Dime Novels

Dime Novels were fiction stories that were mass produced around the late 19th century. The novels were named after the cheap cost of them, which was generally ten to fifteen cents. A dime novel was usually around 6.5 inches by 4.25 inches. The low cost of the novels helped to spread literacy and the enjoyment of reading to many the middle-class, including the working class . The fictitious stories helped to spread the idea of “American national experience”. According to Media Now by Davenport, LaRose, Straubhaar the spread of literacy during the time of the Civil War can partially be credited to the production of dime novels (3)

The first appearance of a Dime novel was June 9, 1860; it was Maleaska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Anne S. Stephens. The book was published by Beadle and Adams, a publishing company which was established in New York in 1958. Beadle and Adams became the predominate publisher of dime novels .(1) The novels started out on normal paper with no type of illustrations, in order to save on the cost; however, cover illustrations were eventually added. Following the end of the Civil War many other publishing companies began to produce the dime novels creating competition with Beadle and Adams. Due to the new competition the dime novels began to evolve. The physical size of some of the novels changed to 9 by 13.25 inches, onto varying sizes like 7 by 10, and 8 by 12 inches. The competition also forced changes such as adding more illustrated artwork to the novels, as well as colored illustrations.

Originally the dime novels mainly dealt with the idea of “American national experience,” but eventually evolved into many other genres. Dime novels were now being written about detectives, and more notably western novels. Originally the western dime novels referred to the area around New York City, but in later years the settings started to move further west into mountainous and desert areas. Many of the western dime novels focused on the characters reuniting with tradition and society, whether the characters were Indians or outlaws. A popular story that came out of western dime novels is, Esther: A Story of the Oregon Trail, written by Stephens in 1869. (2)
Around the 1890s dime novels started to decline in sales. Beadle and Adams closed their publishing company and other companies turned their focus elsewhere. Dime novels were eventually replaced by “pulps.” New inventions allowed for magazines to be produced cheaper on a less expensive paper most commonly called pulp paper. These inventions helped the magazine to start selling in mass quantity. Some of the western novels continued being published in magazines.


1. "Dime novel." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, Web. 26 Sep 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dime_novels>.

2. Cullen, Jim. "The Dime Novel Western." Encarta Encyclopedia. Encarta Encyclopedia, Web. 26 Sep 2009. <http://encarta.msn.com/sidebar_761594223/The_Dime_Novel_Western.html>.

3. Davenport, LaRose, Straubhaar, . Media Now. 6th. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2009. Print.