Monday, July 16, 2012

A curling-related dime novel from 1906

by Bob Cowan

The mid 1800s to the early twentieth century was the era of the 'dime novel' in the USA. These were printed on cheap paper, and usually had colour cover illustrations. They targeted a young, working class readership, with Wild West adventures, detective stories and historical romances. In Britain the name given to these ephemeral publications was 'penny dreadfuls' (see here). They were the precursors of comic books and the mass market paperbacks of today.

Dime novels illustrate the reading tastes of an increasingly literate audience, and now provide a resource for researchers of popular history and culture. They also show how twentienth century printing techniques were developing.

One source says of dime novels, "Once the bane of the middle-class, these little books were considered the corrupters of youth and stepping-stones on the path to perdition."

Recently I was excited to come across a dime novel featuring curling!

'Frank Manley's Sweeping Score: A Wonderful Day at Curling' was No 20, January 19, 1906, of Frank Manley's Weekly, a thirty-two page magazine for boys which featured the adventures of Frank Manley, a young athlete who seems to excel in every sport he undertakes. The description on the magazine says, 'Each number contains a story of manly sports, replete with lively incidents, dramatic situations, and a sparkle of humor'. There were letters to the editor in the back of each issue.

It was one of a number of titles published by Frank Tousey, 24 Union Square, New York. Frank Manley's Weekly was first published in 1905, and ran for at least twenty-one issues.

This is a scan of the first inside page of the magazine, and you can see from the colour how much the cheap paper has deteriorated. It is of course 106 years old.

The story itself is wonderful, involving as it does ice yachting, as well as curling! Frank Manley and his friends in the Woodstock Junior Athletic Club successfully help a Russian, Count Sassaneff, retain possession of valuable diamonds as he is hunted by a group of villains (the Nihilists). At one point in the story, the diamonds are hidden in a rubber ball which ends up under the ice during a game of curling when the umpire (a middle aged Scotsman called Tam Samson, would you believe) falls through in his excitement! Needless to say there is a happy ending.

For the curling historian, there is much of interest. The sport is described as being played on outside natural ice, using the crampit for delivery. Individuals play a points competition, before the inter-club match. In that game the hero attempts a double raise with last stone of the last end, the opposition lying six!

"But to Manley there came sudden hope.
He saw a shot that was possible - barely possible.
It called for the most brilliant kind of a shot, however.
A careful posing, then a quick decisive delivery, and Manley's heart was very nearly in his mouth.
Up went the the stone in grand style and with crushing force.
It struck the stone at the hog-score - struck it dead - and this, in turn, struck dead Manley's own middle stone.
Now, in turn, Manley's own middle stone struck the winner of (sic) the tee and lay there.
'Match to Bradford'!"

The author of the story writes under the pseudonym 'Physical Director'.

The same person writes about curling in a 'Practical Talk on Training No 52' which is included in the magazine:

"Curling is a sport that deserves to be highly popular in these United States. I wish all of my young readers could go in for it during the winter months.
In the first place, it is a game that must be played out of doors, in the keen, bracing, frosty air of the ice season.
It is a game that is played with stones that range in weight from thirty-two and forty-two pounds.
It follows, as a matter of course, therefore, that here is plenty of good, solid, muscular work.
These stones have to be slid over the ice, the usual length of the rink being forty-two yards.
Not only is considerable muscular work demanded, but there must be the greatest accuracy.
Taken all around, for strong muscular work, for training of the eye, and for teaching coolness and judgment, curling is about as grand a sport as can be found for the winter.
Then, again, curling calls for the exercise of good nature. The cross, snappy curler is soon driven from the game.
The sport makes for good-fellowship, and will do more than any other winter sport to foster good feeling in an athletic club."

What follows are ideas on how to raise funds to support athletic clubs for young people, and the statement, "Clean outdoor sport is the best possible kind of training for a boy."

Frank Manley's Weekly was the successor to Young Athlete's Weekly, which also had an issue featuring curling. This has survived too and is in the collections of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, see here. That story is entitled 'Frank Manley's Knack at Curling: The Greatest Ice Game on Record'. I wonder what young Manley got up to in that issue?

As well as Bowling Green State University, Stanford University and the University of South Florida have extensive collections of dime novels and the like.


Georges Dodds has sent the following: "you state 'Frank Manley's Weekly was first published in 1905, and ran for at least twenty-one issues.' – there were 32 issues [no.1 (1905:Sept.8)-no.32 (1906:Apr.13)] – the entire run is held by the TC Andersen Library Children’s Lit (Hess Collection) at the University of Minnesota.

You correctly mention Bowling Green State University, Stanford University and the University of South Florida as having large dime novel collections, but the largest and most complete such collection in the US, is at the University of Minnesota (

No comments: