University of Delaware Library
Bookmark and Share

Reading in America, 1800 - 2000

Selected Primary Resources

ENGL 480 | Prof. Martin Brückner | English Department

for reference assistance email Special Collections

or contact:
Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
(302) 831-2229


The Special Collections Department offers great, rich depth in print, graphic, and manuscript sources to consider the history of reading in America during the period 1800 - 2000. Etiquette and conduct books are full of advice on what to read and how to read. Some early nineteenth-century advisors are particularly mindful of reading as a means of developing national identity and asserting republican privilege of individualism. The moral excercise of reading was promoted in content as well as practice by religious publishers such as the American Sunday School Union, whose titles were often given to children as rewards for good conduct or regular attendance at church or school.

The Trade Catalog Collection and a Publishers Sample Copy Collection provide evidence of price lists, titles sold, and marketing strategies for books. Graphic Arts Collections include Publisher's Advertising Broadsides and Posters for individual titles, novel series, and popular periodicals. Many of these beautiful posters date from the 1890s and the turn of the twentieth century, in the golden age of the poster.

The growth and importance of illustration is reflected in graphic collections such as the Victorian Paperback Covers and the Vietnam Literature Dust Jacket Collection. Embossed covers and other illustrated bindings were important to broadcast the thrill of reading, as strongly represented in the Boys Books Collection. The importance of cover illustration resonates through later popular genres, such as science fiction and fantasy in the twentieth century. Illustrators of the Brandywine School, such as N.C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, and many others, enriched novels, adventure stories, and magazine stories with their imaginative work. R.F. Outcault pioneered the use of comic illustration for popular consumption, and Lynd Ward pioneered a new form in the graphic novel, using wood engravings only, and no text, to illustrate a story.

Manuscripts sources from the Diaries, Journals, and Ships Logs Collection provide interesting sources for the study of reading, as they often record what people were reading or how they were influenced by what they read. Commonplaces, copybooks, and autograph or friendship albums were popular in the nineteenth century as personal books in which to collect copied or original verse and text. A survey of the contents of any particular album may provide a glimpse of what the individual and his or her circle of friends were reading at the time. Some diarists, such as Jessie Parker, kept records of what they read, and others, such as Charles Boss or the young men of the Bachelors Ten in their Bassoon, developed a style heavily influenced by what they read.

Literary manuscript collections are great sources for twentieth-century "little magazines" ("little mags") as well as mainstream periodicals where new -- sometimes radical -- writing by popular authors was introduced. The Cohn-Hemingway Collection or the Ernest Hemingway Collection both contain publishing ephemera and individual magazine issues, showing how extensively read was this popular writer. Much of his work first appeared in popular magazines, serially or in special issues, before it was published in book form.

Internet Sources:

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) serves as a gateway to numerous Internet sources for study of the history of reading.

Top of page

Reading in America, 1800 - 2000

Top of page

Advice on What and How to Read

Fraser, Donald, 1755?-1820.

The mental flower garden: or, An instructive and entertaining companion for the fair sex. In two parts. Containing: 1. A variety of entertaining and moral dialogues, partly original, calculated for misses from eight to twelve years. A collection of useful rules relative to genteel behaviour, and a polite address. Poetic pieces, devotional poems, writing pieces, &c. 2. Miscellaneous essays, worthy the perusal of women, at any period of life. To which are added, interesting sketches of female biography ... New York, Printed by Southwick & Hardcastle, no. 2. Wall-street, 1807.

LOCATION: Special Collections BJ1651 .F75 1807

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria, 1789-1867.

Means and ends, or, Self-training / by the author of Redwood, Hope Leslie, Home, Poor rich man, &c. &c. Boston : Marsh, Capen, Lyon, & Webb, 1839.

Dedicating her book to her "young country-women," girls of the ages ten to sixteen years, written for their "welfare and improvement," the author makes a strong case for making the most of privileges inherent to American girls, who enjoy "independent and individual existence." With other advice on self-training, the author writes about what to read and how to read. "Think my dear young friends, of the difference that is made in the character of a human being, simply by reading." (p. 238)

LOCATION: Morris Library PS2798 .M4 1839

Burnap, George Washington, 1802-1859.

