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The Wisdener (the newsletter of the Wisden Collectors’ Club) thought it might be of interest to members to put together an outline of Wisden content and information. We are very grateful to John Pratt, who emigrated to Australia as a £10 Pom back in 1963, but who shouts louder than most at the fall of an Aussie wicket, for the following article…thank you John.
This synopsis is predicated on the assumption that of you bought a Wisden, no matter what year, you must have affection for cricket, and that if you did not buy it; your first Wisden was given to you by somebody who had the foresight and wisdom to understand you have a passion for the game.
So let us take a quick look together at the first sixteen issues of what is universally known today as Wisden. Ironically it began life in 1864 as “The Cricketer’s Almanack” and did not become “John Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack” until 1870. It was another 68 years before it became “Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack”. The name by which we know it today.
The Oxford Dictionary tells us there is no ‘K’ in the spelling of the word ‘almanac’. John Wisden obviously believed otherwise and subsequent owners of the brand name have stuck with his interpretation (with the exception of the 1903 edition). Thus my ramblings are also faithful to John Wisden’s spelling.
One might say that the 1864 Almanack is a must. Of course, it is, but for the cricket buff there is no acknowledgement in it that a man names Grace was beginning his monumental career, although the almanac certainly makes up for this oversight in subsequent issues. In the 112 pages of the 1864 there is little cricket until page 17. Pages 30 to 83 deal with Gentlemen v Players encounters between the years 1806 to 1863 and then All England matches against ‘The United” takes us through to page 97. What follows is a faithful recording of horse racing results and sundry unremarkable sporting events of the day.
Who knows what prompted people to buy such a book? Especially 150 years ago. Perhaps it was its immaculate, flattering language and its politeness! It was a true ‘almanac’ at the start, with a calendar, moon changes and in 1865 it devoted 30 pages to Oxford and Cambridge university cricket, before moving to 26 pages on M.C.C. matches; M.C.C. matches being featured for the first time. We then get 43 pages of county cricket although, in truth, there were only eight teams recorded, two of whom were Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire. This followed by 31 pages of Australian cricket before we learn a little of “The Cricketers’ Fund. The 1865 Almanack ran to 160 pages, early growth from the first issue and the signs of a robust future.
The 1866 issue continued this growth with 196 pages and with this edition the almanac gets down to dealing predominantly with cricket. Although the first 12 pages still dealt religiously with ‘almanac’ business the remainder of the publication deals only with cricket. It comprehensively covers the rules of the game and cricket matches are featured right up to the last page. It continued much in the same manner for some years; the ‘almanac’ content continuing to decline and the cricket content continuing to increase.
The number of pages per edition rose consistently, with the odd decline, but the trend was up.
The births and deaths of cricketers were introduced in 1867. The 1869 edition featured the Australian Aboriginal tour of 1868 and in 1870 the Public Schools were included for the first time. In the same issue there is an interesting little section on “Umpires and where to find them.” Wouldn’t we just love to know today! Apparently in those halcyon days several of them lived in public houses.
The Almanack shows faithful records of the early growth of county cricket and by 1879 all reference to a true ‘almanac’ has all but vanished; the book is now about cricket and much of the format we enjoy today is in place.
Strangely although there are references of visits to Australia there is only minor coverage of the tours. There are no graphics or pictures in these early issues but in many ways the format will be familiar to twenty first century readers. The counties had become its major focus and took up 112 of its 240 edited pages in 1879, probably due to lack of Test cricket.
The 1875 is a collector’s item rivaling the first issue for price in today’ market, but this is because it has become so rare. There is nothing more exceptional in its content than in the issues of other years. Apparently a large number of copies were lost in a fire and thus its main claim to fame is that it is extremely difficult to locate.
All of the first sixteen are worth owning but for sheer charm, idiosyncrasy and grasp of the nineteenth century understanding of cricket the first issue is unbeatable. The most cost-effective way of acquiring any of the first fifteen issues (1864-1878) is to obtain one of the facsimile sets. They can be purchased from a Wisden dealer. Expect to pay between £600 to £1,000 for a set*. Buying a single facsimile issue will set you back between £55 and £80 depending on year, condition and the dealer. Of course the 1879 falls outside of this ambit. The Willows Publishing Company produced 1,000 reprints of this issue but the market has consumed them all. It is possible to obtain one through a dealer but expect to pay as much as £170 for it. The only other alternative is to go for an original, a decent copy of which will cost between £1,000 and £1,600.
*There have been four sets of 1864-78 reprints.
1960: Billings & Son produced a box set, sticking close to the colour and style of the originals.
1974:Lowe & Brydon reproduced the Billings & Son set.
1995: Wisden printed the first fifteen; each volume individually bound in light boards and all fifteen sold in a yellow presentation box.
2012: The Willows Publishing Company produced a limited edition box set.
Print Runs and Price Guide:
Two of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to Wisdens, how much is ‘x’ worth and how many of ‘x’ were printed?
It is March 22nd 2020 and for those of you looking at this page from way past this date, you will straight way realise that the world is in an incredibly scary and worrying place.
In days to come I will be adding more and more information to answer the questions on print runs and prices of the 1864 to 1879 editions and let me reassure you that the amount of information I have at my disposal is the most comprehensive in the market, it is not a ‘finger in the air and lets see what the final eBay price is’ when assessing a market place worth hundreds of millions of pounds…I jest not, and the information I will gladly pass on will show how astonishing the Wisden market is.
So, kindly be patient as this article develops.