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Mary Church Terrell Main Library
148 W College St. Oberlin, OH 44074-1545


The main visitor lot is the east Service Building lot, and the south row of the Carnegie Building lot for visitors to offices within that building.

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Historical Context

The book that is considered the first American dime novel was created in June of 1860 when Irwin Beadle and his brother Erastus published a story called "Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter." The story was an instant success - not due to the quality of the writing, but due to flashy marketing and a low price.

Tip Top Weekly cover with a man catching a football while a woman stands behind him holding a flag for the team, illustration.

The Beadles' comic book-like creations were aimed at a less literate and poorer mass audience, in contrast with the typical novels of the time which were aimed at a more educated class. The Beadles were able to offer titles for a dime, and in some cases even five cents, because the books were made of the newly available cheap wood pulp paper (the original "pulp fiction"), using flimsy paper covers. The Beadles' company (later to become Beadle and Adams) soon faced competition from publishers such as Street and Smith and Frank Tousey.

It should be noted that scholars usually refer to the publishers of dime novels more than authors because in many cases authorship is often undeterminable. Publishers would typically employ multiple authors under a single pseudonym for titles in a series. Similarly, single authors also wrote using many pseudonyms.

The dime novel industry churned out series after series, title after title, creating some memorable characters such as "Deadwood Dick," "Nick Carter," and "Buffalo Bill." The subjects of the early dime novels mostly dealt with sensational adventures on the western frontier, owing much to the themes of James Fenimore Cooper. Later dime novels tended toward urban settings and genres of detective, science fiction, and stories of athletic prowess. The target readership was young men, however there were a few series aimed at young women.

The dime novel reached peak popularity during the last third of the 1800s, correlating with a time when more Americans of all classes had leisure time. The success was not to last, however. Few new dime novels were published after World War I, and no new material was produced after 1920. Standing out among the various reasons from the dime novel's downfall was the advent of the motion picture, which cost less than a dime novel, and was a more sensational experience.

Dime novels were never considered a form of art, and some people found they promoted immorality and were dangerous to the youth of society. They were not typically well-crafted, lacking originality, based on plot formulas and character tropes, and the prose itself tended to be predictable and unoriginal. What makes the dime novel interesting is that it mirrors the tastes, values, and stereotypes of its era. The dime novel represents a rejection of traditional European models of literature. American authors used American subjects, settings, and characters, and they reached a broad popular audience. The dime novel helped create and shape American popular culture.