Cheap books can be an incredibly dangerous delight. It's one thing to walk out of the Brattle parking lot with as many $1 grabs as you can carry, but in these isolatory times, the internet makes all sorts of 'deals' only a PayPal click away. It's all a collector can do to keep within their budget. That said, my most recent Craigslist purchase, at least in terms of historical insight and uniqueness, was worth every penny: two 18th-century farmer’s almanacks, from 1795 and 1797, with much more than meteorological projections packed between and across their covers.
It was clear from the ad that they were in rough shape, so while they shipped I started looking into how these almanacks would originally have been bound and distributed as a starting point for a potential restoration and rebinding. I found that stab-sewing through the folded sections was a common production method along with decorated paper wrappers, as in these examples:
The almanacks arrived and were in fact stab-sewn originally, but that’s not all. Carefully paging through the 1795 volume revealed a third 1796 almanack tethered behind, straight through the latter's cover leaf. For as slapdash as this addendum seems to be, great pains must have been taken on the stitched paper repairs which nearly completely cross both the front and back leaves.
All three booklets feature a ‘hanging loop’ (on the 1797 example this looks to be braided) and the 1795/1796 booklet appears to have been resewn at least 3 times, with each new reinforcement cast right over the top of the previous threads. The placement of the holes and thicker, cleaner thread suggest that all three volumes were at one time lashed together in order, each new year's edition stitched to the back of the last.
The fact that these booklets have survived more than 220 years is incredible itself; they've seen nearly the full course of America's history as a sovereign nation. While digging into the structure and distribution of these volumes, though, I uncovered another fascinating facet to their history. The 1795 and 1797 editions we see here were published by Robert B. Thomas, who began publishing his 'Farmer's Almanack' in 1792. No doubt inspired by the success of Benjamin Franklin's 'Poor Richard's Almanack', several similar periodicals circulated during this era and through the middle of the 19th century. Thomas' unique curation of cosmetological and agricultural projections, pertinent advertisements, and tidbits of humor and wisdom proved to be a winning combination: after outlasting most of its competitors, the publication was permanently took on the 'Old' title in 1848. Having been published every September since its inception, 'The Old Farmer's Almanac' is the oldest continuously published periodical in North America, and many are sure to recognize this hardware store and garden center staple by its current 'four seasons' cover design implemented in 1855:
After sharing these discoveries with some trusted conservators and historians, it's clear that it would be a shame to undertake any substantial alteration of these documents and risk of erasing any of their two-plus century history. As soon as we can get back to our benches, I'll likely build a single protective enclosure for all three booklets along with a structural model of the almanacs to represent how they might've functioned when they were new.