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Frank Reade Library

Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Publication.

US Dime-Novel SF series, letter-size. 191 issues (though #188-#191 are reprints of #1-#4) 24 September 1892 to 8 August 1898, weekly to 8 June 1894 (#82), biweekly from then on. Cost five cents. Published by Frank Tousey, Publisher, New York. (Partial reissue 1902-1904, partial UK reprint.) All issues were printed on very poor paper and seldom survive in good condition; the 1902-1904 reissue, with coloured covers, is sometimes considered more desirable than the first printing.

This was the earliest serial publication devoted solely to sf, with more issues than all of Hugo Gernsback's sf magazines put together, each containing a single or a half story about Frank Reade (4 stories) or Frank Reade, Jr. (179 stories). All but the last were attributed to "Noname" on their appearance in the Frank Reade Library. About one-quarter of the stories were reprints from other Tousey Boys' Papers (The Boys of New York, The Five Cent Wide Awake Library, Happy Days); the remainder were originals. As a whole, they comprise the most significant US dime-novel series, and in their exuberance (and stereotyped action), their humour (and their racism), their inventiveness (and the merciless repetition of similar inventions and Weapons), they represent the best and worst of the tradition.

It is impossible to attain final bibliographical certainty about a series of this sort, but E F Bleiler's The Frank Reade Library (omni 10vols 1979-1986), which reprints the entire sequence, casts as much light as can ever be hoped for. It is not known, for instance, how many authors wrote as "Noname", a House Name used for mysteries and Westerns as well as sf, though it is certain that the first Frank Reade story – Frank Reade and his Steam Man of the Plains (28 February 1876 The Boys of New York as by Harry Enton; 1892 as Frank Reade Library #12 as by "Noname") – was by Harold Cohen, who normally wrote as Enton. The tale was almost certainly commissioned by Frank Tousey in emulation of Edward S Ellis's The Steam Man of the Prairies (1868). Three more Frank Reade episodes followed (the first two written by Cohen), all involving steam-driven Transportation devices whose main use (it is one of the less attractive features of the sequence, many of whose episodes were set in the US West) seemed to be that of slaughtering large numbers of Native Americans.

In 1882, Frank Reade, Jr., son of Frank Reade, took over the action, beginning with Frank Reade, Jr., and his Steam Wonder (4 February-29 April 1882 The Boys of New York; 1893 as Frank Reade Library #20). The popularity of these stories presumably inspired Tousey to institute The Frank Reade Library itself in 1892. The first 50 issues or so generally reprinted tales from 1880s Tousey magazines; the remaining issues, beginning 1893, were mostly original titles. It is probable that most of the Frank Reade, Jr. stories were written by Luis Senarens, and en masse they suffered visibly from this hugely prolific author's carelessness, cheap jingoism, racist stereotyping and lackadaisical plotting. But, tedious or not, the sequence managed to make use of most of the sf venues and devices available at the close of the nineteenth century; in particular, Airships and submarines and various other means of Transportation – which served simultaneously as devastating weapons and means of near-magical travel (see Edisonade) – almost always featured prominently in the adventures of the indefatigable boy inventor. Significant issues include #48, Frank Reade, Jr., Exploring a River of Mystery (13 December 1890 Five Cent Wide Awake Library; 1893), not by Senarens, which has fantastic geography and travels in Africa and is based on Henry Stanley's books or newspaper dispatches, and #133: The Island in the Air (1896), probably by Senarens, perhaps the first consideration of Roraima (in British Guiana) as a Lost World, almost certainly a source for The Lost World (1912) by Arthur Conan Doyle. More typical, however, is the long episodic novel Frank Reade, Jr., and his Queen Clipper of the Clouds (2 February-6 July 1889 The Boys of New York; 1893) by Senarens.

The Frank Reade Library, however, does not contain all the adventures of the inventive Reade family. There are at least two uncollected stories about Frank Reade, Jr. and one about Frank Reade (Sr.). The last, Franke Reade, the Inventor, Chasing the James Boys with his Steam Team (1890), stands apart from the series and is the only Frank Reade story not attributed to "Noname". The third member of the Reade family, Frank Reade, III, stars in Young Frank Reade and his Electric Air Ship (1899) and perhaps in other unlocated stories. [EFB/JC]

further reading

  • The Frank Reade Library (New York: Garland Publishing, 1979-1986) [omni: in ten volumes: reprinting the complete Frank Reade Library: hb/]

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