Monday, January 3, 2022

On (Virtual) Display at the State Library

““Happy New Year! I wish you a happy new year!” Is the kind of greeting among friends on the first of this month, the commencement of a new year.” This quote is found in the introductory note in Peter Parley's Almanac for Old and Young, which was published for the year 1837. Following in the footsteps of years prior, we’re starting the year by sharing an historical almanac from our collection. Peter Parley was the pseudonym for Samuel Griswold Goodrich, a 19th-century author, publisher, and bookseller who also served as a member of the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives. 

The contents of an almanac do not typically seem like the sort of publication that would appeal to a younger audience, but that is one way that Peter Parley’s differs from other almanacs. In addition to providing the sort of lunar charts and weather predictions found in most almanacs, this almanac includes a few extra details that makes it more accessible to younger readers. The title page shows the New Year chasing the Old Year into the woods, while Time looks on, and there are whimsical drawings for each month. We’ve included January here, complete with snowy hills and horse drawn carriages. Each month is also accompanied by two pages of text that describes nature (specifically birds and plants) to observe and activities to undertake. We especially liked this excerpt from January’s outdoor activities that describes the best way to construct a snowman:

Select from the wood-pile a forked stick, long enough for a full grown giant, say eight or ten feet; fix it upright with the forked end downwards. This is to answer for the skeleton; which you are to load with snow instead of muscles and sinews. Build up the figure with masses of snow to the shoulders of top of the stick, and here fix two sticks of a proper length for arms: cover these also with snow, and on top of all, place a huge snowball for the head. To enable you to reach high enough, you can roll up a large snowball or two, to stand upon. When you have added snow enough, with a shovel, shingle, or garden trowel, you can fashion the figure according to fancy, giving it a hat, a nose, mouth, &c., with eye-brows and a beard of moss, and a pipe to smoke if you like, by placing a long slender stick in his mouth, and coating it with snow.

The bulk of the almanac contains descriptions for each month, but the last twenty pages are comprised of “Varieties from my pocket-book” a collection of information that is described by Peter Parley as, “I have a habit of putting scraps that please me into my pocket-book. Among the collection that I have thus been making I find the following.” Included is everything from instructions to make hard water soft to an analysis of the meaning of the phrase “there is time enough” with random items like a list of things a farmer should not do in between. It is a miscellaneous listing of items with topics that are sure to appeal to readers of all ages! 

The copy in our collection has not been digitized, but we found a digital version available through Tufts University. Their version is identical to ours, except that it was printed in New York at Freeman Hunt & Co. and our version was printed right in Boston at Otis, Broaders & Co. on Washington Street. The last page of the Tufts version has been torn, so it is missing the last entries in Parley’s pocket-book. And if you want to kick off your year with even more almanac content, but sure to check out our post from 2020 on Isaiah Thomas’s New England Almanac and our 2021 post on Fleet's Pocket Almanack for the year of our Lord 1789: Being the First after Leap Year and the Thirteenth of American Independence. Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian