Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, and Suspense; or, Northern Illinois University’s Nickels and Dimes Collection

The Illinois Digital Heritage Hub welcomes our latest data provider, Northern Illinois University (NIU) and its fabulous collection of dime novels. NIU’s rich contribution comprises more than 4,600 digitized dime novels from about 1860 to 1930, many of which have not been widely available since their initial publication more than a hundred years ago.

Books in the collection are some of the earliest examples of familiar genres, like westerns, science fiction, romance novels, and mysteries. These would have been read by everyone from factory workers to children, providing unique insights into what a diverse group of Americans were thinking and feeling in the 19th century. This also means, however, that items in the collection sometimes have a darker side, using language or imagery that today would be considered sexist, racist, or otherwise problematic.

The collection is a valuable resource for studying the history of print culture, the origins of genre fiction, and 19th century attitudes about race, gender, and class, and is now widely available to researchers, educators, and students through the DPLA.

The items highlighted here represent some of the most striking cover illustrations of the fully digitized works that can be seen in their complete full-text glory in the NIU’s digital library.

Illustrated cover featuring a trapper in a classic animal-skin hat
Seth Jones; or, The Captive of the Frontier. 1860. Northern Illinois University. Public domain.
Cover art featuring a carriage of children being pulled by a human-like robot
The Huge Hunter; or, The Steam Man of the Prairies. 1870. Northern Illinois University. Public domain.
Newpaper print first page of novel featuring image of a circle of people dressed like cowboys in what appears to be a saloon
Captain Volcano; or, The Man of the Red Revolvers. 1881. Northern Illinois University. Public domain.
Cover art featuring a woman and man escaping on ropes out of a trap door; man firing on a group of people clad in red devil pajamas
A Compact with Dazaar; or, The Devil Worshipper’s Den. 1904. Northern Illinois University. Public domain.
Cover art featuring three men in bowler hats.
Three Jolly Pards; or, The Pets of Paddy’s Flat. 1886. Northern Illinois University. Public domain.

All of Northern Illinois University’s items may be accessed in the DPLA here.