The October 2018 rare book of the month is a volume of seventeen almanacs, all dated 1628, and all with roughly the same title: A new almanack and prognostication, for the yeere of our Lord God, 1628. All were printed in London by the Company of Stationers.
In addition to having similar titles, each almanac has a title page printed in red and black, and the first pages, usually the calendar, also printed in red and black. Each has a separate, dated title page for the ‘Prognostition’ section of the work.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance, almanacs are books “containing a calendar, a list of ecclesiastical festivals and saints’ days, and a list of astronomical phenomena, sometimes with astrological predictions of the weather and political events. … The earliest almanac to be printed in England (a translation from a French original) was The Calendar of Shepherds (c.1497)”. Adam Smyth writes that they were “sold in the last months of each year and provided information about the year to come”. The books were inexpensive, and small, generally issued in the octavo format- in other words a pocket-size book. They also contained tables of regnal years- a very useful tool for lawyers.
In addition to being used as a diary and weather reports, almanacs issued during the early modern period were often used as notebooks, due to the large amount of blank space they contained. Bill Sherman writes that almanacs, due to their blank spaces, “were used to record not just comments on the text but penmanship exercises, prayers, recipes, popular poetry, drafts of letters, mathematical calculations, shopping lists” etc. None of the almanacs in this volume have been used in this manner, unfortunately. However, another set of almanacs dating from 1622 to 1636, has notes in Robert Ashley’s hand, including reminders about a book he lent, and a comment about men including John Selden imprisoned in the Tower of London and Marshalsea in 1629.
Almanacs were often known by their compiler’s name, and each almanac in this volume was created by a different compiler: Richard Allestree, Daniel Browne, Joseph Chamberlaine, William Dade, Abraham Grammar, William Hewlett, John Neve, George Osborne, Samuel Perkins, Philip Ranger, William Rivers, John Rudston, Arthur Sofford, John Vaux, John White and John Woodhouse.
The best known of these authors is Richard Allestree, who was uncle to the Richard Allestree known as a ‘royalist divine’. Allestree the compiler was an almanac maker and mathematician who published almanacs from 1617 and 1643, the year of his death. Although he was originally a believer in astrology, after twenty years of practising it, he “came to believe … that it was essentially fraudulent. His almanacs reflect this view and have a pious, even puritan flavour” (Dictionary of National Biography).
Publishing an almanac was a profitable affair- they sold widely and were hugely popular in England. According to Thomas Nashe selling almanacs was “readier money than ale and cakes”. Yet almanacs were transient, ephemeral objects, and not many of them remain, despite their large print runs. Smyth points out that once their usefulness has passed, they were used to line “pie dishes, for lighting tobacco, [and] as toilet paper”. Middle Temple Library is lucky therefore to have twenty-six surviving English almanacs.
 Smyth, Adam, ‘Almanacs, annotators, and life-writing in early modern England, English Literary Renaissance’, Studies in English manuscripts Vol. 38, No. 2 (Spring 2008), pp. 200-244
 Sherman, William H., Used Books, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008