University Libraries

Andersen Library

April 1, 2015
8:30am - 7:00pm

Hess Collection: Past, Present, and Future

Based paper originally presented at the American Cultural Association, March 1989, St. Louis, MO. The statistics were updated in September, 2003.


A second major collection in the CLRC is the Hess collection, comprised primarily of inexpensive, popular literature from the 19th and 20th centuries, encompassing everything from story papers, dime novels, and series books to some adult popular fiction and early paperbacks (including armed services editions) to pulps and comic books.

The core collection was donated by George Hess. Hess was born in 1873 and grew up when boys still regularly read dime novels. In one of his “Newsy Notes” in Dime Novel Round-Up, Ralph Cummings included the story of how Hess became interested in Dime novels: “When George was a youngster he pedaled (sic) daily papers, out in Omaha, Nebr., and used to divide his papers at the firehouse, and one day he picked up a (dime) novel after the firemen had read it, and started to read it himself, so from then on he’s been a dime novel fan.”

Actually, that last statement is incorrect, Hess discarded his dime novels as he grew older, and didn’t begin collecting again until 1928. One of his goals was to find at least one of the dime novels he’d owned as a boy-he’s apparently signed his name in each one, but he never did.

In the process, however, he amassed an amazing collection, roughly 17,000 British dime novels, periodicals, annuals, and boys’ books in parts; 1,000 American periodicals, 30,000 American dime novels, and 5,000 hardcover series books, totalling approximately 50,00 items.

Along with collection dime novels, Hess was a member of Dime Novel Round-Up’s Happy Hour Brotherhood from 1938 until his death in 1954, when his collection came to the University of Minnesota. Since then, additional donations by Charles Bragin, Herbert Leirstein, and Edward LeBlanc have added substantially to the collection’s dime novel and series book holdings.


The Hess collection is absolutely astounding-so much so, that it’s difficult to know where to begin describing it. It has extensive holdings in Beadle & Adams dime novels, many of which are now on microfilm, as part of University Microfilm’s international series, Dime Novels: Escape Fiction of the Nineteenth Century. This 73-reel set covers roughly 3,000 titles, not all by Beadle & Adams. Since the Hess has a complete set of the microfilm, researchers can look at the dime novels, but use the microfilm for heavy reading or for having photocopies made, saving wear and tear on the fragile dime novels. Incidentally, because a special camera was made, none of the dime novels were damaged in the filming. A more recent grant also allowed microfilming of roughly 4,100 additional dime novels, mostly Street & Smith publications. The collection has a set of the microfilm for researchers, and a second set for out-of-towners, available through interlibrary loan.

In addition to its Beadle & Adams material, the Hess has items from numerous other publishers. It has a number of story papers, including a 15-year run of Golden Days, a 7-year run of Good News, and the first 23 years of Boys Own Annual, with scattered volumes from later years. The Collection also contains one issue of Bright Days, Stratemeyer’s own story paper, and several issues of Young Sports and Young Sports Library, before and after it became Young People of America. We’re still acquiring titles, through purchases and donations, to try to complete as many of the series as possible.

Among the paperback novels, the collection holds numbers 2 through 15 in the paperback Dave Fearless series published by Garden City; it also holds the first 13 Nat Ridley titles, another of the four paperback series issued by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1926-7. Many of the Nat Ridley stories are adaptations of dime novels Stratemeyer originally wrote for the Old Cap Collier Library- and the collection also has most of these dime novels.

The Hess also has many issues of the New York Weekly, including those carrying the serialized version of “Estelle, the little Cuban rebel,” a romance Edward Stratemeyer wrote under the Pseudonym Edna Winfield. So far, this appears to be Stratemeyer’s first historical fiction, although it’s far more fictional and adventure than history and romance.

A second aspect of the New York Weekly was its fictional installment. For at least several months in 1897 and 1898, the Weekly included an entire novel as a supplement to each issue. The collection has most of the first 23 of these, including one by Julia Edwards, a pseudonym that may have been used by Stratemeyer-although not for this title, which was originally published in 1877. Several other Stratemeyer Edna Winfield titles are also represented, through the Holly Library series, published by Mershon from about 1898 through at least 1901.


Of interest to dime novel researchers rather than just Stratemeyer collectors are a few other items. One is office copies of Beadly & Adams’ Saturday Journal. Most of our volumes have a sheet of Beadle & Admas stationary pasted inside the front cover, listing the stories in the issues, with pencilled notations bearing reprint information. A handwritten note of the endpapers of the third volume says that the annotations are in Mr. Beadle’s handwriting.


Second are two bits of ephemera from Street & Smith. One is an advertising poster, circa 1930. This is actually a 2-page poster, with one page printed on both sides. It advertises titles from fourteen at Street & Smith’s paperback series. The second item is a cardboard box with its cover illustrated with pictures of Street & Smith’s paperback series. (This isn’t handmade-the paper for the cover is printed with this design).

The collection also had some publishers’ catalogues, including Street & Smith catalogues from most years from 1925-33. One catalogue, from 1911, is actually a special sales publication for the nickel weeklies. It reprints opening chapters from three dime novels from the TipTop Weekly, Nick Carter Weekly, and Buffalo Bill Stories followed by a list of titles in each series.

In addition to the dime novels and serials, the Hess collection, or course, has series books and popular boys’ books from the 19th century. It includes a copy of The Young Adventurer, autographed by Horatio Alger, and most of Alger’s other works in various editions.

The series book collection’s strength lies in its scope. Although it lacks many of the scarcer titles-including all ten titles on Dr. Dizer’s “most wanted” list-it has representative titles from most series, ranging from the 1860s through the 1940s, with some holdings after that date. This can prove useful for comparative studies-for example, Anne MacLeod’s article on Nancy Drew and her rivals was based on research with girls’ series books at the collection.

Although the Hess Collection is primarily American editions, it does occasionally receive foreign books. Included are foreign editions of titles from three Stratemeyer syndicate series-Department of Danger and Mission: Moonfire from the Chris Cool/Teen Agent series, The Firebird Rocket from the Hardy Boys, and The Secret in the Old Attic from Nancy Drew. The latter two are Swedish; the Chris Cool are Icelandic.

One addition to the Collection was a purchase in the 1960s and 534 Big Little Books, including the last two Tom Swifts.


Another donation was Charles Messecar’s complete set of American Boy, spanning 1900 to 1941. Among other things, the magazine provides a striking contrast to the type of illustrations-and fiction-found in story papers like Good News and Golden Hours. It features the first appearance of Stratemeyer’s Civil War story, "In Defense of His Flag" (5/10-6/07), parts of which ran concurrently with one of the serialized Stratemeyer Algers, The Young Book Agent (6/06-11/06). It also contains three Mark Tidd stories by Clarence Budington Kelland never reissued in book form-Mark Tidd in Palestine (12/26-3/27), Mark Tidd in Paris (10/29-1/30), and Mark Tidd Back Home (4/31-7/31).

Our most recent donation is the Denis R. Rogers/Edward S. Ellis Collection, which came to the University in 1986. It includes roughly 1,100 British and American hardcover books by Ellis and a few of his contemporaries, over 300 European editions of Ellis titles, plus dime novels in over 60 different series, and 57 different periodicals. It also has microfilm, photocopies, Roger’s typed transcriptions of Ellis stories, plus correspondence and noted covering more than 30 years of research, and the typescript for the original version of Roger’s bibliography, A Guide to Edward S. Ellis, and the partial revision, Roger’s correspondence alone fills 19 manuscript boxes. We’re working on a guide to the correspondence and notes, since they contain so much useful information.

One of the scarcest titles-if not THE scarcest-in the Ellis Collection is volume one of A Grandfather’s Historic Stories of Our County-the only volume we have. This is part of a 10-volume set that Ellis hoped would be his masterpiece. He visualized it along the lines of Peter Parley’s two-volume Universal History of America (1837) (ghostwritten by Nathaniel Hawthorne), but Ellis’s work was an economic failure. Ellis’s descendants have one set of Historic Stories, and the Library of Congress has another, but those appear to be the only other copies in existence.

As some of Denis Roger’s articles for Dime Novel Round-Up suggest, the Rogers/Ellis Collection is useful not just for the study of Ellis, but for information about publishing practices in England and America. His article, "A Publication Pattern of Edward S. Ellis" (Co-authored with H. Edward Leithead) traced the different formats used by Porter & Coates, Henry T. Coates, and John C. Winston. Six editions of The Cabin in the Clearing and two editions of The Last War Trail show the different formats used for most juvenile titles until approximately 1890; second, the individualized covers used for the different series, in this case circa 1891; third, the Henry T. Coates cover for the Ellis titles reissued in the Roundabout Library for Young People, circa 1898. These were followed by John C. Winston editions: the early Winston edition of the Roundabout Library, circa 1905; the individualized series covers, circa 1907; the Edward S. Ellis Pioneer Series of Books for Boys, circa 1915. The format of two editions of The Last War Trail are chronologically just before and after the 1915 editions. The first is for The New Library of Famous Books by Edward S. Ellis, circa 1909, and has the series title stamped on the spine; the other, from the 1920s has a similar format, but no series title on the spine.

Finally, the Ellis Collection truly illustrates the extent to which American popular culture –especially stories of the frontier-is exported to other parts of the world. Among its holdings are Scandinavian editions of the Deerfoot stories from the 1910s through the 1970s.

This has been only a short survey of some of the materials available to researchers in the CLRC. We hope some of you will visit the collection and see more of our holdings firsthand.

-- Deidre Johnson

Excerpted by permission from Dime Novel Round-Up 60 (April 1991)