by James F.E. White, PhD

© 1997-2013

"One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin."

-William Shakespeare

The first version of this web essay was published in 1997 on a now-defunct server.

I've since added more material and in April 2012 updated the information about market value (click here). Send your comments or questions to arambec at yahoo dot ca


This website attempts to catalogue all known examples of so-called "instant books" published in Philadelphia and Chicago within a few months of the Titanic disaster. It also places them in context by presenting selected examples of similar disaster books sold by subscription in the period 1870-1950.

The Titanic instant books were essentially the first draft of a story that gets retold with each new generation. While the moral and religious subtexts may seem stilted to modern readers, few events match the sinking of the Titanic for sheer drama and emotional intensity. The fact that so many Titanic instant books have been reprinted in recent years speaks to the enduring fascination with the "ocean's greatest disaster."

Despite many flaws, Titanic instant books are a reasonably accurate reflection of how this event was perceived at the time it happened. The editorial cartoons are particularly effective in displaying the public mood. More importantly, these books facilitated the transformation of the Titanic story from a newspaper headline to timeless myth.


Mary DeMille Dann


Marshall Everett's Story of the Wreck of the Titanic was given to Mary DeMille Dann of Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada on her 17th birthday, June 20th, 1912--two months after the disaster. Her grandson is the author of this website.


COVER TITLE: Story of the Wreck of the Titanic - The Ocean's Greatest Disaster - Memorial Edition
TITLE PAGE: Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic, The Ocean's Greatest Disaster

AUTHOR/EDITOR/COMPILER: Marshall Everett, ed. (pseudonym for Henry Neil)

PUBLISHER/COPYRIGHT: Homewood Press, Chicago/L.H. Walter
BINDING: Dark Green

DETAILS: 320pp. Place of publication missing in some editions. Cover and title page differ, leading to much confusion among collectors. Top of cover reads: "Nearer My God to Thee." Some chapters attributed to Fred S. Miller, who also appears in other versions. Also published (except p. 316-320) under title: Sinking of the Titanic... edited by Thomas H. Russell. Reissued by Paragon Agency, Los Angeles, CA (1998) and Breese Books, London (1998).

Chicago Ledger
, 20 May 1912

different paste-down on cover

Books sold door-to-door were very common in the late 19th century. They were sometimes referred to as "dollar books" -- fancier bindings typically cost 50 cents more.

Bibles and other religious literature were sold this way to rural customers; topical and historical subjects were added later.

Swedish edition

Advertisements for Marshall Everett's Story of the Wreck of the Titanic began to appear soon after the disaster. This one (RIGHT)was published in the May 8th, 1912 issue of the Christian Herald (New York), just three weeks after the sinking.


Advertisement placed in a New York periodical (Christian Herald) by a St. Louis, Missouri publishing company. Agents received a 50% commission for taking advance orders and delivering the final product. Prospective customers were shown a mockup or "dummy" of the complete book.

Titanic instant books were sold door-to-door across North America -- from Newfoundland to the banks of the Mississippi and beyond.



In 2000 Mr. Bob Taylor of Fort Smith, Arkansas kindly sent me a copy of a two-page flyer issued by the Universal Book & Bible House in 1912. A PDF of the flyer can be downloaded here.


Circulated soon after the accident, the flyer offered similar terms for Logan Marshall's Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters as the Everett book -- 50% commission on each copy sold. The generous terms may help explain why more copies of these two titles have survived.


In 1936, Universal Book & Bible House published Dale Carnegie's motivational classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. They also released one of the few instant disaster books to appear after the the First World War: Lowell Thomas's Hungry Waters (1937).

Story of the Wreck of the Titanic

by Marshall Everett

Conway Maritime Press reprint 1998


Flashy, cinematic dust jacket notwithstanding, the contents are identical to the edition published in May 1912.

Read my review of this edition here.


Sinking of the Titanic
by Logan Marshall

Hara Publishing reprint, 1997


COVER TITLE: Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters


PUBLISHER/COPYRIGHT: John C. Winston Co., Philadelphia/L.T. Myers
BINDING: Yellow/Beige

DETAILS: 350 pp. (318 paginated) Some editions have P.W. Ziegler of Philadelphia as publisher. Most common title and binding of the Titanic instant books, although more variations exist of the Everett. Contains "message of spiritual consolation" by Henry van Dyke. Reissued by Hara Publishing, Seattle WA in 1997 (Bruce Caplan, ed.) and Nimbus Publishing, Halifax (1998).

click on cover to access full text


Salesman's sample of the Logan Marshall edition warned prospective agents against other instant books "hastily prepared from newspaper clippings."

Postcard advertisement
seeking agents to sell Logan Marshall's
The Sinking of the Titanic


COVER TITLE: Sinking of the Titanic - The World's Greatest Sea Disaster - Official Edition

AUTHOR/EDITOR/COMPILER: Thomas H. Russell, ed.

PUBLISHER/COPYRIGHT: National Bible House, Chicago/L.H. Walter
BINDING: Red, Yellow

DETAILS: Place of publication missing in some editions. Contains "special articles" by Fred S. Miller. Most (but not all) covers have "Women and Children First!" across top. Content is identical to Everett, Story of the Wreck of the Titanic; some versions have Everett as editor instead of Russell.


COVER TITLE: Memorial Edition - Sinking of the Titanic - Thrilling Stories Told By Survivors

Jay Henry Mowbray

PUBLISHER/COPYRIGHT: The Minter Company, Harrisburg, PA/G.W. Bertron

DETAILS: 287 pages, plus list of passengers missing and rescued. Reissued by Dover Publications of Mineola, NY (1998).


