Barry Ono collection of Penny Dreadfuls

A brightly coloured illustrated plate, typical of the kind issued with penny dreadfuls, popularly read in the Victorian era. The illustration is from a title called 'Black Bess, or, The Knight of the road : a tale of the good old times'. It shows  Dick Turpin on his horse pursued by a group of riders out hunting.
'Dick Turpin pursued by the huntsmen', from an illustration appearing in the penny dreadful, 'Black Bess, or, The Knight of the road : a tale of the good old times' [by Edward Viles]. British Library shelfmark C.140.a.15.

A collection of penny dreadfuls formed by Barry Ono – the music hall stage name of Frederick Valentine Harrison. An exuberant and pugnacious character himself, Ono bequeathed to the British (Museum) Library in 1941 his collection of popular and sensational penny stories and magazines which represent popular reading tastes of the Victorian age.

About the collection

Penny dreadfuls, also known as ‘bloods’, were cheap publications that outlined violent adventure or crime. The Barry Ono Collection comprises some 700 books and magazines representing the development of the penny dreadful from the chapbooks of the early 19th century to the boys' periodicals and imitations of American dime novels of the 1880s and 1890s. 
The collection is particularly rich in the penny fiction of the 1840s and 1850s. The works of prolific authors such as Thomas Prest and James Rymer are well represented along with Ono's personal favourites, the later adventure stories of Edwin Harcourt Burrage. The books are stored at shelfmark range C.140.a - C.140.e.
 

What is available online?

You can find catalogue entries for each book on Explore the British Library

Digital facsimiles

The Popular literature in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain: Units 3-10, The Barry Ono Collection of bloods and penny dreadfuls from the British Library has been digitised by Gale Cengage as part of its Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO), British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture.
 
The database can be accessed for free onsite at the Library and at other subscribing institutions.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Reference source 

The collection is fully described in Penny dreadfuls and boys' adventures: the Barry Ono collection of Victorian popular literature in the British Library, by Elizabeth James and Helen R Smith (London: British Library, 1998). Copies are widely available and can also be found in the British Library Rare Books and Music, and Humanities Reading Rooms at shelfmarks RAR823.8 and HLR823.8.

Access to the collection 

The original volumes have been restricted from general reading room use due to their fragility. Please contact rare-books@bl.uk for more information.

Preservation microfilms are available for consultation through the Rare Books and Music Reading Room (shelfmarks: Mic.C.920 - Mic.C.12487). The volumes have also been re-published in the microfilm series Popular literature in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain: Units 3-10, The Barry Ono Collection of bloods and penny dreadfuls from the British Library (Woodbridge, Conn, Research Publications, 1991-93).

What is available in other organisations?

The Bodleian Library, Weston Library, University of Oxford holds two collections with penny dreadfuls:

  • Frank Pettingell Collection of 800 volumes of 19th century 'penny-dreadful' publications, many published in parts, purchased by the Bodleian in 1966 from his widow
  • The Opie Collection includes 4,000 comics, children’s magazines and penny dreadfuls

The City of London, Guildhall Library holds a collection of penny dreadfuls with a subject matter that relates directly to London history – particularly London crimes and sensations. The website includes a link to a selection of images.

The Gale Cengage digital resource, Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO): British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture, with facsimiles of the Barry Ono Collection is available at subscribing institutions.

Further information

Further information on penny dreadfuls can be found in:
  • Penny dreadfuls and boys' adventures: the Barry Ono collection of Victorian popular literature in the British Library, by Elizabeth James and Helen R Smith (London: British Library, 1998)
  • Penny dreadfuls and other Victorian horrors. Michael Anglo (London, 1977)
  • Fiction for the working man, 1830-1850. Louis James (London, 1963)
  • Bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd. John Medcraft (Dundee, 1945)
  • New light on Sweeney Todd, Thomas Peckett Prest, James Malcolm Rymer and Elizabeth Caroline Grey. Helen R Smith (London, 2002)
An article explaining what made these cheap, sensational, highly illustrated stories so popular with the Victorian public is available to read on The British Library's Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians