Almanacs began to be published annually in London from the 1600s but became wildly popular in the following century, were still produced into Victorian times and survive today in the form of Old Moore’s or Whitaker’s Almanack. However, the very first almanacs were produced in the second millennium BC in the Near East, providing information such as favourable and unfavourable days and how to deal with each of them.
Early English almanacs were sold either as a broadsheet, the precursor of the modern calendar, or as a pocket almanac like this one. They contained astronomical data such as the number of days of the full moon (useful for travelling in the days before street lighting) and used that data to produce weather forecasts which were vital for both agriculture and commerce (aiding decisions such as the movement of ships). They then began to be aimed at different groups such as farmers who got planting data, or Londoners who received municipal information such as lists of City officials and public holidays, and so they became very important to the economy.
Our example is tiny, at 3cm square it is smaller even than a matchbox. It has a burgundy leather cover with a metal clasp, although the leather flap fastener is missing. There is a metal plate under the fastener with enough space for someone’s initials, though ours is not engraved. Inside there are twenty gilt-edged leaves plus text pasted to the reverse of the front and rear marble endpapers. There is a tiny pocket inside the upper cover.
Engraved throughout, the title page contains the arms of the livery company of Stationers with a second coat of arms on the reverse of the second leaf with a handwritten note: ‘T.W for E.W’.
The data inside includes a month by month summary of 1794 with festivals and sun/moon rising/setting times. Following this is a fascinating table of kings and queens which describes the Tudor line as ‘The families united’ and the Stuart line as ‘The union of the two crowns’.
Details of past Lord Mayors and sheriffs follow and here Thomas Wright is represented in both lists.
Finally we have a list of annual holidays and a table of current coins by weight. It is possible Thomas Wright printed this almanac as Wright and Gill derived a large part of their income from printing almanacs and he was an eminent member of the Stationers’ Company, for whom this almanac was printed, having been their first lord mayor for over thirty years when he was inaugurated in 1785.