Copies of the catalogue are available from the Rare Books Department

Yellowbacks

26th November 1991 - 2nd March 1992

 

An exhibition of material from the Monash University Library 
Rare Books Collection

Cover illustration: 
        Sullivan, John L.        Life and reminiscences of a nineteenth century gladiator

Cover illustration: Item 22 Sullivan, John L. 
Life and reminiscences of a nineteenth century gladiator
(London, Routledge, 1892)


Introduction

"Yellowbacks" were first brought to the attention of bibliophiles in 1934 by John Carter in his New paths in book collecting. He began his essay by defining the genre:-

"Yellow-back" was the nickname given to the particular type of cheap edition evolved about the middle of last century for display and sale on railway bookstalls. It was usually (but not always) a cheap edition of fiction; it usually (but not always) cost two shillings; its basic colouring was usually (but not always) yellow - to which last characteristic, not surprisingly, it owed its sobriquet.

The first "yellowback" is popularly held to heave been Horace Mayhew's Letters left at the pastrycook's (1853, but issued Dec. 1852). This however had white wrappers, not yellow boards. Ingram, Cooke & Co., the publishers, followed this in April 1853 with Money: how to get, how to keep, and how to use it. It appeared with a pictorial cover on a yellow background and the "Yellowback" proper was born.

The format was derived from the various cheap series issued in the 1840s. Typically, these were sold to travellers through W. H. Smith's Railway Bookstalls.

The titles published in these series and later as yellowbacks were usually light reading but there was also a great deal of non-fiction material and literary classics by established English, American, and European writers.

The standard yellowback cost two shillings, much cheaper than the 31/6d charged for the "three-deckers" (the typical three-volume Victorian novel) or the five shillings for the single volume editions. Most of the established publishing firms tried their hand at the yellowback market. In Australia, from about the 1870s, George Robertson of Melbourne produced yellowbacks.

Their distinctive character lies in the artwork especially commissioned for the covers. Artists such as Cruikshank, Leech and Phiz were involved. The scenes were often lurid and must have caused the yellowbacks to stand out from the more expensive cloth-covered books of the period.

Although most of the titles were re-prints, many works, particularly the factual and the humorous items, were produced especially for this format. Students of such important Victorian writers as George Augustus Sala, Edmund Yates, and Douglas Jerrold will need to refer to yellowbacks to find some of the original works of these authors. Rolf Boldrewood's Old Melbourne Memories (item 142) appeared first in 1884 as one of George Robertson's yellowbacks.

Apart from the textual and graphic interest in these books, they are significant examples of an important stage in publishing history. They mark a response by the publishers to the greater demand for cheap reading matter resulting from the increase in literacy during Queen Victoria's reign.

The yellowback survived into the twentieth century. Popular writers such as Nat Gould were still appearing in this format into the 1920s. Carter singles out Martin Tupper's Stephen Langton (item 95) as one of the last surviving yellowback titles.

Richard Overell
Rare Books Librarian.


Acknowledgments.

The cover illustrations are from items 59, 127, 130, 150.

Postscript.

Since this exhibition was mounted in late 1991, we have continued to add considerably to our Yellowback collection. The genre has received much attention, particularly with the publication of Chester W. Topp's seven volume bibliography, Victorian yellowbacks & paperbacks, 1849-1905. (Denver, Colo. : Hermitage Antiquarian Bookshop, 1993-2003)


Early yellowbacks and their predecessors.

The predecessors

From the early 19th century it was common for publishers to produce series, often with the word, "Library" in the title, to encourage readers to purchase sets and create their own libraries. Among the items on display are books from "Routledge's Railway Library", "The Traveller's Library", "The Family Library", "The Favourite Library" and "Green's Juvenile Library". These were usually aimed at the cheaper end of the market. The back cover of the 1854 edition of Kinglake's Eothen (item 5) carries the following explanation:-

The Traveller's Library, to be sold at one shilling each part, is intended to comprise books of valuable information and acknowledged merit, in a form adapted for reading while travelling, and at the same time of a character that will render them worthy of preservation, the price of which has hitherto confined them within a comparatively narrow circle of readers.

 

This was commonly the stated or unstated aim of publishers of such series. However in the Preface to Poems for young children (item 7), part of "Darton's Holiday Library", Adelaide O'Keefe views her intended readership rather differently:-

I do not hesitate to acknowledge that I had in view the instruction of children whose parents are of the middle, and the high, if not the HIGHEST grade of society. There have been already published so many little works most admirably suited chiefly to the humbler classes in life, that I feared to add to their number.

One of the earliest books on display is a tribute to the phenomenal popularity of Dickens' Pickwick papers. The original work was illustrated by Seymour and Phiz, but the volume here offers Illustrations to Pickwick Papers by Samuel Weller jnr. Sam Weller was of course one of the favourite characters in the novel and these illustrations were done by Thomas Onwhyn. The volume is in a "yellowback" format, but was published in 1837, at the price of nine shillings.

