Penny Dreadful (also called penny number) was a term applied to nineteenth century British fiction publications, usually lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny. The term, however, soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet “libraries.” The Penny Dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed primarily at working class adolescents.
Working class boys who could not afford a penny a week often formed clubs that would share the cost, passing the flimsy booklets from reader to reader. Other enterprising youngsters would collect a number of consecutive parts, then rent the volume out to friends.
Numerous competitors quickly followed, with such titles as Boy’s Leisure Hour, Boys Standard, Young Men of Great Britain, etc. As the price and quality of fiction was the same, these storypapers also fell under the general definition of Penny Dreadfuls (also known as Penny Bloods or Blood and Thunders in their early days).
American dime novels were edited and rewritten for a British audience. These appeared in booklet form, such as the Boy’s First Rate Pocket Library. Frank Reade, Buffalo Bill and Deadwood Dick were all popular with the Penny Dreadful audience.
Over time, the Penny Dreadfuls morphed into the British comic magazines.
Owing to their cheap production, their perceived lack of value, and such hazards as war-time paper drives, the Penny Dreadfuls, particularly the earliest ones, are fairly rare today.
The Penny Dreadfuls: A British trio of comedians whose sketches revolve around a fictional Victorian explorer Aeneas Faversham.
A metal band in the United States has used the name "The Penny Dreadfuls" and do songs based on some of the stories from old penny pages.
"With one bound Jack was free" became the archetypal phrase writers used to release their hero/heroine from an impossible situation, for example, hanging from a branch half-way down a cliff at the end of one instalment (hence "cliff-hanger"). The phrase could also be in reference to Spring Heeled Jack, an urban legendary character further popularised in Penny Dreadfuls.
Penny Dreadful's Shilling Shockers is a horror host show based out of New England that airs on cable access in several US states. The witch hostess, Penny Dreadful, is based on the name of the cheap paperbacks, as is her show, Shilling Shockers (which were publications similar to penny dreadfuls and available in the early 19th century).
The Penny Dreadful Players is the oldest student-run theatre group at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. They perform 8-10 shows a year for hundreds of students and community members.
In his regular column for an Internet share magazine in c.2005, the infamous English short-seller known as Evil Knievel, quite aptly, referred to risky penny shares as 'penny dreadfuls'.
In 2006, Penny Dreadful was one of the movies produced for the horror anthology 8 Movies to Die For. The movie is about a girl named Penny who encounters several 'Urban Myths', similar to various hand-me-down stories from the Penny Dreadful publications.
Also, in 2006, Chipper Thompson , of Taos, New Mexico released his second solo album, "Penny Dreadfuls". Although primarily driving rock, the album also contains many acoustic moments and is dedicated to the memory of his wife, Lanford, who died on July 4, 2000. The tracks on the CD are: Speed The Night Behind, On The Fly, Down In Flames, Steel Vines, The Month Of January, Pillar Of Salt, Will You Let Me Stay With You?, Tons Of Rain, The Scarlet Letter, Ms. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary, By A Thread, Once I Could Glide, Sunrise Somewhere.
In 2008, Penny Dreadful became the character name in a series of illustrations by the British born artist Andrew Craven Here Penny is an ingenue gothic girl who is on an adventure of decadent experiences and is found with many characters of a subversive trend. One key aspect of Penny's character is that with every individual illustration she is found to be wearing a different gothic outfit, sometimes to match the subject of the rest of the image. It is said that the artist is currently under going the production of more adventures of Penny Dreadful.
Progressive metal band Elvenking included a bonus track "Penny Dreadful" on their album Heathenreel.
Penny Dreadfuls have been the subject of other cultural works. Some include: