Almanac History: Almanacs Through The Ages


Medieval folding almanac in Latin. 15th Century. Contains a calendar and astrological tables and diagrams, including lunar and solar eclipses. (Source of image and written summary: Wikimedia Commons.)


Almanac History: Almanacs Through The Ages


As a kid, I was a major stats nerd when it came to topics I was interested in, like harness racing and track-and-field. There was a phase in my childhood, particularly during periods when I had extra time, like school holidays, when I’d write down harness racing results – including times, winning margins etc -in an exercise book, and make notes about athletics world records. (I’m still interested in that stuff, actually.) This detailed recording of facts and figures was connected to my curiosity about almost anything recordable – high and low tides, sunrise and sunset times, weather details, phases of the moon, railway timetables, the market price of two-tooth sheep – virtually anything along these lines. My local newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, was the main source of information for me on these things back then. Also, I was aware of books containing this kind of material and more, like ones that gave farmers and gardeners all sorts of relevant information, such as the best time for planting particular seeds. Therefore, I had more than a passing interest in what the almanacs I knew about in those days were on about – books with titles like Farmers’ Almanac, Wisden and Miller’s Guide.


It’s probably a good idea at this point to define clearly what an almanac actually is. One can read all kinds of definitions in this context, but the straightforward and succinct Collins Online Dictionary, which is as good as any for general purposes, states:


1. COUNTABLE NOUN [oft in names]
An almanac is a book published every year which contains information about the movements of the planets, the changes of the moon and the tides, and the dates of important anniversaries.
2. COUNTABLE NOUN [oft in names]
An almanac is a book published every year which contains information about events connected with a particular subject or activity, and facts and statistics about that activity.


Of course, The Footy Almanac annual book is very much in line with the second definition.


Wikipedia also notes alternative spellings for the word almanac: almanack and almanach.



The almanac Allmanach paa det aar efter Jesu Christi Fødsel 1644 – Norway’s first published book. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)


In a very broad sense, almanacs have been around in one form or another for thousands of years, back to early Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek times, though there is no certain etymology for the word itself. The first documented use of the word almanac dates to the thirteenth century, according to Wikipedia. It also indicates that the first modern almanacs appeared around a century earlier (as I understand it, these were more statistically accurate works than the earlier and ancient ones, which were often based upon pseudo-scientific realms such as astrology) and the phenomenon we know as almanacs developed from then.


Below are some images of almanacs through to the present.


Poor Richard Almanac, 1739. Printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)


Robert Wilkin and Company – Robert Wilkin and Co.’s New Zealand Farmers’ Almanac 1885. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)


The Tigers Almanac, 2019. Edited by John Harms and Mandy Johnson. Cover art by Kate Birrell. (Source: The Footy Almanac website.)




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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose. He laments the extinction of Cascade Pale Ale and Kiwi Lager.


  1. roger lowrey says


    You’ll be pleased to learn that the Addy still carries all manner of local measurables.

    For instance, page 2 of this morning’s edition provides the following index: World (page 10), Your Say (page 12), Business (page 21), Comics/puzzles (page22), Weather/trains (page 23), Buy/Search/Sell (page24), Lotto (page 2).

    However none of this outshines my old erstwhile favourite of the “Old King Cole’s Court” column for kids in the Tuesday editions of my childhood. Young registered courtiers (sic) would receive birthday acknowledgements, a weekly colouring in competition tested your skill levels on line transgression and there would always be a selection of jokes such as “What do you get when you pour hot water down a rabbit hole at Easter?” Answer: “Hot cross bunnies.” True to its rural readership huh? These days, a line like that would probably incur the wrath of the animal lib mob.

    In addition to the above, of course, is all sorts of measurable statistics about one or more Cats players. For instance, a quick browse over the back page will update you on Selwood, Higgins, Cameron and Duncan. Flip inside to the second back page and there you will read “Fringe Cats up to scratch in hitout” – a veritable treasure trove of information about our VFL players Clark, Constable, Simpson, Brownless, Holmes, Evans, Jarvis, Neale and Fort.

    Just thought you needed to know.



  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, RDL.

    Yes, it is good to know that the Addy still has those measurables you mention – I only read the paper very occasionally these days, and haven’t really gotten over the time when it changed from a broadsheet to a tabloid size!

    That said, I do miss the reports from the local markets, where all sorts of animal-related prices were mentioned, and the wonderful ‘In Town and Country’ section, in which I got a par written about seven-year-old me by one of the journos because I found a Blue-Ringed Octopus at Rippleside Beach and, with the help of my father (and a couple of sticks), put it in a sealed jar and took it into the Addy office! True – they reported my find as a bit of local interest and colour, I suppose. (Imagine a kid doing that these days – and being allowed to! I’ve always been pretty fearless with animals.)

    Oh, and another time (Trevor Pescott – the famous local naturalist who had a regular column in the Addy) once wrote a whole article about a rare caterpillar I discovered on the grounds of St Catherine’s school – set on farmland, and where I went as a day pupil. It was also an orphanage, as you may recall, and had orphaned kids living there, presided over by nuns.

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