Prudential Book Co., (New York, US)
Series dates: 1898-1905
Size: 4.25″ x 6″
aka/ The Wakefield Series of Famous Books
I don’t have many examples of “dime novel” series at this site, in part because I’ve focused on hardcover series (to limit the already broad scope of reprint series to something manageable), but also because of some terrific resources on series from the “dime novel” era, roughly 1860 to 1915.
The Edward T. LeBlanc Dime Novel Bibliography project has what has to be well over 1000 documented series with bibliographic information, lists of titles, and additional information. The entry on the series shown on this page, the Wakefield Series, is indicative of the information at the LeBlanc site.
While LeBlanc seeks to document all dime novel series, the Lucile Project selected one popular title from the era, Owen Meredith’s Lucile (first published in 1860), and traces its publication history. In seeking every single reprint of this one title, the Lucile Project manages to document many hundreds of series by a broad array of publishers while providing extensive historical information on each publisher. Dime novels are included, but so are many hardcover series from the era. The entry on the publisher of the Wakefield Series, Prudential Book Co., is indicative of the information at the Lucile Project site.
I wholeheartedly cede this era of reprint series to these two exemplary projects and their associated sites, but do include a few examples of these very popular, low-cost reprint series in the 1860-1915 era.
The Wakefield Series is a classic dime novel. It cost a dime. It was small in format, bound in cheap, floppy paper covers glued to a stapled set of even lower-grade pulp paper. The books, 123 years later, are holding together but crumbling and shedding chunks of paper at an alarming rate. Dime novels don’t need to be this crude of manufacture: for example, see Neely’s Booklet Library, which was available, for a dime, around the same time (with much better paper and construction).
The Wakefield Series reprinted a range of popular literature of the era and was issued on a regular basis (weekly, in this case) while it was published. Not quite a throw-away newspaper or magazine, but not quite a book to read and keep on the shelf, these dime novels served to sate the growing demand for reading material as literacy rates grew, keeping in mind the average reader could not afford hardbound books.
The Prudential Book Co. was established by a publisher of low-cost series in the era, Frank F. Lovell. The LeBlanc site indicates 1898 as the start of the Wakefield Series, and the Lucile site says the Prudential Book Co. was established in 1894 or 1895. The company began by placing slips of paper in packages of tea, coffee, and cocoa. The offer was for “free” books for 6¢ a copy postage. Lovell, with the printing plates in hand and using the cheapest of materials, could produce the books for about 1¢. After postage was paid, Lovell made a bit over 1¢ per book.
The Wakefield Series seems to emerge after this “free” book effort (around the time Lovell sold the company), with a 10¢ price, issued weekly, and a $5 per year subscription option. The first title was available on Nov. 28, 1898, and the series reached at least to number 266 (Mar. 1905). Along the way, 14¢ (“specials”) and 18¢ (“extra specials”) were included in the series, likely longer titles (costing a bit more to print), books that included illustrations, or those for which the publisher had to rent or purchase printing plates. I’ve found no advertising for the series beyond the back of books published by the Prudential Book Co. I’m guessing there may have been advertisements in newspapers or other popular media.
Series titles are documented on the series page at the LeBlanc site. The series is a clear indication of what people were reading in this era.
The covers of these books are printed on slightly heavier paper, glued to a stapled set of pages printed on cheaper paper. The cover design shown on this copy of Reveries of a Bachelor by IK Marvel (Donald Grant Mitchell) is common to earlier titles in the series. Other designs include one showing a house, and a textual cover with no illustrations.
The series number, title, author, and date of issue (Dec. 26, 1898) are printed on the spine. I’m assuming reprints likely left the date of issue as is on the spine. The front of the cover includes the series number, name, and price. The title and author are set in a green rectangle. The publisher’s name is included, as is the address, and “Entered at the New York Post Office as Second Class Matter” – suggesting these titles were sent through the mail (in addition to being available in stores). “Issued Weekly” and “Annual Subscription, $5.00.”
The first (blank) page – here signed by an early owner – reveals the stapled block of (now) yellowed paper used for the contents of the book.
The half-title page consists of the extended series name:
A list of titles up to #50 (“How to Behave in Society”) reveals that many series titles are double volumes. Dime novels, like many reprint series, had a very small profit margin, and materials costs (additional pages) were a key factor. According to the LeBlanc site, books in the series were 100 to 125 pages (thus, longer titles had to be spread over a few volumes). The title page includes the date of initial publication (1898). Again, I don’t know if subsequent reprints changed this date.
The first page of the text reveals the tiny type size, possibly 6 points (where 72 points = 1 inch), which is very difficult to read. Again, to save on materials cost, small type sizes meant more of a book could be printed on less paper.
The copy of Scott’s The Black Dwarf shown below is #6 in the series and includes text on the back of the cover. This includes enthusiastic comments on reading by some famous authors.
Three more titles, #10, #12, and #14: