Yellow-backs commenced publishing in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century and were sold as cheap literature designed to titillate and entertain.
The name Yellow-back comes from the colour of their covers often yellow-tinted and for this reason, they were also called “mustard-plaster”. Mainly sold at railway stations, the books have brilliant coloured illustrations on covers and elaborated spine design to catch the eye of passers-by. The titles mainly included adventure stories, fiction, and sensation novels, but later on, publishers introduced literary classics.
Brought to the attention of scholars and bibliophiles during the 1930s, yellow-backs became highly collectible; due to their fragile and cheap covers and poor quality paper not made to last.
Monash Special Collections holds a large and excellent collection of Yellow-backs. Most notably, issues of Jane Austen's posthumously published novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Due to the low price and wide diffusion, Austen’s works became very popular in the late 19th century.
Between November 1991 and March 1992, the Monash University Library dedicated an exhibition to the collection.