King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The printed page

18th century chapbooks

Title page of The king and the cobler, part the second, showing imprint detailsTitle page of The king and the cobler, part the second, showing imprint detailsThe item reproduced here is an 18th century chapbook.

Chapbooks were small pamphlets that were commonplace from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They featured popular tales, sensational histories, ballads and political tracts and were chiefly aimed at the urban and rural poor and a semi-literate readership.

Many chapbooks were produced in the area around Fleet Street. The chapbook featured here was produced at one of these local print shops, as shown by the imprint at the bottom of the page: ‘the London and Middlesex printing office, No. 81, Shoe-Lane, Holborn’.

Local print shops produced little chapbooks on hand-operated printing presses in small industrial units. The books produced were bought by itinerant dealers, or chapmen, who sold the tales and fables door-to-door and at country fairs and festivals.

This work, The history of the king and the cobler, is a short, simple comic tale that includes a host of woodcut illustrations throughout. Woodcuts were a typical feature of chapbooks, being a cheap and durable method of illustration that could be used for long periods and passed from one printer to another.

This tale is just 24 pages long, and is bound with a number of other chapbooks produced in London. These little books have been well-thumbed by readers, and would most likely have provided entertainment to both adults and children of the period.

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