19th Century Printing: The Chap-BookApril 4, 2013
A chapman was an Old English term used to describe a person who went door to door selling cheap goods. Among them were small books, called “chap-books”, that were often little more than stitched together pamphlets containing essays and poems with a few wood-carved illustrations. The McGill Library in Montreal has been running a digital scanning project for some time now to record many of these old texts.
In the late 1890s (1894 to be exact) a publishing house in Cambridge, MA started to issue a series of books called The Chap-Book that kept much of the same spirit, using inexpensive paper stock and selling them for 5 to 10 cents apiece. The artwork also had much of the same flavor, as well as small linear sketches and simple coloring to maintain that wood-cut look. Some of the regular artists who appeared in them were Fred Hazenplug and Fred Richardson. After relocating to Chicago, the publishers, H.S. Stone & Company, stopped their publication in 1898.
What I’ve found particularly enjoyable about these books is not just the content of their artists and writers, but the advertising they included within. They have led me to names of other artists and publishing houses that have been swallowed up by time. You can view many of these books at Archive.org.