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Valuing History

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I had a delightful conversation with Genevieve from Somerset, N.J. yesterday. She had the good fortune of unearthing several copies of very old almanacs — some dating back to 1780. She inquired about the value of these books.. The first American printed almanac was the 1639 Captain Pierce’s Almanac. Soon thereafter, almanacs fit the needs of the population. If there were no doctors, almanac dispensed medical advice. If there were few ministers, it might be a religious almanac. At one time there were as many different almanac titles as there are newspapers in existence today (or should I say were in existence in the 1990s). The fact is that people treasured their almanacs as they did their Bible.

Today, it is not unusual to find a box filled with back issues. The paper used in the 1700s and 1800s has great rag content and is superior to today’s newsprint. So, 1700 and 1800 editions are still in reasonable condition, especially if they were stored in a dark cool place. But, what is the value of these pieces of history. For the most part the value is minimal — a few dollars at best. Because there are so many different titles, most were short lived. So, aside from acquiring the Poor Richard Almanack edited by Ben Franklin (aka Richard Saunders, Philom.) in 1733, there is not much value in past issues.

If you do find older titles — I’d say 1700s and 1800s; I would take them to an antique book store and have them appraised. An antique dealer could also do this but I’d prefer someone who knows publications. You can also go to e-Bay and get a sense for how similar almanacs are being priced. Most are $.99 – $20. So, if you are blessed with a discovery of old almanacs, enjoy the moment in time. Read them and get a sense of what was important at that time with that editor. But, I am afraid; you will not have a windfall. You might also donate them to a Historical Society. Hey, share the newfound knowledge.

I am reminded of a gentleman who claimed to have a copy of the 1976 Farmers’ Almanac and told me it was worth $100,000 because there were so few printed. I assured him that if that was the case, I had dozens of copies and at 100 grand; I’d easily be a multi-millionaire. I might even die with the likes of Bill Gates. He was going to find a soul who would buy his “rare” copy. But, it wasn’t me.

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By the way, have you noticed that it is starting to get lighter each day?? We have gained about 15 minutes of sunlight over the darkest days in December. Now that is something to brighten our days!

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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