  1. Tytler, Patrick Fraser. Lives of Scottish worthies (London, Murray, 1832) "The Family Library, no. xxxiv." Vol. II only. Robert Hoddle's copy (see also item 11)

  2. [Onwhyn, Thomas] Illustrations to Pickwick Papers, by Samuel Weller jnr. (London, Grattan, 1837)
    * View book cover

  3. Nimrod [i.e. C. H. Apperley] The chace (London, Murray, 1852) "Murray's Reading for the Rail."
    * View book cover

  4. [Stanhope, Philip Henry] Joan of Arc, by Lord Mahon. (London, Murray, 1853) "Murray's railway Reading."

  5. [Kinglake, A. W.] Eothen. (London, Longman, 1852) 2 vols. "Traveller's Library."

  6. Crowe, Catherine. The night side of nature, or, Ghosts & ghost seers (London, Routledge, 1854) "Routledge's Railway Library."
    * View book cover

  7. O'Keefe, Adelaide. Poems for young children. (London, Darton, [1848]) "Darton's Holiday Library."

  8. Hubert Lee, or, How a boy may do good. (London, Green, [c.1850]) "Green's Juvenile Library."
    * View book cover

  9. Trimmer, Mrs. Sarah. An easy introduction to the knowledge of nature, and reading the holy scriptures : adapted to the capacities of children. (London, Grant & Griffith, [c.1850]) "The Favorite Library."
    * View book cover

Early Yellowbacks

These books, all published in the 1850s, show the yellowback before the formulaic cover was adopted. Their subject-range is, however, typical of the genre throughout its history.

We have a "novelette", a humorous work, a collection of articles, a volume of scandalous vignettes translated from the French, and an account of the fall of Sebastopol, an incident that enthralled the public, eager for news from the Crimean War.

Cuthbert Bede was the pen-name of Edward Bradley (1827-89). He is best-known for his Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford freshman (1853). Although a vicar, he was a member of the Punch circle and contributed much comic prose and verse, as well as cartoons, to that journal. Nearer and dearer (item 14), a yellowback first edition, was illustrated by the author.

Percival Leigh (1813-1889) was also involved with Punch. The illustrations to his Comic English grammar (item 13) are by John Leech.

Alfred Crowquill (Alfred Henry Forrester, 1804-1872), yet another Punch contributor, was, like Thackeray, and Cuthbert Bede, a comic writer who illustrated his own works. A bundle of crowquills (item 11) is a collection of "squibs and sketches".

Philosophers and actresses (item 10) is a translation from a work by Arsene Houssaye. Henry Vizetelly (1820-1894) published the work in his series, "Readable Books." Vizetelly made a great deal of money pirating Uncle Tom's Cabin. He later became notorious in England as the publisher and promoter of Zola, a venture which cost him a fine of one hundred pounds, and three months jail.

  1. [Houssaye, Arsene] Philosophers & actresses : scenes, vivid and picturesque, from the hundred & one dramas of art & passion / Illustrated with thirty-five engravings on wood. (London, Vizetelly, [c.1852])

  2. "Alfred Crowquill" [i.e. Alfred Henry Forrester] A bundle of Crowquills (London, Routledge, 1854) Robert Hoddle's copy with comments and a sketch by him on the front cover. Hoddle's note reads: How many valuable jewells are found under a rough, unpromising exterior.  (see also item 1)
    * View book cover

  3. Emerson, George R. Sebastopol, the story of its fall. (London, Routledge, 1855)
    * View book cover

  4. [Leigh, Percival] The comic English grammar. (London, Ward and Lock, 1856) 
    * View book cover

  5. "Cuthbert Bede" [i.e. Edward Bradley] Nearer and dearer. (London, Bentley, 1857)
    * View book cover

Non-fiction

Although the usual perception of a "yellowback" as a sensational novel with a lurid cover is substantially true, the publishers were keen to tap the market for self-education and serious reading. Hobby enthusiasts, devotees of parlour games, natural history amateurs and even debunkers of spiritualism, all found yellowbacks to their taste.

  1. Kirton, J. W. Intoxicating drinks, by the author of "Buy your own cherries". (London, Routledge, [n.d.]) In fact this book is a copy of Henry Frith's Speeches and toasts, (1883) bound in the wrong cover.
    * View book cover

  2. Delamer, Eugene Sebastian. The flower garden (London, Routledge, [1873])
    * View book cover

  3. "Cecil" [i.e. Cornelius Tongue] Records of the chase, and memoirs of celebrated sportsmen; illustrating some of the usages of olden times, and comparing them with prevailing customs. Together with an introduction to most of the fashionable hunting countries, and comments. (London, Routledge, 1877)

  4. Hindley, Charles. The book of ready-made speeches: with appropriate quotations, toasts, and sentiments. (London, Routledge, [1869])

