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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cheap Reads: Broadsides and Chapbooks

Sample broadsides, courtesy the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland.

A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only.  Historically they were posters, announcing events or proclamations, or simply advertisements. Early ones were often illustrated with woodcuts.  As these were considered ephemera, they were created for an express intention, and then discarded.

Circa 1828, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

Before printing presses, broadsides were written by hand.  The earliest printed broadsides were printed in blackletter (Gothic, or sometimes Old English typeface). Circa 1700, the typeface was replaced by roman type (or sometimes italic), and known as whiteletter.

Samples of blackletter typefaces, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sample of modern roman typeface, commissioned by the British newspaper,
The Times, in 1931.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The classic broadside proclamation is the Dunlap Broadside - the first publication of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, printed on the night of July 4, 1776 by John Dunlap, who published an estimated 200 copies.  Dunlap also printed one of an account of George Washington crossing the Delaware on December 30, 1776.

Dunlap's shop was near the corner of 2nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia, just blocks
away from the State House (Independence Hall).  Image courtesy of www.ushistory.org.

Broadsides that were folded twice or more to make pamphlets were called chapbooks.  These reached the height of their popularity in the 18th century. Although the form originated in Britain, they were produced in the United States as well at the same time.  Where the word came from is unclear.  Some sources say it was phonetic spelling for "cheap books", and those whose sold them were "chapmen".  Other sources state that the term for the pamphlets came from their peddlers.

An early children's chapbook, courtesy of www.library.pitt.edu.

Like broadsides, chapbooks were sold for a penny or halfpenny.  Both were produced cheaply, and since paper was expensive, were usually recycled for wrapping or baking, and there are even some references as to their use as bum fodder, or toilet paper.  Eventually both forms of cheap information were replaced by newspapers.  Broadsides and chapbooks are still being produced by small printers and publishers, usually as a fine art product intended to be hung on walls, and still with a woodcut (albeit a finely crafted one.)

Modern broadside created by Paul Hunter for Wood Works Press from hand-set metal type on
archival paper with an original woodcut.  Limited edition of 160 copies.  Watermarked.

Broadside ballads have a history of their own, preceding chapbooks but with similar content.  Most of the broadsides and chapbooks were written by anonymous hacks, working out of pubs.  At first sold in the streets by peddlers, some traveling from town to town, they were later sold in stalls.  Tomorrow we'll look at the ballads...


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