Literary Annuals

Literary annuals arrived in force upon the American publishing scene in the mid-1820s. These books were compilations of fiction and poetry, often of a sentimental or religious nature, frequently illustrated and usually handsomely bound. In writing about the collection of literary annuals at the American Antiquarian Society, Clarence S. Brigham focused on the very important contributions of American authors to this genre of American imprints. Among the writers who contributed their poems, stories, and essays were William Cullen Bryant, Lydia Maria Child, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edward Everett, William Lloyd Garrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Frances S. Osgood, Theodore Parker, Edgar Allan Poe, Lydia H. Sigourney, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Nathaniel Parker Willis.

It is surprising, given his interest in American graphic art, that Brigham bypassed the illustrations in the literary annuals. In general, these are steel engravings that reproduce paintings, drawings, and watercolors by America's artists including Thomas Doughty, Alvan Fisher, William Sidney Mount, George Loring Brown, and William Guy Wall. A significant number of the illustrations reproduced works by European artists of the Renaissance and later eras and served to make the works of these artists known to a portion of the American public.

The Society's collection numbers approximately 1,400 items, including reissues, variant editions, but not including duplicate copies or copies of a given edition with minor variations. There is a short-title list of these annuals that was compiled in 1983. All titles printed before 1841 and a scattering of later examples have been fully cataloged. The Society's collection contains several English and French imprints, although the vast majority were, of course, printed in the United States.

Other means of access to the collection include Frederick Winthrop Faxon's Literary Annuals and Gift Books (Boston, 1912) and Ralph Thompson's American Literary Annuals and Gift Books, 1825-1865 (New York, 1936). Both are annotated to reflect the Society's holdings. Another finding aid is Indices to American Literary Annuals and Gift Books, 1825-1865, compiled by E. Bruce Kirkham and John W. Fink (New Haven, 1975). The 469 titles in this work are keyed to the microfilm edition of the annuals listed by Thompson and reproduced in 1966 by Research Publications, Inc. Part 1 provides basic information on each of the titles, including editor, title, place of publication, publisher, date, table of contents (with the names of the authors, if provided in the volume), and a list of illustrations with the names of artists and engravers (again, if found in the volume). Part 2 contains the several indices for editors, publishers, cities and states of publication, stereotypers and printers, titles of poems and stories, authors, titles of illustrations, painters, and engravers. No attempt was made to attribute literary or artistic works; the indices are based on text within each volume. The indices are research tools for both art and literary historians. The Society does not own the microfilm edition of the literary annuals, but it has copies of most, if not all, the titles indexed by Kirkham and Fink.

Unlike some of the special collections at AAS that came as the gift of just one or two donors, this collection has been acquired during the present century from a host of booksellers. A few titles came to AAS as gifts of donors such as Stephen Salisbury III and Charles Henry Taylor. Many of annuals came as part of the collection of American bindings bequeathed to AAS by Michael Papantonio. This large and important acquisition was reported by Marcus A. McCorison in volume 93 of the Proceedings (1983) and in Early American Bookbindings from the Collection of Michael Papantonio, 2nd edition (Worcester, 1986), which contains indices of binders, previous owners, and an index of main entries. Another important cache of annuals came as part of the Kenneth G. Leach bindings collection.

For current information on the cataloging status of this and other AAS collections, choose "Collection Access" below.

- Georgia B. Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Emerita

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