Dream books, purporting to reveal the meanings of dreams, were extremely popular in the 19th century. They were often published in small, cheap pamphlets, known as chapbooks, sold by street peddlers.
Mother Shipton’s Wheel of Fortune goes one step further, however, by supplementing dream interpretation with magic spells. It promises readers with the opportunity to both read their future and actively influence it. As the hand-coloured frontispiece suggests, the book is focused on love – ‘Dreams of Love’ and ‘The Art of Love’.
Published in 1861, the book claims to be authored by ‘Mother Shipton’, a legendary figure who dates back to the 16th century. A fascination with this supposed witch and prophetess persisted across hundreds of years; within print culture, the figure remained thanks to chapbooks and reprints of early pamphlets connected with the name. ‘Mother Shipton’ is attached all manner of invented traditions, sayings and prophecies, and was even adapted into a popular pantomime stock character in the 18th century.
The hand-coloured frontispiece, featuring women in various small scenes, reveals that this book was primarily aimed at female readers. In the 19th century women formed a majority of the dream book reading base.