Wisden 1971 Hardback

Many words have been written about why the 1971 hardback has consistently been the most expensive of all almanacks published since 1948. Indeed when average prices over the past 12 months are taken into consideration a 1971 in super condition has been selling for around £120. This poses the question, why is it so expensive?

Basil D’Oliveira has been given as the single reason why the 1971 is so costly, or rather the circumstances surrounding him. Of course D’Oliveira was a pawn in a very large political chess game that changed world cricket for decades and the actions of the cricketing authorities between 1969 and 1970 have directly led to the expensive price collectors have to pay for the Almanack of 1971.

In the second Wisdener newsletter in the Autumn of 2011 it was suggested that the late Basil D’Oliveira was in some way responsible for the 1971 Wisden being somewhat expensive when compared to other contemporary editions

Of course D’Oliveira was a pawn in a very large political chess game that changed world cricket for decades and the actions of the cricketing authorities between 1969 and 1970 have directly led to the expensive price collectors have to pay for the Almanack of 1971

The cancellation of the South Africa tour to England in 1970 meant that England would have had no overseas visitors for the first time since 1939; the repercussions for the counties and for the governing body were startling. The counties relied on the tourists to stimulate interest and the share of revenue from the Test Matches went a long way to ease the financial shortcomings of the domestic game.

The decision to invite a Rest of World team to play five Test Matches against England did not help the counties to a great extent, the loss of TV revenue from the proposed SA tour was substantial and in 1970 none of the seventeen counties declared a profit. It may be argued that some would have had a greater loss if they had not received a slice of the cake from the hastily arranged “Test Matches”

Attendances were low, as advanced bookings could not be made for the Rest of World tour as it was not in place until the end of May 1970 and the uncertainty over the South African tour meant that spectators were reluctant to buy tickets in advance. .Wisden “…as no tour was in place during the previous Winter and when the Rest of the World matches were announced, England, according to Editor Norman Preston in the 1971 Wisden was in the “midst of a General Election and in addition sporting attention and Press and television publicity were switched to the World Cup (soccer) tournament in Mexico, then came the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh…”

With such a poorly attended series why then did the 1971 Wisden sell out fairly quickly?

Throughout the 1960s it would be fair to say that cricket and especially cricket in England was in decline. The excitement of one day cricket and the launch of the John Player League in 1969 gave the counties a much needed financial boost but the longer game lacked imagination and flair. Test cricket was not much better. Sales of Wisden suffered accordingly and print runs for the decade reflected the decline, from a high of 33,000 copies printed in 1963 to a low of 27,000 in 1969. In some years during the 1964-69 period as few as 70% of the print run was sold

Therefore as world cricket and politics combined to dismiss South Africa to the extremities of the game and the domestic game still failing to ignite interest there seemed little point in investing in a larger print run for the 1971 edition. In a moment of sensible judgement the decision was made to actually increase the 1971 run by 2,000, a thousand more each of both the hardback (15,000 in total) and soft back (14,000) editions.

A slight divergence at this point: Apparently when Wisden sent out the annual offer to MCC members to purchase the 1971 the take-up was far greater than at any time since the 1963 edition so it was decided to increase the print run. Unfortunately it was too late to order extra paper required, the average order to delivery time was nine months, to put this in context, nowadays this process can be done in 36 hours. So they stuck with the original numbers

The edition, whether as a result of the growing realisation that the 1970 was actually a very good one indeed, or as a result of the growing economic prosperity enjoyed in the country, the 1971 quickly sold out. The County Championship was exciting in its closeness, the Rest of the World series had retrospectively gained credibility and not forgetting that the Australia tour to South Africa in the early part of 1970 was reviewed in full.

The 1971 edition has therefore been a much desired edition. If Wisden had managed to print more copies would it still be an expensive year to buy? Maybe the answer partly lays in the fact that the print run of the 1972 edition was increased to 31,000 and did not sell out.

As more and more genuine collectors enter the market, the 1971 is a much requested edition, plainly and simply because it was the first edition published to contain a Test series between one country and a Rest of the World side and possibly more importantly, it was the last edition to contain a Test series involving South Africa for many years