Monday, January 6, 2020

On Display in the State Library

Almanacs provide a glimpse into the coming year, and as we turn the page to 2020, the State Library is looking back at some of the historic almanacs in our collection. On exhibit in the library through January 29 is a selection of Isaiah Thomas’s New England Almanac. Thomas published the almanac from 1775 through 1803, at which point his son continued publication through 1819.

Similar to today’s almanacs, these pamphlets look to the year ahead and provide tide, lunar, and weather data, along with important historical dates and general information or “anecdotes.” Anecdotes cover everything from human anatomy, to postage rates, to recipes for manure. Each month is depicted with an illustration and also includes a brief verse, poem, or narrative that continues as a serial from month-to-month. In an introductory letter from the editor in the 1797 edition, Isaiah Thomas wrote that “I have ever made it a practice to present you with something each year which should be worth more at the end of it than the price you gave for the almanac” and with all of the information provided, it seems as though he delivered on his word.

We are currently displaying the almanacs from 1797, 1800, and 1812. A close examination of the title pages of the 1797 and 1812 almanacs allow us to note the change in price over fifteen years – the almanac increased from 10 cents to 12 ½ cents for a single, and 75 cents to 87 ½ cents for a dozen. During this range of years, it is also important to note the change in publisher from Isaiah Thomas to his son, Isaiah Thomas, Jr. The 1800 almanac is on display opened to the January pages, in part so that we can compare our weather to what was predicted 220 years ago (snow on January 6-8, 13-18, and 25-29, along with “foul weather” on the 21 and 22).

Isaiah Thomas was born in Boston in 1749, where he was apprenticed at the age of seven to a printer named Zechariah Fowle. At the onset of the Revolutionary War, Thomas moved to Worcester where he continued his printing business. He was a participant in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, but he is also remembered as the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, a learned society and national research library that actively continues today. Thomas donated his papers, books, and newspapers to the AAS and served as its president until his death in 1831.

Frequently when an item goes on exhibit in the library, it needs a little bit of preservation work beforehand. But none of these almanacs needed any work by us because they recently underwent treatment at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The State Library holds fourteen editions of the almanac, dating from 1797 to 1813. The conservators at NEDCC cleaned each one and mended any tears. The pages were resewn and then the pamphlet was digitized. The almanacs are now in much better condition, though they remain somewhat fragile and the library must limit their use and handling. We are thrilled for the opportunity to display a selection of them this month in our special exhibit case.

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian