The Victorian period encapsulates the rise and decline of the penny dreadful. Developing from chapbooks and broadsides, and given added impetus by the successful part publication of Dickens's novels, the early penny bloods provided cheap, entertaining reading for the rapidly growing urban working classes.
based on melodramas staged at the increasing number of 'minor'
London theatres, or themselves rapidly dramatised, penny dreadfuls
were originally crudely printed and illustrated. Proprietors
such as Edward Lloyd and G.W.M. Reynolds took advantage of
new advances in technology to raise the quality of their publications,
and improve distribution. They paid contributors such as the
prolific Thomas Peckett Prest (1810?-1859) and James Malcolm
Rymer (1814-1884), and began to employ better artists. From
the late 1830s penny weekly numbers, usually of eight pages,
were stitched into coloured paper-wrapped monthly parts, with
a volume titlepage sometimes issued in the final instalment.
1880s specialist publishers like E. J. Brett and Hogarth House
were using bright colour-printed wrappers and folding coloured
plates to attract sales. Reduced paper duty and further technical
improvements made it economic to offer sixteen page parts,
but their profitability was always precarious. By this time
the readership was largely juvenile, and from gothic, historic
or domestic romances with some attempt at motivation and characterisation,
penny dreadfuls became merely brutal tales of adventure, and
later still, lively school stories with simple, bold illustrations.