Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Almanac
ALMANAC, an annual compilation, based on the calendar, embracing information pertinent to the various days of the year, the seasons, etc., with astronomical calculations and miscellaneous intelligence. Before the invention of printing there was no satisfactory method of distributing to the public systematically arranged information about the calendar for the year and the forthcoming astronomical phenomena; but different ingenious devices were employed by the people. One of the most celebrated of these was the so-called clog almanac, a four-sided stick of wood, upon which the Sundays and other fixed days were notched, and the characters were inscribed to distinguish them.
The oldest printed almanac is attributed to George von Purbach, of Vienna, in the middle of the 15th century, and entitled “Pro Annis Pluribus.” King Matthias Corvinus employed Johann Regiomontanus, in 1474, to compile an almanac, which was printed in Latin and in German. Almanacs were issued by a printer named Engel beginning with the year 1491. Stöfler, Tübingen, published almanacs at irregular intervals. Yearly almanacs were printed somewhere in the course of the 16th century. In the 17th century all sorts of astrological and meteorological information and other kinds of news were published in the almanacs and took the place, in a measure, of the newspaper of to-day. The “Almanach Royal,” which began to be published in 1679 in Paris, contained notices in regard to posts, court festivals, masses, markets, etc. In 1699 the genealogy of the royal house and enumeration of the higher clergy were added. This form of almanac was imitated in Prussia in 1700, in Saxony in 1728, and, under the title of “Royal Almanac,” in England in 1730. Shortly afterward almanacs prepared for the people began to appear, containing, instead of official information, short stories, anecdotes, poems, and all sorts of information.
In England, King James I. gave the monopoly of almanac printing to the Universities and the Stationers' Company, but the former were no more than sleeping partners in the concern.
The first American almanac was that of William Pierce, of Cambridge, published in 1639. The most famous of American almanacs was “Poor Richard's,” published in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders.
Some of the almanacs that are regularly published every year are extremely useful, and are indeed almost indispensable to men engaged in official, mercantile, literary, or professional business. Such in Great Britain are Thom's “Official Directory of the United Kingdom,” the “British Almanac” with its “Companion,” Oliver & Boyd's “Edinburgh Almanac,” and Whitaker's “Almanac.” In the United States “The American Almanac” appeared between 1830-1861, and a second publication under the same name was edited for several years by Ainsworth R. Spofford. Several of the largest newspapers in the United States now issue almanacs which are marvels of condensed information.
The “Almanach de Gotha,” which has appeared at Gotha since 1764, contains in small bulk a wonderful quantity of information regarding the reigning families and governments, the finances, commerce, populations, etc., of the different states throughout the world. It is published both in a French and in a German edition. “The Nautical Almanac” is an important work published annually by the British Government, two or three years in advance, in which is contained much useful astronomical matter. This almanac was commenced in 1767 by Dr. Nevil Maskelyne, astronomer royal. The French “Connaissance des Temps” is published with the same views as the English “Nautical Almanac,” and nearly on the same plan. It commenced in 1679. Of a similar character is the “Astronomisches Jahrbuch,” published at Berlin. The “American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac” is issued annually since 1855 by the Bureau of Navigation of the United States.