Pamphlets or small books containing poetry or prose. Before the mid-19th century, this term referred to small books with popular, sensational, juvenile, moral, or educational content sold by street merchants commonly called “Chapman.”
Chapbooks are small and affordable books/pamphlets featuring poetry or prose. Chapbooks were highly popular throughout Europe from the 16th to 19th centuries, widely distributed by traveling salesmen to promote their wares.
Chapbooks were typically published on a single sheet of paper folded in halves or quarters before stitching closed with string or thread, known as an accordion binding. A woodcut illustration usually graced its cover, as was stitching through holes punched through each page to bind together.
Chapbooks were often made using lower-quality paper to cut production costs and keep costs manageable.
Chapbooks were used to disseminate folktales, poems, and religious texts and sell medicinal remedies and other goods.
The term chapbook derives its name from the French term chapitre (chapter). This may have occurred because chapbooks were often used to sell individual chapters of longer works.
Chapbooks were an economical alternative to books during the 16th and 17th centuries, providing new or controversial ideas with wider dissemination than was possible with books at that time. Though now mostly replaced by books, chapbooks still play an important role in publishing today.
Chapbooks can play an essential part in the literary ecosystem, helping support and promote emerging writers and providing educators with a cost-effective means of disseminating course materials.