  5. Wood, Samuel. The British bird preserver: how to skin, stuff and mount birds and animals, with a chapter on their localities, habits, and how to obtain them, also instructions in moth and butterfly-catching, setting and preserving (London, Warne, [1877])
    * View book cover

  6. Vincent, Charles W. (ed.) The Year book of facts in science and the arts for 1875. (London, Ward, Lock, 1876)
    * View book cover

  7. Wood, Rev. J. G. Common objects of the microscope, 3rd ed. (London, Routledge, 1902)
    * View book cover

  8. Sullivan, John L. Life and reminiscences of a nineteenth century gladiator (London, Routledge, 1892)
    * View book cover

  9. Ward & Lock's handy book of country pleasures, containing Wild flowers, British ferns and mosses, Marine botany (London, Ward, Lock, [188-?])
    This is a compendium volume containing three previously published works of natural history.
    * View book cover

  10. Maginnis, Arthur J. The Atlantic Ferry: its ships, men and working. (London, Whittaker, 1893)
    * View book cover

  11. [Gibbs, H. S.] Autobiography of a Manchester cotton manufacturer, by H.S.G. (Manchester, Heywood, 1887)
    * View book cover

  12. Maskelyne, John Nevil. Modern spiritualism : a short account of its rise and progress with some exposures of so-called spirit media (London, Warne, [1875]) Maskelyne described himself on the title-page as an "illusionist and anti-spiritualist."
    * View book cover

  13. Duffy, Sir Charles Gavan. Young Ireland : a fragment of Irish history, 1840-1845 (Dublin, Gill, 1884)
    * View book cover

  14. Hoffman, Prof. Hoyle's games modernized (London, Routledge, 1903)

  15. Overton, Robert. "Ten minutes" : holiday yarns and recitations (London, Dean, [c. 1893])
    * View book cover

  16. Youatt, William. The horse. (London, Routledge, 1859) This is a revised edition "with observations on breeding cavalry horses, by Cecil".

  17. Pardon, George Francis. A handbook of draughts, with a chapter on backgammon. 2nd ed. (London, Routledge, 1863)

  18. Dunn, jnr., Archibald. Bridge, and how to play it. 7th ed. (London, Routledge, 1901)

  19. Cunnington, Rev. E. E. (ed.) Half-hours with Morphy. 2nd ed. (London, Routledge, 1900) American chess player, Paul Morphy (1837-1884) was the 1858 world champion.

  20. Blakey, Robert. Angling, or, how to angle and where to go. (London, Routledge, [1854])
    * View book cover


Travel

The nineteenth century saw an upsurge of interest in travel. Some of the great travel books of our literature first appeared in Victorian times and most of the major writers produced accounts of their journeys. Although the classics of the genre are not usually found in this format, the yellowback publishers' lists carried many titles catering for this taste in exotica. The story of Paul Boyton (item 41) promises "thrilling experiences in distant lands, among strange people. A book for boys, old and young."

  1. Jordan, Jonathan. Anglo-Yankee notions of Paris after the second siege. (London, Kent, 1871)
    * View book cover

  2. "The Earl and the Doctor" [i.e. the earl of Pembroke and George Kingsley] South sea bubbles. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1872)

  3. "Mark Twain" [i.e. Samuel Langhorne Clemens] Innocents abroad (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1879)

  4. "Mark Twain" A tramp abroad. (Melbourne, George Robertson, [1893])

  5. Froude, James Anthony. The English in the West Indies (London, Longmans, 1888)
    * View book cover

  6. Britton, Henry. Loloma, or two years in Cannibal-land. (London, Mullen, 1883)
    * View book cover

  7. The story of Paul Boyton (London, Routledge, 1893)
    * View book cover

  8. Dunster, Rev. Henry P. (ed.) The discoveries of Columbus and the English in America. (London, Blackwood, [186-?])

Humour

The rise of the yellowback coincided with the popularity of magazines such as Punch. There was great public interest in "comic cuts." The books on display here include works by American humorists such as Mark Twain, Josh Billings, and Artemus Ward. Dialect humour was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The Seets I'Lundun (item 45) consists of the observations of a Yorkshireman visiting the big city, and The Thompson Street Poker Club (item 46) gives us a series of comic exchanges among Negro cardsharps.

 

  1. "Josh Billings" [i.e. Henry Wheeler Shaw] Josh Billings' wit and humor. (London, Routledge, 1874)
    * View book cover

  2. [Whiting, S.] Memoirs of a stomach, ed. By a Minister of the Interior. 10th ed. (London, Chapman and Hall, [186-?])