Lectures to young men, on the cultivation of the mind, the formation of character, and the conduct of life. Delivered in Masonic hall, Baltimore. Baltimore : J. Murphy; Philadelphia : Kay & bro. [etc., etc.] 1841.

LOCATION: Special Collections BJ1671 .B9 1841

Warner, Beverley E. (Beverley Ellison), 1855-1910.

The young woman in modern life. New York : Dodd, Mead, 1903.

LOCATION: Morris Library HQ 1229 .W3x 1903

Top of page

The Trade

Lea & Febiger.

Catalogue of books offered to the trade / by Carey & Lea. [Philadelphia : The Company, ca. 1825]

LOCATION: Special Collections Trade Catalog

Thomas Webb Scrapbook, 1840s

Scrapbook of contemporary trade circulars and price lists from American publishers collected by Thomas Webb, Bookseller, Boston.

LOCATION: Special Collections [Manuscripts]

Lee and Shepard.

Illustrated holiday catalogue. Boston : The Company, 1877-1878.

LOCATION: Special Collections Trade Catalog

Harper & Brothers.

Harpers' list of books for boys and girls, 1888 ... New York : The Company, 1887.

LOCATION: Special Collections Trade Catalog

Good times at home : a library of entertainment, instruction and amusement, embracing seven instructive books in one volume ... / edited by Logan Howard-Smith. Philadelphia, Pa. : Union Book and Bible House, 1909.


Joyce, James, 1882-1941.

Ulysses / New York : Random House, 1934.

Salesman's dummy; first 16 pages include text; remaining pages blank.


Top of page

Reading Moral Lessons

Little May's legacy ; and, The story of a basket. Philadelphia : American Sunday-School Union, [18--?]

Front endpaper inscribed: "Emma B. Worrell, Nov. 27, 1870, A reward for well learned lessons."

LOCATION: Special Collections PZ813 .L778

Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society.

Illustrated catalogue and price list. Boston : Congregational Book Stores, 1892.

LOCATION: Special Collections Trade Catalog

Book case [realia].

The School District Library. New York: Harper & Brothers, [1840s]

"Embracing history, voyages and travels, biogrpahy, natural history, the physcial sciences, agriculture, manufacturers, arts, commerce, belles lettres, the history and philosophy of education, etc. ... sold for twenty dollars, including a neat case with a gold lock, delivered at forty-five places in the State ... "

LOCATION: Special Collections

Sargent, Epes, 1813-1880.

Wealth and worth, or, Which makes the man? New-York : Harper & Brothers, 1843.

The School District Library, No. 208.

This volume is one of the many titles that was included in the School District Library, housed in the book case (described above). The publisher's advertisement in the book touts nineteenth-century family values for the American reading public. "This is the first of a contemplated series of 'American Family Tales.' The greater part of our current literature ... is of English origin, often unsuited in its tone to a full sympathy with our republican institutions, and generating associations with foreign scenes and modes of life, instead of fostering sentiments of attachment to our own native soil and people. To infuse an earnest, independent, American spirit ... such will be the paramount objects regarded in the preparation of these tales."

LOCATION: Morris Library PS2777 .W43 1843

Top of page

Adventure Series for Boys

Beadle's dime serio-comic speaker; a new and choice collection of original, selected and adapted laughable, enjoyable and effective pieces for school, exhibition and home stage... New York : Beadle and Adams [c1877]

LOCATION: Special Collections PN4201 .B375

Castlemon, Harry, 1842-1915.

The boy trapper / by Harry Castlemon [pseud.]... Philadelphia : Coates, [c1878]

LOCATION: Special Collections PS 1694 .F146 B68 1878

Beadle's boy's library of sport, story and adventure. New York : Beadle and Adams.

Serial publication featuring tales of Deadwood Dick, Buffalo Bill, etc,

LOCATION: Special Collections PS648.D5 B415

Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909.

Real gold : a story of adventure / with eight illustrations by W. S. Stacey. London : Chambers, [1894?]

LOCATION: Special Collections PR 4699 .F1844 R44 1894

Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909.

A dash from Diamond City / illustrated by F. A. Stewart. London : E. Nister ; New York : E. P. Dutton & Co., [1901]

LOCATION: Special Collections PR 4699 .F1844 D36 1901

Lawton, Wilbur, 1879-1917.

