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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.[citation needed]

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.

Routledges was one of the first publishers to begin marketing yellow-backs by starting their "Railway Library" in 1849. The series included 1,277 titles, published over 50 years. These mainly consisted of stereotyped reprints of novels originally published as cloth editions. By the late 19th century, yellow-backs included sensational fiction, adventure stories, "educational" manuals, handbooks, and cheap biographies.[citation needed]

Two typical examples of authors of yellow-backs include James Grant and Robert Louis Stevenson.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. Rare Books - Important Acquisitions, National Library of Scotland, retrieved 2007-03-22 
  2. Recent acquisitions - October 2001 - Rare Books, National Library of Scotland, retrieved 2007-03-22 

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