What is a chap book?

Question_markAs a writer, you may come across words and phrases you are unfamiliar with, and you should be curious enough to do a bit of research to find out if you can add the new word to your bag of tricks! Recently, I had heard of an aspiring writer creating a chap book and wondered….What is a chap book?


chap book1“A chapbook is “a small book or pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts”. The term is still used today to refer to short, inexpensive booklets. The context I am using it in is that of the Early Modern period in England. Chapbooks were small, cheaply produced books, most often octavo or duodecimo printings of twenty-four pages, sold without a cover. Pamphlets were similar to chapbooks, but they can be divided by their content. Pamphlets generally concerned matters of the day, such as politics, religion, or current events. Chapbooks were timeless books of jest and tales that often sprang out of folklore.

chap book2Chapbooks were so called because they were sold by peddlers known as chapmen. Chap comes from the Old English (word) for trade, so a chapman was literally a dealer who sold books. Chapmen would carry boxes containing the conveniently sized editions, either in town on street corners, or traveling through the countryside. They typically sold their wares for two pence or three pence, and stocked a large variety of titles. Among the types of content contained in chapbooks were romantic tales of chivalry, religious and moral instruction, cookbooks, guides to fortune telling and magic, and bawdy stories full of innuendo.”

This information was found in a paper written by a student at MIT, here’s the link: http://web.mit.edu/21h.418/www/nhausman/chap1.html


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