The boy aviators' polar dash, or, Facing death in the Antarctic / by Captain Wilbur Lawton [pseud.]... New York : Hurst, [c1910]

LOCATION: Special Collections PS 3513 .O328 B62 1910

Payson, Howard, 1879-1917.

The boy scouts of the Eagle patrol / by Lieut. Howard Payson [pseud.] ... New York : Burt, 1911.

LOCATION: Special Collections PS 3513 .O328 B84 1911

Rockwood, Roy.

Dave Dashaway, air champion : or, Wizard work in the clouds. New York : Cupples & Leon, [c1915]

LOCATION: Special Collections PS 3535 .O2684 D28 1915

MSS 097 Diaries, Journals, and Ships Logs

Item 006 Boss, Charles. Daily report of Charles Boss: Life and adventures on the Frontiers, Composed in Field, Jail, and Escapes, Prairie, Mountains, Rivers, Indians, Pioniers, Robbers, and Murder stories, Theft and Desertion, District of Territories Expeditions from 1869-1876, 1877. 1 volume (444 pp.)

This volume, written later than 1884 when Boss was discharged from Company F, 22nd U. S. Infantry, was based on "papers" he had kept during his service. Boss served in several campaigns, including the "Sioux Expedition, or Genr. Custer's Avengers," and the Nez Perce campaign of 1877, so his account refers to everyone from William Cody to Chief Joseph, from Yellowstone Kelly to Sitting Bull. His "life and adventures" includes both day-by-day accounts of soldiering duty with authentically boring details, and crafted tales of hair-raising dramas which are more-than-probably embellished and certainly mindful of penny thrillers and Wild West Shows.

MSS 100 > Manuscript & Archival Collections

MSS 391 Charles Humberd Dime Novel Collection, 1938 - 1946 (70 items)

Dr. Charles Humberd of Bernard, Missouri, was a collector of dime novels active in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a mail-order customer of dime novel dealers including Brooklyn-based Charles Bragin. Bragin appealed to the nostalgia of the "Old Boys of America" to build collections of their boyhood favorites -- dime novels featuring Buffalo Bill, Frank Merriwell, Nick Carter, and Deadwood Dick. Bragin's promotional material includes "have lists," price lists illustrated with dime novel cover reproductions, the "Dime Novel News"

MSS 478 Archive of M.J. Ivers and Company, 1880 - 1915 (bulk dates 1898 - 1905)

The New York based publishing firm of M.J. Ivers and Company was best known for its production of cheap books including Beadle’s Dime Dialogues, Dime Speakers, Dime Hand Books, Boy’s Library, and Deadwood Dick Library. Following the dissolution of Beadle and Adams in 1898, James Sullivan, the owner of M.J. Ivers and Company, purchased the collections of Beadle Dime and Half Dime Novels. M.J. Ivers and Company continued to publish these titles as monthlies under the name of Beadle and Adams until 1905.

Top of page

Graphic Arts
to Illustrate and Advertise

My book house [realia]. [Chicago] : The Book House for Children, [19--?].

Series compiled by Olive Beaupré Miller.

Salesman's display dummy. Single accordian-folded strip, with 7 panels. The 1st panel has 3 sample spines. The remainder are sample illustrated covers of individual titles in the series. Covers include: In the nursery (signed Milo Winter); Up one pair of stairs (signed K.P.); Through fairy halls (signed [?] Beard); The treasure chest (signed N.C. Wyeth); From the tower window (signed M.D. Charleson); The latch key (signed [?] Chenoweth).


GRA 112 Victorian Paperback Covers, ca. 1860 - ca. 1900, 271 items

The first books with pictures on the front paper covers were produced in England in the 1840s, but the style did not gain popularity until the 1850s. The best known of these early paperbacks were referred to as "yellowbacks," small inexpensive books bound in straw boards covered with a glazed colored paper (usually yellow) which were sold largely in railway bookstalls. By the mid-1850s, publishers were producing popular fiction in paper covers, with an illustration pertaining to the text on the front cover and, often advertisements on the back cover. This collection comprises lithographic page proofs for illustrated paperback covers published in England and the United States between 1860 and 1900. The titles include popular fiction, children's literature, religious publications, and popular magazines for children.