  3. Hartley, John. Seets I'Lundun: a Yorkshireman's ten day's trip. (London, Nicholson, [1876])

  4. [Carleton, Henry Guy] The Thompson Street poker club. (London, Routledge, [1889])
    * View book cover

  5. "Max Adeler" [i.e. Charles Heber Clark] Out of the hurly-burly, or, Life in an odd corner. (London, Ward, Lock, [1882])

  6. "Max Adeler" Elbow room : a novel without a plot. (London, Ward. Lock, [1876])
    * View book cover

  7. "Mark Twain" American drolleries. (London, Ward, Lock, [1875])

  8. "Artemus Ward" [i.e. Charles Farrer Browne] Artemus Ward complete (London, Chatto & Windus, 1890)

Nat Gould

Nat Gould (1857-1919) was a sporting reporter, and novelist of the turf. He was born in Manchester but migrated to Australia in 1884, where he worked on newspapers and sports magazines in Brisbane and Sydney. His first novel, The double event, appeared in 1891. After returning to England in 1895, he quickly built a reputation as a racing novelist. As well as fiction, he wrote three autobiographical works, On and off the turf in Australia (1895), Town and bush (1896) and Sporting sketches (1900).

Routledge contracted Gould to supply five novels a year. At times he was so prolific he turned out more than required. These were stockpiled and new "Nat Goulds" continued to appear after his death. In all he produced over 150 books, most of which dealt with the world of horse-racing. He was the Dick Francis of his generation.

As mentioned in the Introduction, Gould was one of the novelists whose works continued to appear as yellowbacks in the 1920s and 1930s.

  1. Gould, Nat. On and off the turf in Australia. (London, Routledge, [1895])
    * View book cover

  2. Gould, Nat. The magpie jacket : a tale of the turf. (London, Routledge, 1896)
    * View book cover

  3. Gould, Nat. The three wagers. (London, Everett, [1903])
    * View book cover

  4. Gould, Nat. Raymond's ride. (London, Everett, [1903])
    * View book cover

  5. Gould, Nat. A racecourse tragedy. (London, Everett, [1901])
    * View book cover

  6. Gould, Nat. Sporting sketches. (London, Everett, [190-?])
    * View book cover

  7. Gould, Nat. Broken down. (London, Everett, [1902])
    * View book cover

  8. Gould, Nat. One of a mob. (London, Long, [1905])
    * View book cover

  9. Gould, Nat. The lady trainer. (London, Long, [1906])
    * View book cover

  10. Gould, Nat. A sporting squatter. (London, Long, [1906])
    * View book cover

American literature

Under the British Copyright Law, there was no requirement to pay royalties to American or continental authors, although special arrangements were made in some cases. Bell and Daldy's edition of Little foxes, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (item 67) carried the following "prefatory notice":-

From the desire to respect the moral right of every Author to reap the fruits of his or her pen, the Publishers have made arrangements to share the profits of this reprint of "Little Foxes" with the writer.

Whatever arrangements the publishers may have come to with Mrs. Stowe, the general rule on both sides of the Atlantic was to "pirate". English publishers fed their countrymen a great deal of American material, especially at the cheaper end of the market. Mark Twain and Bret Harte were particular favourites.

  1. Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. (London, Routledge, 1888)
    * View book cover

  2. Mark Twain" [i.e. Samuel Langhorne Clemens] A Yankee at the court of King Arthur. (London, Chatto & Windus, 1893) 1888)
    * View book cover

  3. "Mark Twain" The adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade). (Melbourne, George Robertson 1885)
    * View book cover

  4. "Mark Twain" Mark Twain's celebrated jumping frog and curious dream. (London, Routledge, [189-?])
    * View book cover

  5. Mark Twain" The Mississippi pilot. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1877)
    * View book cover

  6. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's cabin: or, life among the lowly. (London, Bohn 1852)
    * View book cover

  7. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Little foxes: or, the little failings which mar domestic happiness. (London, Bell and Daldy, 1866)
    * View book cover

  8. Harte, Bret. The luck of roaring camp. (London, Chatto & Windus, [1883])
    * View book cover

  9. Harte, Bret. An episode of fiddletown ... with a memoir. (London, Routledge, [1873])
    * View book cover

  10. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English traits. (London, Routledge, 1856)
    * View book cover

French novelists and Ouida.

French novels were popular with English publishers partly for the same reasons American writers were. There was no obligation to pay royalties, and there was also the anticipation on the part of the public that a French novel would be rather more spicy than its English counterpart.

Balzac and Victor Hugo sold steadily, but it was Emile Gaboriau (1835-1873), the pioneer of crime fiction, who caught the public's attention and spawned a host of imitators, including Conan Doyle.

"Ouida" was the pen-name of Marie Louise de la Ramee (1839-1908). Although of French parentage, she was born at Bury St. Edmunds, and wrote mainly in English. Her romantic fiction achieved great popularity and, with her European settings, rakish characters and witty conversation, she did much to add a cosmopolitan flavour to English prose. Under two flags (item 79) was her most successful work, perhaps best-remembered for its heroine, Cigarette, "the toast of the Foreign Legion."

