…Old Chapbooks!

Comparing the old chapbooks available at London Low Life to the contemporary ones we looked at in class, it seems that chapbooks grow less ornate with time. With fancy borders, intricate illustrations, and a variety of page layouts, from these digitizations old chapbooks–Paul Pry’s Magic Lantern, for instance–really seem to be indistinguishable in basic page layout from what I would guess novels from this period look like? There’s not a lot of text in Magic Lantern because it’s meant for kids, but The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, on the other hand, has much smaller margins, presumably because it’s intended for an adult audience. I think this indicates that the gulf between chapbooks and book-books has widened over the course of the last century or so: maybe chapbooks were more respectable in the nineteenth century, or perhaps Victorianists just cared more about ornamentation in general than we do today. I bet I could tell the difference from a contemporary book-book from a chapbook–especially those ones that were printed in Times New Roman–but I probably couldn’t distinguish between the two published during the Victorian period. Now that I think about it, though, even modern professionally-published books are pretty minimalist when it comes to design flourish. It’s interesting–I wonder why print media has become more basic. …Just because it’s cheaper?

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