Outcault, R. F. (Richard Felton), 1863-1928.

Proofs for Pore Lil Mose, 1901.

Proofs for a strip by the "father of American comics," creator of the Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

LOCATION: Special Collections: Graphic Arts Collections [ Drawer 12 ]

Advertising Proofs for Books and Publishing

LOCATION: Special Collections: Graphic Arts Collections [ Drawer 5 ]

Ward, Lynd, 1905-

Vertigo. New York, Random House, 1937.

A novel in woodcuts by Lynd Ward.

LOCATION: Special Collections NE1215.W3 A49

GRA 113 Vietnam War Literature Collection Dust Jackets, 1931 - 1987, (bulk dates 1966 - 1982 ), 245 items

From works of fiction, poetry, plays, personal narratives, biographies, and journalism; covers reflect the cultural diversity of the time and some of the images utilize the pop art style of the 1960s. There are many images of the war itself, using photography or drawings to depict the real and imagined horrors of battle.

MSS 553 Roland Bounds Science Fiction Collection, containing over 20,000 volumes

Bounds (1953 - 2002) collected science fiction, an interest he developed at age thirteen when he “discovered the large amount of material being published but not available in either the local county or school libraries.” Bounds concentrated on collecting vintage (pre-1965) paperbacks and pulp magazines (pre-1953). Thematically, he developed an interest in “the way technological advances have been predicted and the ways that authors of various times have viewed society and its problems.” He also collected with an interest in book and magazine cover art and illustration of science fiction and fantasy.

Literature Reimagined: An Exhibition of Illustrated Texts
Drawn from Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library, this online exhibition offers multiple editions of literary classics, focusing on the ways in which they have been reinterpreted and illustrated over time.

Top of page

Reading: Private Practice and Social Act

Hendrick, Joel

The Common Place Book of Joel Hendrick, commenced April 13th, 1844, Norwich Academy [Connecticut?].

Mackintosh, John

Extracts from the Histories of Scotland and England, 1806.

Olney, Oliver

The Traveller's Offering; or "Summer Blossoms" and "Autumn Leaves," Philadelphia, 1853.

"To Caroline A. Smith these blossoms & leaflets, gleaned from mountain, lake and dell, are most respectfully dedicated as a token of affection & regard by the compiler and author."

Presentation album of verse copied for and dedicated to a young man's sweetheart, with extraordinarily accomplished penmanship and calligraphy.

Peale, Eleanor

A Book for Extracts, ca. 1820-1850

Copied and original verse and prose with elaborate penmanship and calligraphy in more than one hand. The book also includes some original art. Text is copied from Wordsworth, Shelley, Milton, and the book also includes "Twas the Night before Christmas" copied from the Troy Sentinel [1823].

Recueil de Morceaux choisis / extraits de differens Auteurs, [18th c.]

In French and English, including selections from Dr. Johnson.

Sampler of prose and poetry, [Philadelphia], ca. 1828

Mss 097 Diaries, Journals, and Ships Logs

Item 005 Black, Samuel Henri. Selected from various authors, chosen paragraphs, agreeable to the fancy of the compiler for whose use, alone, they are written, 1810-1821.

Resident of New Castle County, Delaware. Personal miscellany, from copied quotations to agricultural memoranda.

Item 066 Shaw, Caroline. [Album of verses], 1828-1829.

Friendship album of probable student of Deer Park Seminary for young women in Newark, Delaware.

Item 057 Parker, Jessie Southard, b. 1873. Journals, 1899-1916, 9 volumes

Upper middle-class resident of Belmont, a suburb of Boston, where her husband practiced law. She created uniquely illustrated journal/scrapbooks which record experiences of daily life and reflections on national and international events during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Colorful ephemera supplements Parker's written entries, which include regular recordings of what she read.

MSS 100 > Manuscript & Archival Collections

MSS 449 Littell Family Papers, 1808-1999

Delaware and Pennsylvania family, including three Morris sisters from Germantown, Pennsylvania, who created numerous copybooks and scrapbooks in the 19th century.

Box 3 F47 Copybook/scrapbook, ca. 1830-1876.

Includes clippings of engravings, original and copied poems, stories, and quotations assembled and written by members of the Morris and Littell families.

