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Predicting the Value of Farmersí Almanacs
by Bob Brooke

 

 

QUESTION:  

I happen to come into about 20 old and different Farmerís Almanacs ranging in issue dates from 1867 to 1930. I haven't been able to find any information on them. What can you tell me about them? Do they have any value?

Thanks,
Frank

 

 

__________________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

Before looking at how to determine the value of your almanacs, itís important to note that over the last two centuries there have been several almanacs with the name ďFarmerísĒ in their titles.

By the late 18th century, many almanacs included the term ďFarmerísĒ in their titles because the young nation was mostly one of farmers who wanted to know what the weather would be like for the coming year, so they would know when to plant and harvest their crops. Accurate weather prediction meant the difference between survival and starvation.

Of the two publications known today as farmerís almanacs, the Old Farmer's Almanac, originally published in 1792 and still published every September, is the most widely known. Begun by Robert Thomas, itís first editor, the Old Farmer's Almanac grew from a circulation of 3,000 copies to over 9,000 in just three years. The cost was only nine cents. Thomas added the word "Old" to the title of his almanac in 1832, then removed it three years later.

Since Thomasí almanac format wasn't unique, perhaps his weather predictions were more accurate. Based on his observations, Thomas devised a complex series of natural cycles to create a secret weather forecasting formula, resulting in unusually accurate forecasts.

An almanac, by definition, records and predicts astronomical eventsóthe rising and setting of the Sun, for instance), tides, weather, and other phenomena with respect to time. So what made The Old Farmerís Almanac different from the others? Since his format wasnít novel, we can only surmise that Thomasís astronomical and weather predictions were more accurate, the advice more useful, and the features more entertaining.

Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate.

John H. Jenks bought the publication after Thomas died, then put the word ďOldĒ back in the title in 1848. Three years later, Jenks hired Henry Nichols to create the Almanacís trademark four-seasons cover that has remained with the periodical ever since.

In 1861, Charles L. Flint became editor and focused the Almanacís content on farming to provide his growing readership with information they could use. By 1900, the Old Farmerís Almanac had yet another editor, Horace Ware, who aimed the publication beyond farmers to a more general readership by using features on nature and modern life instead of farming..



After surviving the World War I and the Depression, the Old Farmerís Almanac entered a new era under the leadership of Roger Scaife who became editor in 1936. Its circulation had fallen from a high of 225,000 in 1863 to just 88,000. He mistakenly eliminated the weather forecasts, thinking that his readers didnít need them, and almost killed the publication.

Robb Sagendorph, owner of Yankee Magazine, bought the Old Farmer's Almanac in 1939 and moved it to Dublin, New Hampshire. He reinstated Thomasí original format and style the readership of the publication began to grow once again.

In 1942, a German spy was apprehended by the FBI after being landed on Long Island, New York, by a U-boat the night before. The impact of this event was felt all the way to Dublin, New Hampshire, because The Old Farmerís Almanac was found in his coat pocket. The U.S. government speculated that the Germans were using the Almanac for weather forecasts, which meant that the book was indirectly supplying information to the enemy.

Fortunately, Sagendorph managed to get the government to agree that there would be no violation of the ďCode of Wartime Practices for the American PressĒ if the Almanac featured weather indications rather than forecasts. It was a close call that almost ruined the Almanacís perfect record of continuous publication.

The other publication, known simply as the Farmers' Almanac, has been in continuous publication since 1818. David Young and Jacob Mann founded their little publication in Morristown, New Jersey two years after what has come to be known as ďthe year without a summer.Ē During that year, farmers crops suffered severely from the unusual weather, so Young and Mann decided to create a publication which would offer them accurate weather forecasts to prevent a disaster like that from happening again.

Astronomer Samuel Hart Wright succeeded Young in 1851to become the second of only seven editors of the publication. Eventually, the publicationís offices moved from Morristown to nearby Newark, New Jersey.

Ray Geiger served as the Farmersí Almanac's longest-running editor, from 1934 until shortly before his death in 1994. In 1955, he moved production of the Farmers' Almanac from Newark to its current headquarters in Lewiston, Maine. Today, his son, Peter Geiger continues to publish the Almanac.

Published by the Almanac Publishing Company, of Lewiston, Maine, the Farmerís Almanac has become noted for its long-range weather predictions. Its readers claim the Almanac is 80-85 percent accurate in its predictions. But studies comparing the actual weather with the Almanacís predictions have shown that the predictions arenít any more accurate than pure chance.

Although the editors of the Farmerís Almanac make predictions as far as two years in advance, theyíre . re highly secretive about how they go about making them, only saying that they rely on astronomical data like the positions of the planets, sunspot activity, and tidal action. To put an identity to the forecasts, the editors created a fictitious forecaster Caleb Weatherbee.

Writing to down-home farmer folk, the almanac has also included its own special blend of advice on farming, gardening, fishing, and cooking over the years, as well as human-interest articles. Its editors have continually focused on the themes of simplicity, sustainable living, and conservation.

Old copies of both the Old Farmerís Almanac and the Farmerís Almanac abound. Since each was the farmerís best companion and popular with even regular people for its weather predictions, there are a lot of old copies hidden in peopleís attics and basements. Unfortunately, these arenít always in the best condition. And as with any other collectible, especially paper ones, condition is of prime importance when determining value. The earlier issues from the 19th century, printed on paper high in rag content, are usually in much better condition, but dampness can play a big role in paper deterioration. But even in the best condition, the sheer number of copies out there prevent the value from becoming too high.

The average selling price on eBay for a late 19th-century copy of the Old Farmerís Almanac from say the 1870s is only about $12-15. Editions from the 1920s sell for only about $4. Abebooks.com, an online used bookseller, has an 1890 edition in fair condition priced at just $9.

And while these prices are a far cry from the publicationís original price, these little gems are probably more fun to read than to consider as an investment.

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