Yellowbacks : an exhibition of material from the Rare Books Collection. Monash University Library, 26th November 1991 - 2nd March 1992


Title

Yellowbacks : an exhibition of material from the Rare Books Collection. Monash University Library, 26th November 1991 - 2nd March 1992

Contributor

Date

Description

The exhibition was held in the Rare Books Exhibition space, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University from 26 November 1991 - 2 March 1992. '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 soubriquet. The first "yellowback" is popularly held to have to have been Horace Mayhew's Letters Left at the Pastrycooks (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" 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 "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 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 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 Victoria's reign. The yellowback survived into the twentieth century. Popular writers such as Nat Gould (see Flat Case 5) were still appearing in this format in the 1920s. Carter singles out Martin Tupper's Stephen Langton (item 95) as one of the last surviving yellowback titles.

Language

English

Type

Medium

Extent

30p.

Rights

Text - Monash University Library CC-BY 4.0. Images - Copyright Not Evaluated

Download File(s)

https://repository.erc.monash.edu/files/upload/Rare-Books/Exhibition-Catalogues/rb_exhibition_catalogues_1991_003.pdf

Citation

Overell, Richard and Overell, Richard (curator), “Yellowbacks : an exhibition of material from the Rare Books Collection. Monash University Library, 26th November 1991 - 2nd March 1992,” Monash Collections Online, accessed June 6, 2020, http://repository.monash.edu/items/show/13203

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