Chapbooks
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Special Collections
Level 5, The Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow
0141 287 2988
specialcollections@glasgowlife.org.uk

Chapbooks

Illustration detail from 'The King's Muster', published in Glasgow in 1823 by R. Hutchison

The Mitchell Library has a collection of around 1,100 chapbooks. By far the largest number are those published in Glasgow during the 18th and 19th centuries. These small pamphlets, usually printed on very cheap paper, were sold around the country by pedlars or 'chapmen' who carried bundles of them among their wares.

Chapbooks themselves emerged out of an earlier ballad tradition and the printers produced material that they thought would appeal to readers. With their crude illustrations, these flimsy little books covered every kind of humorous, fabulous and murderous tale. Abridged versions of novels were common and the most popular contained collections of songs and poems. For many people, it was the only affordable reading material available to them.

Early Scottish chapbooks often copied material from England, but by the 18th century home-grown material began to appear, featuring places, events and people that were particularly Scottish. The late 18th and early 19th century was the golden age of chapbook publication in Scotland, with more and more places, not just Glasgow and Edinburgh, producing them.

Despite the poor quality of their appearance, the large number of chapbooks which survive today testify to the extent of their interest and durability.

The Library's holdings are listed in the online catalogue - choose 'Author' search and use the term 'Chapbooks Collection'.  For more information on how to access this material please contact Special Collections. ​

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