How Books Were Expensive in the 1800s

were books expensive in the 1800s

If you’re wondering how books were expensive in the 1800s, consider that most nineteenth-century families had very little disposable income. The most common amount that families had at their disposal was two shillings (10p) each week. The cost of books didn’t make them essential items, but they were still an important luxury for many people.

Dime novels

The dime novel is a type of novel that was once very popular in the 1800s. They were inexpensive, easy to read and addictive. They were also very light, weighing only a nickel or dime, and were easily stowed in a soldier’s knapsack. The dime novel was the creation of a printer named Erastus Beadle. Beadle also produced cheap music books.

Despite being cheap, dime novels were considered immoral by many people of the time. However, their popularity was partly because they affirmed the prevailing values of the day, including patriotism, self-reliance, and American nationalism. The creator of dime novels, Erastus Beadle, was a printer in Buffalo, New York, who saw a market for inexpensive paperbacks.


Before the industrial revolution, books were made by hand using traditional crafts. But, by the end of the 1800s, they had become an industrial product, largely thanks to technological advances. The exhibition highlights the innovations in papermaking, printing, binding, and illustration processes, which radically changed the process of making books. These advances made it possible to produce more books more quickly and cheaply.

The new technique of mass production brought down the price of books to one shilling. The Railway Library, for example, published novels at a penny each. In 1847, H.G. Bohn issued three series of classics. The cheapest reprint, called Cassell’s National Library, was published in cloth or paper for threepence. Its contents included stories and novels by H. Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H G Wells.


Piracy in books during the 1800s was a widespread practice. In America, piracy was particularly rampant during the early nineteenth century, when English-language books were reprinted in the United States without the authors’ permission. These books had already established a reputation in England, so the publishers in the United States did not run the risk of losing money. In addition to novels, pirated books also included newspapers and magazines.

There are numerous examples of pirate ships depicted in books from this period. Among them are the famous sloop Mary Celeste and the square-rigged ship “Fiibustier” (which is pronounced “flibustier”). Many pirate codes of conduct also banned gambling, which could cause conflicts. For example, Blackbeard was not known for torturing captives in a game of chance.


In the late 1820s, the average cost of a newspaper was six cents. Most people received their copy through yearly subscriptions, which cost anywhere from 10 to 12 dollars. Despite the high cost, newspaper readers tended to be affluent. However, as the Industrial Revolution brought about cheaper machine-made paper, newspaper costs began to decrease. The development of the steam-powered press and the construction of railroads also helped to lower the cost of distribution, which allowed newspapers to reach rural and remote areas.

Although individual newspapers were rare during the 1860s, the Civil War spurred public interest in news and the media, and the cost of printing these publications continued to decrease. However, after 1860, the demand for news increased substantially.

Price regulation

In the 1800s, publishers were under increasing pressure to limit price variations. As the volume of published books increased, there was a need for greater organization in the industry. Suicidal price-cutting in the retail trade was a particular problem. Price regulation was controversial because it trampled on the idea of free competition, but it ultimately served the interests of the entire industry, as well as the needs of book sellers. In the previous century, German publisher Reich had suggested the idea of net price regulation, and in 1825, the trade organization Borsenverein began to enforce the new policy.

Although there were many possible prices for books in the 1800s, not all of them were used. The prices for secular books ranged from two shillings to six shillings, although some titles were rarely sold for such a low price. The lowest prices were only found on 3% of total titles during the 1850s.

Shopping Cart