Mazeppa or Der Todesritt durch die Wildniß

Front cover: Mazeppa oder Der Todesritt durch die Wildniß
First edition of Adolf Söndermann's colportage novel Mazeppa oder Der Todesritt durch die Wildniß, Berlin, ca. 1883, front cover
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Mazeppa or Der Todesritt durch die Wildniß

A best-selling colportage novel, c. 1883

Colportage trading is a very precarious, in many ways unrespectable and unsavoury business. (…) For this reason, we predict that the colportage business, which has been flourishing so much of late, will not enjoy a lengthy existence, nor does it have a future. This lies in the very nature of the matter, namely in the nature of the colporteurs.

Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel, 1872

This title page introduces the first part of a 100-part colportage novel from the late 19th century. Since the 1860s, colporteurs had been selling such booklets door-to-door; due to their low price (in this case 10 pfennigs), even poor readers could afford them. Dismissed as trivial and seldom found preserved today, with print runs of up to 250,000 they reached a large readership. The marketing strategy relied on colourful designs, illustrations, discounts and bonus gifts for subscribers

In this case the teacher Adolf Söndermann, who had already adapted bestsellers such as Rinaldo Rinaldini as colportage novels, took up the life story of the Russian Cossack Mazeppa, which had been a popular subject in art, literature and music since the 17th century.