prized for their literary excellence, dime novels were a widely popular form of entertainment and continued to remain popular among collectors, inspiring periodicals like Dime Novel Roundup, a collector’s guide.

20 cent novels
20 cent thicker-format dime novels stored in boxes, protected by transparent sleeves

Although dime novels can be cataloged as books and given individual call numbers, the FSU Dime Novels Collection has been kept together as a collection. While a single dime novel might be an object of interest to a researchers studying depictions of Native Americans in popular literature or turn-of-the-century graphic design, the collection is also valuable as a whole. Along with the dime novels, I found handwritten note cards with titles and check-marked lists of issues owned, which bear testament to an unnamed collector. These sorts of notes give us a sense of how the dime novels were used and what importance they held. The value of the collection as a whole, as it was developed by its collector, would be lost if the dime novels were separated and cataloged individually.

FullSizeRender
Pocket-sized dime novels stored in a Hollinger box

Because they were designed to be cheap, mass-produced, and temporary, dime novels have often not survived over time or survived in poor condition. The FSU Dime Novels Collection has some serious condition issues. The acidity of the paper has made the novels extremely brittle, and this was exasperated by less-than-ideal storage conditions. Now, each dime novel has been placed in an archival-quality plastic sleeve, grouped according to titles, and stored in acid-free boxes. The smaller, pocket-sized dime novels were stored upright in individual folders separated by dividers in a Hollinger box. Pocket-sized novels with loose or detached covers were given additional protection from a card stock enclosure.

To find out more about this collection, view the Dime Novels Collection finding aid, which includes an additional description of the collection and list of titles included.