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Stella & Rose's Books

Specialists in Rare & collectable books

Sixpenny Wonderfuls

This book is full of vibrant illustrations and tells the story of the first paperbacks, their authors and illustrators.

We are told that 'early novels were mainly printed in hardback and although beautifully printed they were an expensive luxury at 3/6d.'

At the same time as publishers were looking to see how they could improve sales, we see the advent of Free Schools and libraries and a more literate working class, who like everybody else liked to read as a form of escapism.

Books were serialised in newspapers and magazines by authors such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins and they proved extremely popular.

Chatto and Windus were one of the first publishers to tap into this new market: their intention was to 'republish some of their most successful hardbound novels in new, paper covers with bright colourful designs and at a much cheaper price'.

But what to choose first? Chatto finally decided on The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade, '...which had been selling in its thousands since 1861...So they decided on a print run of 50000 copies and in a few months it was clear the gamble had paid off handsomely.'

So the Chatto back catalogue was duly plundered for Romances, Adventures, stories with moral instruction, or books that '... were sermons in disguise...' but this time '...preached about the abuses perpetrated by the late Victorian economy.'

Some of the authors who had their books published are names still familiar to us today, such as Wilkie Collins, Mark TwainEmile Zola and A.Conan Doyle but there are some like the author Alice Perrin, who was once lauded by 'Punch', 'The Times and 'The Guardian' who has disappeared '…from the history of 19th and 20th century literature.'

These 6d books were published up until the 1st World War, but were already waning in popularity, so that in the 1920s and 1930s the '...cover plates destroyed, ...blocks re-used... and for many of the titles nothing remains but the covers'.

At the end of every 6d book was a Pears advert, sentimental of course but that meant every book had a happy ending!

Contributed by Theresa

(Published 2nd Aug 2018)

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