  1. Balzac, Honore de. Pere Goriot. (London, Routledge, 1888)
    * View book cover

  2. Hugo, Victor. Workers of the sea,  (London, Ward, Lock, 1886)
    * View book cover

  3. Hugo, Victor. The hunchback of Notre Dame. New ed. (London, Chapman & Hall, [1869])
    * View book cover

  4. Gaboriau, Emile. In deadly peril. (London, Ward, Lock, [1888])
    * View book cover

  5. "Ouida" [i.e. Marie Louise de la Ramee] Two little wooden shoes. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1874)
    * View book cover

  6. "Ouida". Puck. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1875)
    * View book cover

  7. "Ouida". Pipistrello. (London, Chatto & Windus, [1885])
    * View book cover

  8. "Ouida". Under two flags. (London, Chatto & Windus, 1895)

English literary classics.

Dickens was the most popular of all Victorian novelists and his works were well represented in yellowbacks. Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and Meredith are also on display. In addition, there is copy of Marietta, a novel by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, Anthony's elder brother. Jane Austen was also represented in yellowback. Contrary to popular belief, her books were still in demand in the later 19th century.

  1. Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey : a novel. (London : Chapman and Hall, 1872)
    * View book cover

  2. [Dickens, Charles]. Sketches by "Boz". (London, Chapman & Hall, 1877)
    * View book cover

  3. Dickens, Charles. Barnaby Rudge. (London, Ward, Lock, [1894])
    * View book cover

  4. Trollope, Anthony. The Prime Minister. (London, Ward, Lock, 1881)

  5. Trollope, Thomas Adolphus. Marietta, 4th ed. (London, Chapman & Hall, 1866)
    * View book cover

  6. Collins, Wilkie. My miscellanies. (London, Chatto & Windus, 1894)

  7. Meredith, George. Diana of the Crossways. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1887)
    * View book cover

  8. Meredith, George. The tragic comedians. (London, Ward, Lock, [1881?])
    * View book cover

  9. Meredith, George. The ordeal of Richard Feverel. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1888)
    * View book cover

Bulwer Lytton and Historical Fiction

Edward Bulwer Lytton, Lord Lytton (1803-1873) was another of those extraordinary prolific nineteenth century writers. His fiction covered several genres, "silver-fork", "Newgate", historical, mystical and Utopian. Perhaps his best-known work was The last days of Pompeii (1834). In 1876 Routledge purchased all Lytton's copyrights from his son and soon his entire oeuvre went yellowback.

Most of the popular Victorian novelists tried their hands at historical fiction, the pattern having been set by Sir Walter Scott. Aldersyde (item 97) and The royal bridal (item 96) are "Border" stories, while Whitefriars (item 94) takes us to the England of Charles II. Martin Tupper in Stephen Langton (item 95) sets the action in the time of King John; and the Rev. Walsh has the Mother of God as his heroine in Mary, the Queen of the House of David (item 93).

  1. [Lytton, Edward Bulwer]. Kenelm Chillingly. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1874)
    * View book cover

  2. Lytton, Edward Bulwer. A strange story. (London, Routledge, [1885])
    * View book cover

  3. Lytton, Edward Bulwer. Ernest Maltravers; Paul Clifford; Leila; The Pilgrims of the Rhine; Falkland. (London, Routledge, [1884]) An omnibus volume.
    * View book cover

  4. Lytton, Edward Bulwer. Alice, or, the mysteries. (London, Routledge, [1869])
    * View book cover

  5. Lytton, Edward Bulwer. The Caxtons. (London, Routledge, [1867])
    * View book cover

  6. Walsh, Rev. A. Stewart. Mary the Queen of the House of David and Mother of Jesus: the story of her life. (London, Sampson, Low, 1888). Colonial edition. Issued for the British colonies and dependencies only.
    * View book cover

  7. [Robinson, Emma] Whitefriars, or the days of Charles the Second. (London, Routledge, [1892])
    * View book cover

  8. Tupper, Martin. Stephen Langton: or the days of King John. 22nd ed. (Guildford, Biddles, [1920])
    * View book cover

  9. Wilson, John Mackay. Wilson's tales of the Borders and of Scotland (London, Ward, Lock, [1898]) Cover title: The royal bridal and other stories.
    * View book cover

  10. Swan, Annie S. Aldersyde: a border story of seventy years ago. (Edinburgh, Oliphant, 1887)
    * View book cover

Adventure and the sea
Marryat, Stevenson, Hume Nisbet
and Charles Dibdin

Frederick Marryat (1792-1848), usually referred to as Captain Marryat, saw active service as a commander in the Royal Navy. After resigning he became a successful writer of adventure stories and was one of the most highly-paid novelists of his time, receiving 1200 in 1836 for Mr. Midshipman Easy (item 101)

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) is best-known for his children's stories, Treasure Island, 1883, (item 103) and Kidnapped, 1886, (item 104) and for his psychological thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886. His prose style is much prized by connoisseurs.

