Also known as:
Irwin Beadle & Company
George Munro & Company
George Munro was a successful publisher of cheap fiction whose firm operated from 1865 to 1893. Munro was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, on November 12, 1825. His first career plans were directed at scholarship and teaching. He studied theology and taught mathematics from 1850 to 1856 at the Free Church College in Halifax, N.S. Though trained as a minister, he never served as one. Instead, in 1856 he moved to New York City where he was employed by the American News Company and next by Beadle and Adams. In 1863, he left Beadle and Adams with Irwin Beadle to create Irwin Beadle and Company. Irwin, who had a history of irregular employment, left the firm in 1864 and the firm was renamed George Munro and Company. In 1868 the firm was renamed again, this time to simply George Munro and it would so remain until Munro retired in 1893. For the entire history of the firm, it conducted business in New York City.
In 1867 Munro introduced The Fireside Companion, an inexpensive story paper aimed at all members of the family. This was a successful publication and circulation grew until it reached 250,000 in 1883 (Shove, 57). The Seaside Library, his most successful publishing, venture was introduced in 1877. The first titles in the series were English classics such as Jane Eyre, Adam Bede, and The Last Days of Pompeii, but he did not maintain this highbrow tone for long. Eventually the library included all of the most popular writers of sensational women’s fiction such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charlotte Breame, and her American “counterpart” Bertha Clay.
Despite the fact that Munro was not technically a dime novel publisher, for many of his series, such as The Seaside Library, sold for twenty and twenty-five cents per copy (Shove, 63), he was a resounding success in the field of cheap publishing. The popularity of The Fireside Series was so phenomenal that by 1879 the series contained 560 titles and sales were reported to be five and one half million copies (Shove, 61). These great sales would not remain unchallenged and eventually other publishers would introduce “libraries” of cheap books sold in a series. Editors at Publishers’ Weekly noted that his activities had:
Affected the book publishing business in this country to
an extraordinary extent. The people now buy nearly all
their light reading, and that is about three quarters of what
they read, in the form of reprints, which are sold at prices
not much above those of newspapers…Foreign stories
could not be sold, as before, for fifty and seventy-five cents,
but must be put on the market for ten and twenty cents”
(Publishers’ Weekly, September 23, 1882: 432).
The difficulty of categorizing cheap fiction by price alone is heightened by the attempts of cheap publishers to reach out for better off consumers. George Munro often republished hisSeaside Library titles in cloth-bound versions for fifty cents. And eventually, in 1887, he cut the price of his paper bound editions from twenty and twenty-five cents to ten cents in response to the intense competition (Shove, 63).
One of Munro’s first attempts to reach women in the cheap fiction market was his New York Fashion Bazaar which appeared November 8, 1879 and featured the story, The Romance of Darkecliffe Hall; or, The Story of My Life on the front cover. The price for each issue was five cents. Based on its appearance, it seemed that Munro intended his publication to compete with other middle-class periodicals aimed at women, but his choice of editor, Laura Jean Libbey, suggests that he hoped for a working-class audience. Libbey edited the magazine from 1891 to 1894 and received $10,400 a year for this position, a substantial salary by any standard, particularly for a woman (Walcutt, 403). Despite this investment in one of the most popular cheap fiction authors of the day, Munro’s publication ceased in 1894. This was his only serious attempt to reach women by the time he retired in 1893 he had never made a substantial contribution to the genre.
Munro remained active in the business almost thirty years. He retired in April 1893, just a month before the great financial panic of 1893. Upon his death in 1896 at Pine Hill, his country home in the Catskill Mountains, he was reputed to have an estate worth ten million dollars. This figure may be exaggerated, but it demonstrates that Munro hit a chord with his cheap books and that his firm served millions of eager readers. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
For details on the women’s series published by George Munro, please continue on to the George Munro section in Women’s Series and Story Papers.
References and Additional Information
“Death of George Munro.” New York Times. April 25, 1896: 1.
“George Munro.” Publishers Weekly. May 2, 1896: 769.
Shove, Raymond. Cheap Book Production in the United States, 1870 to 1891. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Library, 1937.
Stern, Madeleine. Publishers for Mass Entertainment in Nineteenth Century America. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1980: 221-223.
Walcutt, Sue. “Laura Jean Libbey.” Notable American Women: 1607-1950. Edited by by Edward James. Cambridge, Mass: Kelknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971, II: 402-403.