"I suppose that my Almanack may be worth the money that thou hast paid for it, hadst thou no other advantage from it than to find the day of the Month, the remarkable Days, the Changes of the Moon, the Sun and Moon's Rising and Setting, and to foreknow the Tides and the Weather; these with other Astronomical Curiosities I have yearly and constantly prepared for Thy Use and Entertainment during now near two revolutions of the Planet Jupiter. But I hope that this is not all the Advantage that thou hast reaped; for with a view to the Improvement of thy Mind and thy Estate, I have constantly interspers'd in every little vacancy, Moral Hints, Wise Sayings, and Maxims of Thrift, tending to impress the benefits arising from Honesty, Sobriety, Industry and Frugality, which, if thou hast duly observed, it is highly probable that thou art Wiser and Richer many fold more than the Pence my Labours have cost thee. Howbeit, I shall not therefore raise my Price because thou art better able to pay: but being thankful for past Favours, I shall endeavour to make my little Book more Worthy thy regard by adding to those Recipes which were intended for the Cure of the Mind, some valuable ones regarding the Health of the Body. They are recommended by the Skillful and by successful Practice. I wish a blessing may attend the use of them, and to thee all Happiness, being
" R. SAUNDERS."
The curious hodge-podge of scraps of useful information, scintillations of native wit, and "proverbial sentences which inculcate industry and frugality," as above set forth, is embodied in twenty to thirty small octavo or duodecimo pages, which are all that most of these miniature compendiums of knowledge contain.
The most important of these early Almanacs, from a literary point of view, are the "Poor Richards," begun in 1732 by Benjamin Franklin, and continued by him and D. Hall for over a quarter of a century. They contain the famous bon mots, reflections and maxims of the great Quaker Philosopher, which gained wide circulation at the time through the columns of the colonial press and later were gathered together in the shape of a discourse, entitled "Father Abraham's Advice to his Neighbors," and published as broadsides or in chap-book form under the title of "Poor Richard's Way to Wealth." This "discourse" passed through numerous editions, and was translated into a score of tongues, including modern Greek and Chinese.
Dr. Franklin informs us in his "Memoirs" that he endeavored to make his Almanac both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand that he reaped considerable profit from it, vending annually nearly 10,000 copies.
Commanding higher prices in the market for rare old books than "Poor Richard," but solely on account of the typographical importance and greater scarcity of the imprint, are the Almanacs made by Daniel and Titus Leeds, the title-pages of which bear the heraldic embellishment of their family arms. Their Almanacs are better known by the name of the publisher than by that of the compilers. They were printed, the first for the year 1686, by William Bradford, near Philadelphia, and from the year 1694 until 1742 in New York by the same printer. They are all of the utmost rarity.
The commingling in the column of the Calendar of Bradford's Almanacs of weather prophesies, wise saws, doggered verse, and epigrammatical paragraphs on every variety of subject, forms an amusing medley, and reminds one of the by-play or asides of the stage. We take as a sample page the Calendar for January, 1738—"A turbid air and rough weather." "Rain or snow." "Fools play with edge tools." "Snow." "This world is bad which makes some mad." "If snow comes now don't be angry." "Cloudy." "Snow, or I'm mistaken." Interlarded between these phrases are the Signs of the Zodiac, the Sun and Moon's Risings and Settings, Eclipses, Lunations, Time of High Water, Feasts and Fasts of the Church, and the Dates of Quaker meetings. Our friend Philomath adopted a very clever ruse with his prognostications. He strung them down the column of his Almanac word by word and left huge gaps between, so that with one oracular sentence he contrived to cover a full third of a month. It would be hard lines indeed if he failed to hit the nail partially on the head one day out of the ten or a dozen he so ingeniously bracketed together.
Among the most interesting items in the column of the Calendar of Bradford's Almanac is one that fixes the date of the birth of New York's first printer on May 20th, 1663, and refutes the date on his tombstone of 1660.
Conspicuous among the disseminators of this evanescent form of literature during the last century were the Ames, father and son, of Dedham, Mass., who issued Almanacs consecutively for fifty years at the price of "three shillings per dozen and seven coppers single." Isaiah Thomas, of Worcester, Isaac Collins, of Trenton, and James Franklin, of Newport, R. I., were Almanac makers. Peter Stewart, of Philadelphia, published an Almanac to which he gave, apparently in imitation of Dr. Franklin, the patriarchal title of "Father Abraham"; Hugh Gaine, of New York, was the printer of the well-known and widely circulated "Hutchin's Improved." T. and J. Fleet, of Boston, issued for many years a "Pocket Almanac," which differs from most others of the period in that it is supplemented by a "Register of the Commonwealth," extending to sixty or seventy pages, while the Almanac contains less than a dozen leaves. This elongated tail of a Register wags the little dog of an Ephemeris to which it is appended most unmercifully.