19thC American almanacs

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, book history, New acquisition

IMG_3022Our major acquisition effort this year has been to amass a research collection of  American almanacs, primarily from the nineteenth-century. This array of over 1,100 almanacs came from three sources (two dealers, and one private collection); they were printed in thirteen (13) different states, and range in date from 1782-1924, but the bulk of them (90%) date from 1801-1885.

Prior to this acquisition, the Watkinson held about 85 American almanacs dating from 1675-1875, and of course, through the College Library’s subscription to Early American Imprints, Series I & II, we have online access to some 4,800 American almanacs printed prior to 1819. Our 19th-century holdings, however, were rather anemic. Some 10,000 titles in millions of copies were published throughout the 19thC, so now we can at least say that we have a significant sample for research purposes.

As towns grew along the coasts and rivers and highways of young America, each larger settlement had its printer, who produced local almanacs every fall, from which his profits covered many of his expenses. Not only do they contain calenders, astronomical calculations and astrological information, they also include moral and religious advice, scientific observations, historical and political information, medicine, cookery, weather predictions, geography, poetry, anecdotes, and information related to government, schools, transportation, and business. following is a breakdown of the collection, in terms of state of origin, number of titles, and inclusive dates of publication (i.e., “Massachusetts (287) 1755-1860” means that we have 287 almanacs with various titles printed in Massachusetts published between 1755 and 1860)

Massachusetts (287) 1755-1860; Connecticut (245) 1796-1873; New York (227) 1793-1885; Pennsylvania (148) 1794-1861; New Hampshire (124) 1804-1871; Maine (32) 1826-1924; Maryland (17) 1811-1860; Rhode Island (17) 1782-1849; New Jersey (12) 1828-1881; Vermont (8) 1808-1858; Virginia (6) 1841-1856); Delaware (3) 1823-1824; Ohio (3) 1843-1856.

We are excited to announce the Watkinson Library has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities! The preservation assistance grant of $6,000 will help care for a growing collection of American almanacs. http://commons.trincoll.edu/watkinson/?s=almanacs

The award will be used to purchase preservation-quality supplies to rehouse 1,700 almanacs, predominantly published in the 19th century. The almanacs are unprocessed and fragile, which limits their use by researchers. Once they are properly housed and processed they will be available for education, research and general viewing.

What makes almanacs so special? For over two centuries the almanac was one of the most commonly printed items in America, reaching more readers that any other secular publication. Most towns of a certain size in the early years of the country had a printing establishment and the yearly printing of an almanac was a good way of covering some of their expenses. The almanacs provide a glimpse into American cultural life from all strata of society. Contents from the New England Almanack of 1844 include a list of officers of the U.S. government from the founding of the Republic, a table of roads from Boston to Concord & Portland, a list of American warships (with the number of guns); populations statistics, poems, anecdotes, interesting facts, puzzles, a math problem, rates of postage, and distances, weights and measures mentioned in the Bible. It was a compendium of useful facts and a source of entertainment.

The work on the almanacs will be spread out over 2018. Watkinson staff will train students to assemble and label the binders that house the almanacs. They will gradually become accessible through the library online catalog as they are processed by Watkinson staff.

“Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this posting do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

This project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


An almanac bonanza!

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, book history, New acquisition, Uncategorized

This collection just came in from an anonymous donor, who has single-handedly DOUBLED our holdings of this important genre of American print culture. Our collection, which spans 300 years of American history (1675-1975), will be an important source for the study of many aspects of American culture. The almanac was one of the most ubiquitous printed items in America for over two centuries, reaching a larger readership than any other secular publication.

This new gift comprises nearly 2,000 almanacs from 1750-1970, and were mostly issued in the Middle Atlantic and New England states, with a smattering from Southern and Midwestern states. A great variety of topics are represented: farming and agriculture, cookery, comic material, medicine and remedies, newspapers, magazines, publishers, politics, religion and social movements. Many are illustrated.

Most of this collection was formed over the course of 50 years by a private collector, William Pennybacker of Hotboro, PA, whose manuscript inventory came with the collection. Pennybacker sold this collection to the donor in the mid-1980s, and it has been in storage for over 30 years, until now! It will take some time to process fully, but we are hoping to make it available as soon as possible.



