“By means of a good telescope, a very distinct view may be obtained of the moon,” reads one of many short pieces that made up the 1882 edition of The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack. The Almanack had been in print for decades by 1882, tracing back into the 1850s as a dispensary of moral admonition and humorous stories. “With the highest power, however, yet employed, no trace of any inhabitants has been discovered,” the article continued. “Though any large towns must have been seen, did such exist on [the moon’s] visible side.”

almanack
J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Despite the inevitable disappointment that the lack of habitations on the moon must have caused readers, almanacs were a staple of American popular literature in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Almanacs have been produced for centuries, dating back into the Middle Ages, with working theories on the earliest almanacs connecting them to Babylonian astronomers. Modern almanacs are known for conjecture on the weather, and for extensive handy reference charts. In the information age, the almanac is no longer a primary reference text, but the genre has continued on as a traditional publication. Poor Richard’s Almanack, produced by Benjamin Franklin, is a legendary title in the genre, and today’s most popular iteration is the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been faithfully produced since 1792.

The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack was decorated by engravings that were recycled every year. The engravings depicted farm life throughout the year:

In the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room we have several copies of minor almanacs (including The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack from the 1850s to the mid-1880s and Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina from the 1860s) that give detailed insight into daily life for the era. The heart of the annual almanac was the provision of ready details and charts for the year. Generally, these charts covered the weather, important dates, phases of the moon and tides, or lists of government representatives. The other articles maintained the interest of the reader, and were usually humorous stories or practical advice:

A Fast Frigate.
Dave Constable says there is one advantage about old-fashioned frigates. They drag so much dead water behind, that if a man falls overboard on Monday, you need not stop till Friday, to pick him up again.

The Hagerston Town and Country Almanack, 1856

The Library’s copies of Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina offer a very different tone. These copies were printed during the Civil War, and list facts and information on the government and daily life in the Confederacy, such as postage rates:

postage
Rates of Postage, Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina, 1864.

The 1864 edition contains no humorous articles and reflects in its offerings the somber trials in war-torn Virginia. Articles include instructions for how to prevent flies from wounds, how to make three dishes from a single beet plant, advice for crafting makeshift lamps from common animal grease, and directions for making shoes from squirrel skins tacked to plain boards. By the 1875 edition, Richardson’s Almanac had reintroduced humorous stories to begin the publication, and the recipes that hinted at the war’s impact had disappeared from from the publication.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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