Hume Nisbet (1849-1921), like Stevenson, was born in Scotland. He lived in Australia from 1865 to 1872, and the action of many of his forty novels takes place in the Colonies. The Jolly Roger, a story of sea heroes and pirates, 1891 (item 102) is set in the early seventeenth-century. His "Preface" is rather startling. In it he warns the reader:-

I have no apology to give for the introduction of William Shakespeare, convinced as I am by close research that my portrait of the poet is a correct one.

Charles Dibdin (1745-1815), a successful dramatist in the late eighteenth-century, was represented in the yellowback lists by his collection of nautical songs (item 98).

  1. Dibdin, Charles. Sea songs and ballads. (London, Routledge, 1877)

  2. Marryat, Capt. Frederick. Japhet in search of a father (London, Ward, Lock, [1894])
    * View book cover

  3. Marryat, Capt. Frederick. Percival Keene. A new edition with a memoir of the author. (London, Routledge, 1860)
    * View book cover

  4. Marryat, Capt. Frederick. Mr. Midshipman Easy. (London, Ward, Lock, [1894])
    * View book cover

  5. Nisbet, Hume. The "Jolly Roger": a story of sea heroes and pirates. (London, Digby, Long, [1891])
    * View book cover

  6. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. (London, Cassell, 1891)
    * View book cover

  7. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Kidnapped. (London, Cassell, 1891)
    * View book cover

  8. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Catriona: a sequel to "Kidnapped". Colonial edition. (London, Cassell, 1894)
    * View book cover

  9. Stevenson, Robert Louis, and Osborne, Lloyd. The Wrecker. (London, Cassell, 1893)
    * View book cover

Charles Lever and Whyte-Melville.

Charles Lever (1806-1872) was born in Dublin. He is best-remembered as a novelist of Irish life, though he lived much abroad, mainly in Italy. His often-amusing descriptions of Irish society at the turn of the nineteenth-century were popular early in his career, however his reputation had waned by the 1860s.

George Whyte-Melville (1821-78) is usually linked with Nimrod, Surtees, and Trollope as a hunting novelist, but he also wrote historical romances and verse, including a translation of Horace. He was devoted to field sports and died in a hunting accident.

  1. Lever, Charles. The knight of Gwynne. 9th ed. (London, Chapman & Hall, [1869])
    * View book cover

  2. Lever, Charles. The Martins of Cro'Martin. New edition, with a new autobiographical introduction. (London, Ward, Lock, [1880])
    * View book cover

  3. Lever, Charles. Sir Jasper Carew. 11th ed. (London, Chapman & Hall, [1869])
    * View book cover

  4. Lever, Charles. The adventures of Arthur O'Leary. (London, Routledge, 1865)
    * View book cover

  5. Lever, Charles. Tom Burke of "ours". (London, Ward, Lock, [1882])
    * View book cover

  6. Whyte-Melville, G. J. Sister Louise, or the story of a woman's repentance. (London, Chapman & Hall, [1877])

  7. Whyte-Melville, G. J. Songs and verses. (London, Ward, Lock, [1882])
    * View book cover

  8. Whyte-Melville, G. J. General Bounce, or the lady and the locusts. (London, Longmans, [1873])
    * View book cover

  9. Whyte-Melville, G. J. The Brookes of Bridalmere. (London, Ward, Lock, [1894])
    * View book cover

  10. Whyte-Melville, G. J. Good for nothing, or all down hill. (London, Longmans, [1890])
    * View book cover

Novels of romance and sensation

These are perhaps the most typical yellowbacks. Their lurid covers promise enjoyable, escapist reading. As in every age there was a rich undergrowth of writers willing to provide material of this sort, often under a bewildering assortment of pseudonyms.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the "Queen of the circulating libraries", had had fifty-seven of her works published as yellowbacks by 1899. Her name usually did not appear on the title-pages, rather the publishers used the epithet, "by the author of 'Lady Audley's secret'." This novel of adultery, published in 1862, was Mrs. Braddon's greatest success (item 124).

Richard Henry Savage, another prolific writer, always appeared by name, but with the additional enticement, "the author of 'My official wife'", the book which made his reputation (item 129).

  1. Buchanan, Robert. Stormy waters: a story of today. (London, Blackett, [1890])
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  2. Grant, James. Dulcie Carlyon. (London, Routledge, 1886)
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  3. Smart, Hawley. Beatrice and Benedick: a romance of the Crimea. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1891)
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  4. Smart, Hawley. A false start. (London, Ward, Lock, [1885])
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  5. "Barclay North". [i.e. W. C. Hudson]. The diamond button: whose was it? (London, Cassell, [1890])
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  6. "Barclay North". The man with a thumb. (London, Cassell, [1891])
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  7. Hayward, William Stephens. Rodney Ray. (London, Clarke, [1874])
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  8. [Braddon, Mary Elizabeth] Lady Audley's secret. (London, Simpkin, Marshall, [188-?])
    * View book cover

  9. [Braddon, Mary Elizabeth] Aurora Floyd. (London, Maxwell, 1878)
    * View book cover