   Posted by: rring   in Field Trips, students

papermania1This morning a student and I visited Papermania in downtown Hartford–I’ve been meaning to go for years, and I definitely am glad I went. Well over 100 dealers “from Florida to Canada” (but mainly from the northeast) brought a great array of STUFF to the fair–lots of ephemera of course, and books, but also posters, postcards, photos, and all manner of artifacts from scientific instruments to pop culture bobbles and doodads…I especially liked a little stamping kit for creating musical scores.

My student bought one small thing for himself, and I bought several things for the library, and made a good many connections. Of particular interest is a collection and archive (3 boxes) related to the Boston scholar-printer Daniel Berkeley Updike, of the Merrymount Press, which will be delivered to the library soon; also a series of historical fiction for juveniles, and another batch of 19th century American almanacs for our growing collection.


One of the items I wanted to buy but didn’t (we’ll see!) was a large broadside of recipes, printed in Hartford and hand-colored:




Don’t get sick (in the 19thC!)

   Posted by: rring   in Gifts, New acquisition

Manchester, CT physician Dr. Tris Carta  and Angelee Diana Carta ’77, P ’11, gave several nice 19th-century medical books to the Library, which will enhance our already nice array of items on the spectrum from quackery to the latest scientific works.  Three of the books are detailed here:

Burney James Kendall (1845-1922) was an 1868 graduate of the University of Vermont’s Medical College. During the 1870s, he devised a “cure” for spavin (an equine joint ailment), and incorporated the Dr. B. J. Kendall Company in 1883 to manufacture his horse liniment.  The company’s product line gradually expanded to include treatments for a wide variety of animal and human ailments, and the company’s wagons ranged far and wide selling the medicines and distributing booklets–such as A Treatise on the Horse and His Diseases (a copy of which is already in the Watkinson) and The Doctor at Home. Illustrated. Treating the Diseases of Man and the Horse (the copy shown here, published in 1884, was recently given to us by a physician in Manchester).  According to the “publisher’s announcement,”we feel assured that we are supplying one of the greatest lacks in every household, by placing therein a work so plain and simple in its language that the most ignorant will have no difficulty in understanding it . . . if you cannot find all the information you desire by carefully studying this book, your case is probably one which should have the attention of some intelligent physician.”

Signed by the author, American physician and founder of a patent medicine company, Dr. Samuel Sheldon Fitch (1801-1876) received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1828. He began trading under the name “Dr. S. S. Fitch,” and about 1851 he began issuing almanacs, Dr. S.S. Fitch’s Almanac and Guide to Invalids, which promoted his patent medicines and medical devices, and prescribes health regimens and cures for consumption, asthma, heart diseases, bronchitis, head-aches, dyspepsia, ague and fever, liver complaint, diarrhoea, baldness and hair loss, and whatever else ailed you. An advertisement in the 1854 Boston Herald annouced that a local doctor was the “Agency for Dr. S.S. Fitch’s Celebrated Medicines and Mechanical Remedies for cure of Consumption, Asthma, Female Diseases, etc.”.  Included are testimonial letters from former patients, advice to “Invalid Ladies” & “Invalid Gentlemen,” and discussions of such topics as the function of the lungs & causes of consumption, cure of throat diseases, cold bathing, diet, spinal diseases, diseases of the heart, asthma, the effects of dancing, the use of inhaling tubes, the effect of journeys, sea voyages, and warm climate, among many others.

Thomas Ewell (1785-1826) was a Virginia-born physician who studied under (among others) Dr. Benjamin Rush at the University of Pennsylvania, and served as a naval surgeon in Washington from 1808-1813.  He is said to have invented and used a method of making gunpowder by rolling, instead of the (more dangerous) pounding method.  The Letters to Ladies (1817), shown here, included a project for establishing a large lying-in hospital in Washington through a nation-wide fundraising effort. The obstetrical engraving (right) is particularly interesting.

Ewell was (according to the Dictionary of American Biography) “a man of distinguished professional attainments and marked talent for research and invention, with a turn for ridicule, however, and convivial habits which weakened his health.”