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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.[1]

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 1848.[2] 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.[3]

See also[edit]


  • "Rare Books - Important Acquisitions". Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  • "Recent acquisitions - Rare Books". National Library of Scotland. October 2001. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
  1. ^ "Introduction · Yellowbacks". Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  2. ^ Flanders, Judith (2006-08-20). "Hooked on books". The Sunday Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  3. ^ Jackson, Holbrook (1914). The eighteen nineties; a review of art and ideas at the close of the nineteenth century. London: New York, Kennerley. p. 44.

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