Stanford's Dime Novel and Story Paper Collection consists of over 8,000 individual items, and includes long runs of the major dime novel series (Frank Leslie's Boys of America, Happy Days, Beadle's New York Dime Library, etc.) and equally strong holdings of story papers like the New York Ledger and Saturday Night.
Both genres flourished from the middle to the close of the 19th century in America and England (where the novels were known as "penny dreadfuls"), and benefited from three mutually reinforcing trends: the vastly increased mechanization of printing, the growth of efficient rail and canal shipping, and ever-growing rates of literacy.
The dime novels were aimed at youthful, working-class audiences and distributed in massive editions at newsstands and dry goods stores. Though the phrase conjures up stereotyped yarns of Wild West adventure, complete with lurid cover illustration, many other genres were represented: tales of urban outlaws, detective stories, working-girl narratives of virtue defended, and costume romances.
Story papers, weekly eight-page tabloids, covered much the same ground, but often combined material and themes to appeal to the whole family. The chief among them had national circulations greater than any other newspaper or magazine, some reaching 400,000 copies sold per issue. Unlike the dime novels, which generally confine illustration to the cover, the story papers integrate text and illustration (in the form of wood engravings) throughout.