Dime Novel: Abandoned in the Attic

House Built around 1900 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

In a prior post, I wrote about finding a recipe notebook from the past behind a drawer in the kitchen of the house pictured above. That was only one of the vintage literary surprises this house held!

Thanks to Nona Blyth Cloud at wordcloud9 – Flowers for Socrates, I learned that today, July 30, is International Paperback Book Day. An early version of Penguin Books started publishing and mass marketing classics in paperback format on this day in 1935. This meant that more people could afford to buy books, which was certainly a wonderful thing.

As readers of my blog know, I enjoy collecting vintage titles. This topic inspired me to think about my own books. What is my oldest paperback book, I wondered. Then I was off to search my shelves. After checking out my lovely finds (sniffing and leafing through a few pages while I was at it), I proved what I had thought to be true. My paperback book dated the very earliest, 1891, was the one found in the attic of the house pictured, above!

The book is titled Married for Money and is written by May Agnes Fleming. This was such an exciting find, I remember, especially since nothing else very interesting was found up there in the attic. After I finished with my happy dance that day, I began to dig deeper and find out more!

Turns out that “Mrs. May Agnes Fleming,” as the book cover states, was Canada’s first best-selling novelist. In all, she wrote 42 “women’s dime novels,” and 27 of them were published after she died, which is true of my title.

May Agnes Fleming, 1840-1880
Offer on Back of Book; 160 House Plans for $2.50


Ad for Teething Syrup inside Book
Ad for Teething Syrup inside Book

My research also revealed The American Women’s Dime Novel Project! What began as research for a dissertation eventually turned into a website with information about these books written for working-class women, from 1870 to 1920. This interesting site offers articles, additional resources, author biographies, images, and even some of these novels turned into e-books!

Although they’re called “dime novels,” my particular book was marked “25 cents.” Inflation, I suppose? If you’re interested in the history of women’s literature, please be sure to check out this fun and informative website!                         ~Becky

53 thoughts on “Dime Novel: Abandoned in the Attic

  1. Uh oh, I feel myself being drawn down a rabbit hole. My grandmother Velma was named after the heroine of a novel her mother was reading while pregnant with her in 1897. I’ve been dying to find out what novel it was. Could it have been one of those dime novels, oh, which one??

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  2. Wow, I had no idea that there were paperback novels that long ago. I’m ingrigued by the cover of Married for Money. The pose and outfit of the woman on the cover look somewhat risque for that era.

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  3. I especially enjoyed seeing the cover of that Penguin issue of The Invisible Man. I’ve had books in my library from that time period; I’ve always liked the understated design. As far as I know, I’ve not read a woman’s dime novel, but I just might do it, just to get a glimpse into that earlier time. Thanks for the link to the project — that will be the place to start.

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  4. What a fun post!! Thanks for sharing it! One thing I enjoy about buying old books is some of the marginalia written in the book. I find that paperbacks get written in more often than hardcovers – or at least I think I see that trend in the old books I’ve bought.

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    1. Hi Sue, glad you like this! I haven’t come across many books that are written in, but I imagine the thinking is that paperbacks are “worth less?” I have bought some used hardcover cookbooks that are written in, too.

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      1. Yes, I think some times people view paperbacks as ephemeral. There’s a period in publishing history when some publishers did too – for example, using newsprint in the books text block. I have found some hardbacks that are written too. I often enjoy the writing when I find it – and think of the person who did the writing

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  5. It’s so much fun just to read about the treasures you find. I’ve found a few over the years, so I know the feeling. Westerns (films) often mentioned dime novels. They must have played an important part of the culture, along with newspapers as the only means of information. Before the telegraph that is. Books at a bargain…what’s not to love?!

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  6. Well, I’m guessing I missed International Paperback Book Day! LOL. I am always trying to pare down my books – I really have too many – but I get drawn in every now and then when I find myself parked in front of one of my bookcases. Usually, my old ones are falling apart!

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