- Yellowbacks are a distinctive category of cheap books which began to appear in the middle of the nineteenth century, at about the same time as W. H. Smith's first railway bookstalls. Described by Richard Altick as 'the most inspired publishing invention of the era', their eye-catching glazed paper covered boards, and revolutionary low price of one or two shillings, were deliberately designed to appeal to the growing reading and travelling public.
Yellowback publishing was at its height during the 1870s and 1880s. By this time they were larger in size and increasingly uniform in appearance as publishers began to economise on their design costs. Although yellowbacks continued to appear into the early years of the twentieth century, they were gradually overtaken during the 1890s by a reduction in price for new novels on the one hand, and the arrival of the sixpenny, or even threepenny, paper-covered reprint on the other.
Above - from "Aspects of the victorian book - Yellowbacks
- A yellow-back or yellowback is a cheap novel which was published in Britain in the second half of the 19th century. They were occasionally called "mustard-plaster" novels.
Developed in the 1840s to compete with the "penny dreadful", yellow-backs were marketed as entertaining reading. They had brightly coloured covers, often printed by chromoxylography, that were attractive to a new class of readers, thanks to the spread of education and rail travel.
Routledge was one of the first publishers to begin marketing yellow-backs by starting their "Railway Library" in 1848.
Above - from Wikipedia entry for "Yellow-back"
- Yellowback books, named for their yellow covers, originated in England during the latter half of the 19th century. These books were often referred to as “railway novels” because they were frequently sold at train stations when early publishers like W.H Smith and George Routledge opened railway bookstalls. Rail stations were the perfect place to sell such books as travel by train was a staple for Victorians.
Yellowbacks sold for relatively low prices since they were inexpensive to produce. The books featured advertisements on the back cover that helped to cover production costs. This feature was essential to maintaining their low purchase price; one could purchase a yellowback for a modest price of 1-2 shillings, making it the most inexpensive book at the time.
These books were also characterized by cheap boards covered in glazed paper, and low quality paper that turned yellow with age. Edmund Evans, a wood engraver, invented a new way to print the covers that used one block for an outline and two blocks to apply colour. Prominent illustrators were hired to design the distinct and striking covers of this genre. Despite their short shelf life, they were produced in vast numbers because of their low production value, availability, and popular appeal.
Above - from Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library - Yellowbacks as Rare Books
Jules Verne Yellowbacks
(collected here for the 1st time ever! - June 2023)
Ward, Lock & Tyler / Ward Lock / George Routledge / Lever Brothers
(also possibly Weldon and Co.)
The main publishers of Yellowback, Jules Verne titles, are "Ward, Lock & Tyler", changing to "Ward, Lock", and "George Routledge Sons" and "Lever Brothers". It is possible there are some "Weldon and Co." Verne Yelowbacks, becasue they DID publish early Verne titles, but Yellowbacks have not been discovered yet!
Because Yellowbacks were cheap publications, collectors initially shunned them. Of course that is not the case today, and Yellowbacks are highly sought after. BUT again, because they were cheap publications, they have not lasted, and many are in poor shape, or have just disappeared!
*** To be a Yellowback, a book must have a Hard cover and Colour cover! ***
|Single Volume - One Shilling & Double Volume - Two Shillings
Ward, Lock & Tyler (WLT) / Ward, Lock Ward, Lock, Bowden (WLB) / Ward, Lock (WL)
* - The above Round the World probably has a paper cover, BUT it is expected that a true hardcover Yellowback would have been produced
Titles seen in this One & Two Shilling binding include:
- English at the North Pole
- Five Weeks in a Balloon
- Round the World in Eighty Days
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
- Wonderful Travels
containing: A Voyage to the Centre of the |Earth
and Five Weeks in a Balloon (TWO versions shown - spines different)