What is a Chap-Book?

In 1922, Arthur L. Phelps published Bobcaygeon: a chap-book. But what exactly is a chap-book? Why not simply title the book Bobcaygeon?

According to Canadian Poetry, a chap-book is “an appurtenance of the aspiring poet–a small book written and designed to artistic standards, printed by the author at personal expense, bound inexpensively, and all in all produced outside the mainstream commercial book trade.”

Bobcaygeon was written by Phelps at his cottage, Walden Park, in Bobcaygeon. The chap-book was published by Phelps, printed in Lindsay, Ontario, and contained 16 poems divided into three parts.

“Part I of this book was done in one morning; Part III in another.” – Phelps, Bobcaygeon: a chap-book.

The author mentions his favourites in the introduction, while also mentioning his friend in the neighbouring cottage, E.J. Pratt, and his favourites lines from Phelps’s poems. Phelps suggests Pratt would be publishing his own chap-book in the summer.

Phelps may have started a trend. In 1925, Ryerson Press of Toronto began publishing chap-books, putting out a few titles every year until 1962. In total, over 200 chap-books of poetry were published.

In 2016, Conway Books of Peterborough, reprinted Bobcaygeon: a chap-book together with Phelps’s poem “Bobcaygeon” (1919) and a short biography of Phelps.


If you talk of the moon of amber
That comes over the jade woods
To spread silver on blue and black fields
I shall let you talk on,
And after,
Speak simply and slowly
Of moonless midnight and peace.
Arthur L. Phelps, Bobcaygeon: a chap-book, 1922.

The chap-book trend continues in Peterborough at the annual Book and Zine fest hosted by Artspace: https://www.thestar.com/pe/news/peterborough-region/2023/03/04/photos-peterborough-book-and-zine-fest-celebrates-words-and-images.html?itm_source=parsely-api

Further Reading:

“Significant little offerings”: the origins of the Ryerson Poetry Chapbooks, 1925-26. Eli MacLaren. Canadian Poetry. (https://canadianpoetry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Studies-1-72.pdf

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