Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vintage annuals

The idea of an annual was a canny one if you were a publisher at the turn of the 19th century. Made up from a run of weekly or monthly magazines bound in a plain hard covers, and with a few added extras in the form of the pictorial title pages and advertisements, annuals offered printer-publishers a second chance to engage with their audience. The result was standalone book that seemed fresh and perfectly timed for Christmas.

One of the earliest examples was The Youth’s Magazine; or, Evangelical Miscellany (first published by W Kent in 1804), a predictably pious tome, although ‘youths’ were treated to some tales of travel and adventure. Peter Parley’s Annual followed on, and thrilled readers for over half a century (1840 – 92), setting new quality standards with its steel engravings by noted artists and, from 1846, its printed colour illustrations.

The Little Folks annuals had stories by E Nesbit and illustrations by Arthur Rackham and Kate Greenaway, while Margaret Gatty, the founder of Aunt Judy’s Magazine (in 1866), regularly recruited famous contributors sucha as Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll. Indeed, the 1868 Aunt Judy’s annual contains a story by Lewis Carroll called Bruno’s Revenge, which later became the basis for the book that Carroll considered his masterpiece, Sylvie and Bruno.

Early on, annuals were aimed at those who had the benefit of an education – both adults and children. During the 19th century, annuals had overtly moral overtones and offered instructions for the young in the path of truth and virtue. An 1878 copy of Little Folks’ contained this message for fibbers: “You have acquired a terrible fault – I might call it a disease; but remember, for your comfort, that is by no means incurable.” Presumably, continued reading set culprits on the right path!

With the passing of time, dogmatic instruction was presented in a less obvious way and the children’s sections, which had been just a part of the first annuals, took over. The Religious Tract Society, which published The Boy’s Own Annual (1879 – 1940) and The Girl’s Own Annual (1880 – 1948), guided its young readers through the bravery and honesty of its stories’ characters, while Dan Dare continued to stand for what is right well into the 1970s, with his appearances in the Eagle Annual (1952 – 74).

Comic and cartoon themes, which often followed newspaper strips, were first introduced via the Playbox Annual (from 1909) with readers’ favourite character Tiger Tim, who had his own annual from 1922. Children chuckled at the run of comic annuals that followed: Oojah (from 1923), Pip and the Squeak (also from 1923), Beano (from 1940) and Dandy (from 1939). Interestingly, there were more boys’ annuals than girls’, although there were still a considerable number with dual appeal.

The joy of annuals is that there really is something for every budget. Part with £5 and you will take home a later issue of Radio Fun or Playbox. For a little more, the world of vintage Bunty (£10 - £20), Champion (£20), Crackers (£35) or a 1970s Rupert (£20) could be yours. A real rarity, such as the brown-faced Rupert of 1973 will go for much more. The first or very early books in the run of most titles command a premium – a 1938 copy of the Mickey Mouse Annual (the eighth) sells for around £165 but a recent eBay auction ended on £700 for a nice copy of the 1932 edition (the second). Remember, whatever you opt for, it will be a first edition: if they sold out, that was it. The only exceptions are later facsimile editions of true rarities, which carry a relevant disclaimer.

As you would expect, clipped corners, missing plates and worn bindings dent an annual’s value quite significantly. Just occasionally, you may find a rare edition with sparkling facsimile coloured plates, slotted in for effect to replace torn out illustrated pages, so do keep an eye out. Some annuals (exactly how many remains a mystery) were issued with dust-wrappers and, although they don’t add quite the same premium as they do on books, they are nice to see as they were often beautifully pictorial.

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