Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) has acquired 4,000 19th century paperbacks and yellowbacks, which combined with its existing holdings of yellowbacks will make it the largest such collection in this country, perhaps in the world.  The collection was acquired from Chester W. Topp of Cleveland, says MARBL librarian David Faulds.  Its official size cannot be confirmed until it is all catalogued, but  Emory Libraries has already made plans to have the new collection available online, which Faulds estimates will take approximately three years to catalog, organize and digitize.

Yellowbacks were cheap, 19th-century British literature sold at railway bookstalls, with colorful, sensationalized covers to attract buyers. Topics varied widely and included well-known literature, detective stories, romance, sports, medicine, science, war, and other subjects. Last spring, Emory announced the complete digitization of its previous yellowbacks collection. Approximately 1,260 yellowbacks were scanned into a digital format and made available on the Libraries’ website, including books by Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and popular yellowback writers like Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, and Ouida.

Faulds first learned of Topp’s collection over a year ago, while preparing a small exhibition based on MARBL’s existing collection of yellowbacks accumulated during the ‘60s 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 at some point. Faulds expressed MARBL’s interest in the books, and the two sides worked out an agreement.

Exciting finds in the Topp collection include the first paperback edition of Dracula from 1891, and a collection of books by Kate Greenaway, a well-known Victorian-era book illustrator, particularly of children’s stories. The new collection’s variety 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.”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.