Complimentary Copies

Throughout the history of Wisden it is accepted that presentation copies have been given, whether to the Cricketers of the Year, to the MCC or other notable dignitaries. For instance in 2010 both the Australia and Pakistan players were given commemorative editions to mark the Lords Test match between the two countries. The touring teams up until the late 1980s were also presented with a Wisden, not a leather-bound copy or housed in a presentation slipcase, but on its own.

Rumours have been rife that from the 1915 edition (up to & including 1963) Wisden distributed over 1,000 editions each year free of charge to amongst others:

  • The Commonwealth cricketing authorities
  • The Public Schools
  • The Counties
  • MCC members of long standing
  • During WW1 and WW2 former Public School Cricketers who were serving as Officers
  • Review copies and to advertisers (around 250 in total)

In the first collectors’ guide this figure was quoted as 3,000. I now believe this to have been an error. A look at the post war Wisden accounts gives no specific print numbers but working backwards from the expenditure to the actual cost of the almanack does shed some light on matters.

These “complementary” editions are not included in any official print run figures so the question could be asked, how rare are some editions if as many as an extra 1,000 are to be added to each print run?
The cost of distributing these editions would have been high but Wisden was never a publication aimed at the masses. Indeed a look back through the prices compared to other prominent publications shows that Wisden was almost double the price.

Wisden also relied on institutes such as the public schools and the MCC to supply information and data, thus sending a complimentary copy would seem apt payment. In the 1920s as many as 80 schools supplied records, so 80 complimentary copies would seem a small price to pay. Indeed it could be countered by the belief that if the school received one it would be inclined to buy more for the cricket team members or staff.

It is the MCC copies that prove interesting. Research suggest that the cost of annual MCC membership increased by 11% in 1913, no specific reason was given for the largest single yearly increase since records began. In the same year a letter was sent to all members informing them that they could ‘apply’ to purchase a 1913 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack for 6d (paper) or 1s (hard cloth).

The cover price of each was actually 1s. 4d and 2s. 4d. Originally it was believed that this letter was only send to long-standing members, this may have been incorrect. Could it have been that Wisden gave or sold (at a reduced cost) a large number of Wisdens to the MCC, who then made a token charge to members as a sweetener for increasing their annual subscription?
The number of copies given away should come as no surprise. Wisden made good money from the advertisements placed within and even taking into consideration the placements for the companies own products, substantial income would have been gained from the rest. By giving away complimentary copies to organisations and the cricketing world Wisden was not only securing its information sources but also reaching sections of society that could readily afford and promote the almanack.

It is oft quoted that a total of 3,200 Wisden editions were printed in 1941. If that is so then it might seem odd that since the beginning of 2011 in both real-time and online auctions 74 have been offered for sale. The number of 1941 editions offered on the websites, or in the catalogues, brochures or flyers of Wisden booksellers throughout 2014 was 29; 33 x 1948 editions and 26 x 1945 editions were also listed during the same period. Whether 3,200 or 4,200 x 1941 editions were printed the edition is still rare and of course condition for most buyers is of paramount importance and finding excellent quality editions from 1941 is a tricky matter.

The debate about print runs could well be partially enhanced if Wisden were to bite the bullet and undertake extensive research into the matter; some dealers would argue that there is little point. If it came to light that more copies had been printed for a certain year would it really matter? But as temporary custodians for the yellow book and people who like to absorb facts and figures, records and statistics, players and achievements, I suppose we would just like to know, for certain.