In the late 1800’s literacy was spreading through all classes of British society, and reading was fast becoming one of the nation’s favourite pastimes. However, enjoying a good book wasn’t as easy back then as it is today. Firstly, mass produced paperbacks were yet to become commonplace, and many books still came in the form of great leather bound tomes, hardly the sort of thing you could take on the go. Secondly, even if you were prepared to work out your arms by carrying such a book around, they were too expensive for the average person to buy regularly. Luckily for the bookworms of the day, the Yellowbacks were on hand.
As a blog post from WHSmith reads, Yellowback books were a cheap and easy way to read, and came in easy to handle sizes which meant they were perfect for reading on the go. Yellowbacks were aimed to appeal to the everyday reader and would tell tales of action, romance, and drama. They were instrumental in allowing the less well off classes to discover the likes of Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling, not to mention Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels.
During the height of railway mania in the mid 1800’s, reading on trains became a very popular way to pass the time. Seeing a perfect opportunity, the grandson of the founder of WHSmith, William Henry Smith II, struck a deal for the sole bookstall rights on London & North Western Railway lines in 1848 and, later that year, the first WHSmith bookstall at Euston station.
More contracts followed with other train lines and, by 1851, 35 WHSmith & Son bookstalls stood across the rail network, though this number increased to 1,115 by 1935. At these stores, commuters could buy cheap novels to pass the time with, as well as essential accessories such as candles to read by and even blankets to get cozy. A lending service was even added which allowed passengers to borrow a book from a store at the start of their journey and return it to a store at the end.
Literary scholar Richard Altick described Yellowbacks as “the most inspired publishing invention of the era” and they are credited with playing a large role in helping the general public get an easy and affordable source of literature. Many low quality stores selling low quality books were around prior to the introduction of Yellowback books, but the standard set by William Henry Smith II soon saw them go into decline. He was considered to be a very moral man and, during his political career, he was even nicknamed ‘Old Morality’ by Punch magazine. He would vet the quality of the books and adverts found in his stores to ensure they were not morally corrupt. This had the effect of tidying up many of Britain’s rougher train stations and created a more welcoming atmosphere for commuters.
WHSmith considers Yellowbacks to be an important part of its history and now celebrates them by selling limited edition reproductions of the originals. You can still find original Yellowbacks for sale, though they’re now considered quite a rarity and tend to fetch a high price.
New books are nice, but can be pretty expensive. This, together with other factors, means second hand volumes are a go-to option for many a voracious reader.
Various websites and outlets sell used – or pre-loved – books, often for bargain prices. But they may not have the specific title that you are looking for in mind. And, it can take a while to find what you are after. So, it pays to know about all the different ways to find secondhand books, and ways of honing in your search. Read More
The group stormed Politics and Prose bookstore last Saturday afternoon while a scheduled talk by Jonathan Metzl was taking place. The speaker is a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and has just released ‘Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.’.
Although many of us may never get the opportunity to peruse the shelves of the impressive city bookstores or intimate independent stores around the world, Instagram is the next best thing.
Every good Reading Addict follows more bookish accounts on Instagram than anything else, and we are happy to add a few more to your feed.
Let us take you on a bookstore journey!
The list, created by Blackwell’s booksellers, publishers, authors, and friends of the bookshop will mark an all year celebration of the anniversary of the bookshops.
In the past few months, more than 1,300 writers, including the likes of Kerry Hudson, David Nicholls, Sally Rooney, and Val McDermid have shown support for a campaign that calls for Waterstones to provide its booksellers with a living wage.
The support comes in the wake of a petition created by Waterstones employees which has received over 8,000 signatures thus far. It demands that Waterstones’ managing director, James Daunt, should see that booksellers are paid a wage of at least £9 an hour, or £10.55 for those in the Greater London area.
It seems like the beginning of the perfect ghost story… An old building, packed to the rafters with memories, the books full of people’s stories and authors’ energy… A ghostly figure floating through the shelves at closing time…
The oldest book shop in the USA- the Moravian Book Shop in Pennsylvania- boasts its own spectral member of staff: a dark figure seen occasionally wandering through the store. According to an employee, Jane Clugston, the spirit once warned her of danger, and potentially saved the store, and her life…