Pollard, Alfred W. (Alfred William), 1859-1944.

Books in the house; an essay on private libraries and collections for young and old. Indianapolis, By arrangement with R. F. Seymour by the Bobbs-Merrill company [1904]

LOCATION: Special Collections Z1003 .P75

Harper, Henry Howard, 1871-

Book-lovers, bibliomaniacs and book clubs. Boston : Privately printed at the Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1904.

LOCATION: Special Collections Z992 .H35

The Library Catalogue and Index, containing space for one thousand five hundred titles. Chicago, Ill. : Shepard & Johnston, 140-146 Monroe Street, [189-]

MSS 260 New Century Club of Newark, Delaware, records, 1893 - 1996

The New Century Club of Newark, Delaware, was organized as a reading club by a group of eight Newark women in 1893. The "Tuesday Club," as the organization was originally named, met weekly for social time and the presentation of original papers.

MSS 419 The Bassoon, 1889 - 1892, 5 volumes

The Bassoon is a holograph manuscript of a serialized journal that was created in the course of Friday evening fellowship of the Bachelor’s Ten Society, a small club of teenage boys who attended the all-male Central High School of Philadelphia. Begun as an entertaining exercise in the field of journalism, The Bassoon is a unique record of the intellectual and recreational activities of a lively circle of nineteenth-century friends. Its style and content mimics various genres of what the young men would have been reading. The manuscripts include serial stories, cartoons, caricatures, editorials, plays, sporting reports, and poetry.

Top of page

New Literature

MSS 110 Archive of Pagany, 1925 - 1970 (bulk dates 1929 - 1933)

From the first issue in the Spring of 1930, until the final issue in February of 1933, Pagany presented a remarkable sampling of the best American writing, especially in the realm of fiction. During those three years, Pagany's content tables contained the names of many prominent twentieth-century authors, including William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Mary Butts, Kenneth Rexroth, Dudley Fitts, Hilda Doolittle, John Dos Passos, Charles Henri Ford, Conrad Aiken, e.e. cummings, and Louis Zukofsky.

MSS 100 Louis Henry Cohn and Marguerite Cohn Hemingway Collection, 1918 - 1983 (bulk dates 1925 - 1965)

Books, periodicals, correspondence, manuscripts, ephemera, and papers relating to Ernest Hemingway, gathered by Captain Cohn (d. 1953), a bookseller who was Hemingway's first bibiliographer.

Green Hills of Africa was first serialized in Scribner's, beginning in May 1935, reaching the "climax of a gret hunting narrative," five issues later, in November 1935.

Trade ephemera in the collection includes newsletters from The Bookseller: the Organ of the Book Trade and Book-of-the-Month News announcing works by Hemingway.

MSS 269 Ernest Hemingway Collection, 1938 - 2002

Includes periodicals containing contributions by Ernest Hemingway, or mention of Hemingway or his work; lobby cards, film posters, and other theatrical and film ephemera relating to the stage or screen versions of Hemingway's work; and other miscellaneous manuscript or ephemeral materials.

F249 "The Snows of Kilimanjaro: a long story," Esquire: the magazine for men, August 1936.
Hemingway's story leads a list of twelve other pieces of fiction in this issue, including a story by John O'Hara.

F250 "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," Hearst's International - Cosmpolitan, September 1936.
The cover announces "Novelette by Ernest Hemingway" and the magazine is evidently proud of its publishing coup, proclaiming a "story by Ernest Hemingway is a literary event."

F18 "The Old Man and the Sea." Life, September 1, 1952.
"The editors of Life proudly present for the first time and in full a great new book by a great American author ... "

MSS 164 Paul Bowles Collection, 1930 - 2002

Throughout the 1940s, Paul Bowles, already established in a music career, emerged as an author by publishing short stories in literary reviews and commercial magazines. His work appeared in titles varying from Charles Henri Ford's View to Mademoiselle. The Paul Bowles Collection includes a number of the eclectic literary magazines where his work appeared.

Top of page

This page is maintained by Special Collections.

  • UD Library Special Collections  •   181 South College Avenue  •   Newark, DE 19717-5267  •   USA
    Phone: USA +1 302-831-2229  •   ©2014