  10. [Braddon, Mary Elizabeth] Sons of fire. (London, Simpkin, Marshall, [1895?])
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  11. Philips, F. C., and Wills, C. J. The Scudamores. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1890)
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  12. Philips, F. C., and Wills, C. J. The fatal Phyrne. (London, Swan Sonnenschein, [1890])
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  13. Savage, Richard Henry. My official wife. (London, Routledge, 1892)
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  14. Savage, Richard Henry. The little lady of Lagunitas: a Franco-Chilean romance. (London, Routledge, 1892)
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  15. Savage, Richard Henry. Prince Schamyl's wooing: a story of the Caucasus-Russo-Turkish War. (London, Routledge, 1892)
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  16. "Damocles." [i.e. Hablot Knight Browne]. All about kisses. Illus by H. K. Browne. (London, Clarke, [1876?])
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  17. "Rita" [i.e. Mrs. W. D. Humphreys] The man in possession. (London, White, 1895)
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  18. [Hay, John] The bread-winners: a social study. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1884)
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  19. Law, John. Out of work, 2nd ed. (London, Swan Sonnenschein, [1890])

  20. Lemon, Mark. A Christmas hamper. (London, Routledge, [1860])
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  21. Grundy, Sydney. The days of his vanity : a passage in the life of a young man. (London, Chatto & Windus, 1895)
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  22. Greville, Lady Violet. Creatures of clay. (London, Routledge, 1885)
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  23. [Hungerford, Margaret W.] Faith and unfaith. (London, Smith, Elder, 1887)
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  24. [Hungerford, Margaret Wolfe.] A modern Circe (Melbourne, George Robertson, [1888])
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Australiana and colonial literature

The nucleus of the Monash University Library's Yellowback collection was a collection put together by John Holroyd here in Melbourne, and, although the collection has been added-to extensively, there are many examples of local yellowbacks acquired in the initial purchase. Melbourne publisher, George Robertson, published them from the 1870s to the turn of the century. His sometime partner, Samuel Mullen, also produced at least one title (item 40) though it was printed in England. Most of Robertson's yellowbacks were English titles with Melbourne imprints.

Then, as now, Australian writers preferred to publish in London if possible, and writers such as James Bonwick and Charles Rowcroft appeared under the Sampson Low, and Smith, Elder banners. Conversely, the first edition of Rolf Boldrewood's Old Melbourne memories (item 142) appeared in 1884 as a Robertson yellowback.

Australia was a popular setting for nineteenth-century novelists and many a Micawber or Magwitch was sent, both in fact and fiction to the penal colonies, the goldfields or the back-blocks.

Also included are some South African and New Zealand works. Algernon Mortimer's The very latest news (item 157) is a variation on Macaulay's "New Zealander". It is a novel of the future and is presented in the form of a newspaper, The hourly news and New Otago Chronicle, dated "Twelve o'clock, April 1, 2871." "New Otago" is in fact London; Mortimer imagined that 1000 years into the future, the city would have been taken over by New Zealanders.

One of the South African works, The gentleman digger, by Anna, Countess de Bremont (item 159) is an example of a yellowback colonial edition. Prominently displayed are the statements, "Issued for the British Colonies and Dependencies only. These volumes cannot be imported into the United Kingdom."

The yellowback format was not only used for literature. Also on display is the Catalogue of the works in the Library of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, 1869 (item 149)

  1. Bonwick, James. Curious facts of old colonial days. (London, Sampson, Low, 1870)

  2. "Rolf Boldrewood" [i.e. Thomas Alexander Browne] Old Melbourne memories. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1884)
    * View book cover

  3. "Q" [i.e. Marcus Clarke] The peripatetic philosopher. Melbourne, George Robertson, 1869)

  4. Fowler, Frank. Dottings of a lounger. (London, Routledge, 1859)
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  5. "Oline Keese" [i.e. Caroline Leakey] The broad arrow: being passages from the history of Maida Gwynnham a "Lifer". (Hobart, Walch, [1900])
    * View book cover

  6. "Price Warung" [i.e. William Astley] Tales of the early days. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1894)
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  7. "Price Warung". Tales of the old regime (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1897)

  8. "Price Warung". Half crown Bob and tales of the Riverine (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1898) P. R. Stephensen's copy.

