November 15, 2010

A novel collection of Victorian literature comes to MARBL

One exciting find in Topp's collection is the first paperback edition of "Dracula" from 1901.

Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library's (MARBL) recent acquisition of 4,000 paperbacks and "yellowbacks" from the 19th century, combined with its existing holdings of 1, 260 yellowbacks, will give the University the largest such collection in this country, perhaps in the world, over 5,000.

 Yellowbacks were cheap, 19th-century British literature sold at railway bookstalls, with colorful, sensationalized covers to attract buyers. The name comes from the yellow-glazed illustrated covers.

The collection was acquired in September from Chester W. Topp of Cleveland, says David Faulds, MARBL rare book librarian. He says he'll be able to confirm the size of the collection once he finishes cataloging it.

Emory Libraries plans to make the new collection available online, which Faulds estimates will take approximately three years to catalog, organize and digitize.

Emory announced the completed digitization of its previous yellowbacks collection last spring. Most of the yellowbacks from the existing collection were scanned into a digital format and made available on the Libraries' website, including books by authors such as Jane Austen and Mark Twain as well as popular yellowback writers like Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope and Ouida.

Topics of yellowbacks vary widely and include well-known literature, detective stories, romance, sports, medicine, science, war and other subjects.

Collection highlights

The variety within the new collection makes it unique.

"It's often easy to acquire a large collection of works by a single author, but it's not often you get to acquire the world's largest collection of a whole genre of literature like paperbacks or hardcovers," Faulds says. "What's interesting about this collection is the subject matter is so diverse. The consistency is the binding style."

One exciting find in Topp's collection is the first paperback edition of "Dracula" from 1891.

"We have a copy and the British Library has a copy," Faulds says. "Interestingly, Bram Stoker revised and abridged his work for the paperback edition."

Another discovery is a collection of books by Kate Greenaway, a well-known Victorian-era book illustrator, particularly of children's stories. Her work is still recognized today.

Discovering Topp's collection

Faulds learned of Topp's collection more than a year ago, while he was preparing a small exhibition based on MARBL's existing collection of 1,260 yellowbacks accumulated during the 1960s and 70s.

He was consulting a bibliography of yellowbacks and Victorian novels written by Topp and learned that the 92-year-old author had been collecting such books for decades.

Faulds contacted Topp's son, publisher of the bibliography, and learned the family wanted to find a home for his father's collection. Faulds expressed MARBL's interest in the books, and the two sides worked out an agreement.

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