The initial seed of Villanova's dime novel collection came from a rediscovered assortment of fragile volumes found in Falvey Library's basement storage area. The exact origin of these long-neglected volumes is uncertain, but inscriptions in several of the books suggest that many of them were once property of Dr. Charles M. Magee, who taught at Villanova for several years in the early 20th century and served as literary advisor to the Villanovan in the early 1920s.
The collection later expanded significantly when the core Magee collection was supplemented through additional purchases and donations.
The Magee collection spans the late 19th and early 20th century and includes a handful of true "dime novels," most of which are examples from the later period of the form, known to collectors as "thickbooks" due to their higher page counts compared to the earlier booklet-sized productions of Beadle & Adams. The remainder of the collection consists of non-fiction titles, joke books, and cheap editions of novels (mostly old classics and pirated international works) not originally produced for the dime market. All of these items are extremely fragile from their long storage in less-than-ideal conditions, but most are still able to be digitized. We are working to add as many as possible to our Digital Library.
Because of post-Magee additions, Villanova's overall dime novel collection is more broadly representative of the entire dime novel era (even including a copy of the original Malaeska and several other very early rarities). The collection also demonstrates the world impact of American dime novels through inclusion of a wide variety of international publications, some translated from English and others original to various European countries.
Some early additions to our collection are described below; many more titles can be found in our ever-growing Digital Library.
Villanova's collection includes an example of the "penny dreadful," although it a somewhat atypical one. Ally Sloper's Summer Number for 1886 is part of a popular humor series that, through its emphasis on illustrations and visual layouts, anticipates comic books more than dime novels.
Another interesting British specimen is A Lad of Mettle, representing the Yellowback novels that slightly predated dime novels.
One of the highlights of the collection is an assortment of original Beadle's Dime Novels, including an early printing of Malaeska, the very first title released. Other dime novels in the collection represent the full spectrum of popular genres.
Many dime novels dealt with the adventures and misadventures of young boys; Villanova has several such stories. A particularly interesting example is the university's copy of Wizard Will, the Wonder Worker, which is actually a British reprint of an earlier American title. Also noteworthy are some of the tales in the Pluck and Luck series, including school-days stories like The "B-B-B", or, the Rival Schools of Long Lake, as well as the Fame and Fortune series, in which boys learn to make money.
History was a popular subject for dime novels, particularly military history, as exemplified by the Revolutionary War adventures of the Liberty Boys of '76 and the (then-recent) Civil War history found in the War Library.
Villanova has several Charlotte Brame/Bertha Clay titles, such as The Shadow of a Sin. Another popular author, Mrs. Alexander McVeigh Miller, best known for the lead story in the two-title omnibus, The Bride of the Tomb; and Queenie's Terrible Secret, is also well-represented.
Early science fiction titles in the collection include Frank Reade and His Steam Horse (among other adventures) as well as some Jack Wright stories from Pluck and Luck and several issues of Brave and Bold, which occasionally delved into science fiction territory.
Villanova's collection shows the international impact of the Western, as the titles above demonstrate. While all are about Buffalo Bill, they come from different regions: The Whirlwind Scout is from England, De mijn onder water from Belgium, Un Hechicero Infernal from Spain, and Buffalo Bills dödsritt genom det fientliga lägret from Sweden.
The collection is rich in dime books that are not true dime novels but which show some interesting publishing trends from the dime novel era.
These collections of short plays are particularly noteworthy because they share the publisher and basic physical format of the very first Beadle dime novels.
The collection includes several titles from Street & Smith's Humor Library, including Atchoo! and Jiglets, which give a taste of vaudeville comedy of the era. Other stand-alone titles collecting jokes and humorous anecdotes include Witty Pieces by Witty People and No Wedding-Bells for Me.
Villanova holds several of Frank Tousey's numerous how-to manuals, including How to Become an Engineer and How to Fence. The Tousey series covered an astonishing number of topics, many of which are listed in advertising within the books; see, for example, the back cover of How to Solve Conundrums.
Another interesting stand-alone title is Fowler's Self-Instructor in Phrenology, discussing the mostly-forgotten art of reading the bumps on people's heads.