  9. Catalogue of the works in the Library of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, (Sydney, Caxton Steam Press, 1869)

  10. Trollope, Anthony. Victoria and Tasmania (London, Chapman & Hall, 1875)
    * View book cover

  11. Hingston, James. The Australian abroad on branches from the main routes round the world. (Melbourne, Inglis, 1886)
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  12. Murif, Jerome J. From ocean to ocean: across a continent on a bicycle. An account of a solitary ride from Adelaide to Port Darwin. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1897)

  13. Cobbold, Rev. Richard. The history of Margaret Catchpole. (London, Ward, Lock, [188-?])

  14. Adams, Francis. John Webb's end: Australian bush life. (London, Eden, Remington, 1891)
    * View book cover

  15. O'Reilly, John Boyle. Moondyne. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1880)

  16. Rowcroft, Charles. Tales of the colonies, or the adventures of an emigrant. (London, Smith, Elder, 1872)

  17. "Algernon Mortimer" [i.e. Ascott R. Hope?] The very latest news. (Edinburgh, Nimmo, 1871)
    * View book cover

  18. "Ralph Iron" [i.e. Olive Schreiner] The story of an African farm. (London, Chapman & Hall, 1889)

  19. Anna, Countess de Bremont. The gentleman digger: a study of Johannesburg life. (London, Sampson, Low, 1891)
    * View book cover

  20. Elkington, E. Way. The squatter's stud. (London, Routledge, 1903)
    * View book cover

  21. "Saunders McTavish" [i.e. William Storrie] Chowla: a romance of the Darling. (Adelaide, Gall, 1867)
    * View book cover

  22. Farjeon, B. L. Grif: a story of Australian life. (London, Ward & Downey, 1885)

  23. Farjeon, B. L. The sacred nugget, 7th ed. (London, Ward & Downey, 1889)
    * View book cover

  24. Hayward, William Stephens. Hunted to death. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1891)
    * View book cover

  25. Vogan, A. J. The black police: a story of modern Australia. (London, Hutchinson, [1890])
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  26. Fletcher, Henry. The North Shore mystery. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1899)
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  27. Favenc, Ernest. My only murder. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1899)
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  28. Dunn, Archibald. King Honour. (London, Routledge, 1903)
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  29. Breaker, Leon. Only a jockey boy: a tale of the Australian turf. (London, Everett, [1904])
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  30. MacInnes, Allan A. Straight as a line: an Australian sporting story. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1894)
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  31. MacInnes, Allan A. Straight as a line: an Australian sporting story. (Melbourne, Exchange Press, 1914)

  32. Dawe, W. Carlton. Mount Desolation. (London, Cassell, 1892)]

  33. Kingsley, Henry. The Hillyars and the Burtons. (London, Ward, Lock, [1882])
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  34. MacCartie, Justin Charles. Making a pile. (London, Swan Sonnenschien, 1892)

  35. McIver, G. Neuroomia: a new continent: a manuscript delivered by the deep. (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1894)
    * View book cover

  36. Donnison, A. Winning a wife in Australia. (London, Ward, Lock, 1894)
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  37. "Wulla Merrii". [i.e. John Cameron] The fire stick: incidents in the Shearers' Strike: a tale of Australian bush life. ([Brisbane, 1893]) John Cameron was Mary Gilmore's brother.
    * View book cover

Advertisements

One of the most stroking characteristics of yellowbacks is the presence of advertisements. The back cover almost always carried an ad, as did the front and rear end-papers; and there was often a gathering of advertisements bound in at the back as well. This was not unusual in the nineteenth-century at the cheaper end of the publishing trade; the fiction which appeared as monthly parts, as did many of Dickens' novels for example, always carried many pages of advertisements.

The ads were usually for innocuous products such as Pears soap, but perhaps one of the most notorious ads was that for the "Carbolic Smoke Ball." This was a type of inhalant used for the relief of colds, bronchitis, asthma, hay fever and "throat deafness"; but the proprietors also claimed that, "the Carbolic Smoke Ball will not only cure all diseases caused by taking cold, but will positively ward off colds."

advertisement for carbolic smoke ball

* View larger image

In the winter of 1891 there was an outbreak of influenza in England and the Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. ran a new, more aggressive marketing campaign. They offered that,

A 100 reward will be paid by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. to any person who contracts the increasing epidemic influenza, colds or any disease caused by taking cold, after having used the ball daily for two weeks according to the printed directions supplied with each ball. 1000 is deposited with the Alliance bank, Regent Street, showing our sincerity in the matter. During the last epidemic of influenza many thousand Carbolic Smoke Balls were sold as preventatives against this disease, and in no ascertained case was the disease contracted by those using the Carbolic Smoke Ball. (Pall Mall Gazette, 13 Nov. 1891)

Unfortunately for them, an 87 year old woman, Mrs. Carlill, began to use a Carbolic Smoke Ball and to document her use between 20th November 1891 and 17th January 1892. On 17th January, Mrs. Carlill contracted influenza. She visited her doctor the same day and was given a certificate to that effect. The next day she wrote to the Company asking for the 100 "reward". Her request was denied, so Mrs. Carlill instituted proceedings against the Company. She won, and the ruling set a precedent for rulings in cases of deliberately misleading advertisements.

The advertisement seen here appeared in the front of Blind fate : a novel, by Mrs. Alexander. published in Melbourne by George Robertson in 1890. This pre-dated the ill-starred "100 reward" campaign. It does however promise that the smoke ball "will positively cure" a number of illnesses including "ulceration of the lungs, croup, hooping cough, snoring, neuralgia and headache." It also provides us with a list of prominent people who use "this infallible remedy."


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