What is a Broadside?


A broadside is literally a sheet of paper with a printed message on the front side. In olden days a “broadside” meant a barrage of cannonfire launched by one ship against another. A broadside could also be a political statement or opinion on a sheet printed to be nailed up in the village square or distributed among the citizenry. To “fire off” or “let loose” a broadside might also mean to write a strongly worded opinion-piece (nowadays a blog perhaps) to the editor of a daily newspaper.

Though its origins may be military and political, the broadside we sell is almost always a poem, often signed by the poet. It may have an illustration or design, with, in many cases, the artist’s or printer’s signature as well. The design may be the work of a famous printer or artist, and can be a work of art in itself whether or not it is illustrated.

I have long been drawn to poetry broadsides, and have stocked and sold them regularly for the last twenty-five years or so, alongside the books I offer. They are not easy to store or ship, so many booksellers do not offer them. 

They are not only attractive to look at—many of them are also quite collectible. They may not be books, but they are the work of authors who do write books, and, as separately printed texts they are also “first editions,” just like books: any bibliography will list them as separate works of an author. They may be a good way to get a signature of an admired or collected writer.

Most importantly, they are suitable for framing. Once framed they can make even better gifts than books. They can be seen as an artifact halfway between a book and an artwork, and, in fact, can be more than a little of both.

Even if you do not particularly enjoy or read poetry, you may be struck by how attractive, even impressive, many broadsides can be. We have several on our wall here at home, and would have more if we had more room for them.