RIGHT: Back of salesman's sample -- the imprint showed what the spine of the complete book would look like.

The Tragic Story of the Titanic

Henry Fredricks

PUBLISHER/ COPYRIGHT: International Bible Press, Philadelphia/ L.T. Myers


DETAILS: Content similar to yellow Logan Marshall with rearranged pages. Believed to be least common of hardcover instant books

The Tragic Story of the Empress of Ireland

Logan Marshall

PUBLISHER/ COPYRIGHT: Bradley-Garretson Co., Brantford, Ontario/ L.T. Myers (1914)


DETAILS: Note similarity in cover design to Fredricks. Reissued by 7 C's Press, Connecticut and Patrick Stephens, London (1972).


The Great Titanic Disaster


Laird & Lee, Chicago

BINDING: Paperback

DETAILS: Paperback edition similar in content to Everett. 5x7 inches. Illustrated with sketches, editorial cartoons, and four "Photographic Halftones" of William T. Stead & wife, John Jacob Astor & wife, J. Bruce Ismay, and Maj. Archibald Butt.

Hard cover version (FAR RIGHT) is even more scarce than the paperback.


Ocean's Greatest Tragedy:
S.S. Titanic

Author unknown
Marine Publishing Company, circa 1912.

Alma Bridwell White published The Titanic Tragedy: God Speaking to the Nations in 1913.
White was a feminist and the first female bishop in the United States, according to Wikipedia. She was also an anti-Semite, white supremacist and xenophobe.

The Tragedy of the Lusitania
by Capt. Frederick D. Ellis (1915).

Same publisher as Mowbray Titanic instant book.



Although "instant books" were produced for calamities like the conflagrations in Chicago (1871), Boston (1872) and Saint John, New Brunswick (1877), as well as the Johnstown Flood (1889), the prototype for early 20th century instant disaster books was Paul Lester's The Great Galveston Disaster (1900). Books about earlier disasters did not have the advantage of half-tone photography to lend a sense of immediacy and realism to the narrative.


Title page of Paul Lester's
The Great Galveston Disaster (1900)

"...containing a Full and Thrilling Account of the Most Appalling Calamity of Modern Times, including vivid descriptions of the hurricane and terrible rush of waters; immense destruction of dwellings, business houses, churches, and loss of thousands of human lives; thrilling tales of heroic deeds; panic-stricken multitudes and heart-rending scenes of agony; frantic efforts to escape a horrible fate; separation of loved ones, etc. Narrow Escapes from the Jaws of Death: Terrible sufferings of the survivors; vandals plundering the bodies of the dead; wonderful exhibitions of popular sympathy; millions of dollars sent for the relief of the stricken sufferers.
Author of 'Life in the Southwest,' &c., &c.

With an Introduction by
Editor 'Galveston Tribune' and Associated Press Correspondent


Complete Story of the Galveston Horror,
edited by John Coulter (1900)


Burning of Chicago
instant paperback published
in Toronto (1871)


Complete History of the San Francisco Disaster and Mount Vesuvius Horror
by C.E. Banks & Opie Read (1906)


The San Francisco Calamity by Earthquake and Fire
by Charles Morris (1906)


Complete Story of the San Francisco Horror
by the Survivors
and Rescuers (1906)
Introduction by Bishop Fallows


San Francisco's Great Disaster

by Sydney Tyler (1906)

New York's Awful Steamboat Horror
and other Dreadful Tragedies

by H.D. Northrop (1904)

published by Globe Publishing Co.
Halifax, N.S.


New York's Awful Excursion Boat Horror
Told by the Survivors and Rescuers

by John Wesley Hanson, ed. (1904)




Complete Story of the Martinique
and St. Vincent Horrors

by Hon. William A. Garesche (1902)

RIGHT: A standard disclaimer of instant books promised that "any imperfections" in the salesman's sample would be "detected and removed...before the complete book is printed."

The Destruction of St. Pierre and St. Vincent and the World's Greatest Disasters
By Charles Morris (1902)

The Great Chicago Theater Disaster

by Marshall Everett (1904)



World's Greatest Calamities:
Baltimore Fire and Chicago Horror

by H.D. Northrop (1904)

Italy's Great Horror of
Earthquake and Tidal Wave
by Jay Henry Mowbray (1909)

Mowbray also wrote one of
the Titanic instant books



The Complete Story of the
Italian Earthquake Horror
By J. Martin Miller (1909)


Horrors of Tornado, Flood and Fire
by Frederick E. Drinker (1913)
Hungry Waters:
The Story of the Great Flood
by Lowell Thomas (1937)

By the 1920s, mass circulation magazines were the marketing method of choice for topical print media. Although instant books have not disappeared entirely, this one by Lowell Thomas was one of the last instant disaster books to be sold door-to-door.

Great Disasters and Horrors
in the World's History

by A.H. Godbey (1890)

Excelsior Publishing Co.,
St. Louis, Missouri


A precursor of early 20th century instant books, the form and content is similar except for the absence of photographs. In the 1890s, new, cheaper techniques for photographic reproduction revolutionized newspaper publishing and helped popularize printed media like instant books and, later on, magazines.

History of World War II
Armed Services Memorial Edition
by Francis Trevelyan Miller
"assisted by a staff of 200 experts"

Dominion Book and Bible House
Toronto, Canada


Although not a disaster instant book per se, this was one of the last hardcover imprints to be sold by subscription in North America.

Printed in Toronto and marketed in Canada, the United States and the Philippines, copyright was held by the well-known Chicago publishing firm, John C. Winston.

content copyright © Dr James White 1997-2013