One tends to think of rare books as finely-bound volumes produced for the wealthy, but the Library's collections of early printed material also include publications for the other end of the market. An almanac is an annual publication that includes information such as weather forecasts, farmers' planting dates, tide tables, and tabular information often arranged according to the calendar. Texts considered to be almanacs have been found in the Near East dating back to the middle of the second millennium B.C. By the second half of the 16th century yearly almanacs were being produced in England, and in the 17th century English almanacs were bestsellers, second only to the Bible.
The first Welsh almanacer was Thomas Jones (1648-1713), a tailor's son from Merioneth. He moved to London in the 1660s, and in 1679 was granted a royal patent for compiling and publishing an annual Welsh almanac, a right which he exercised for the rest of his life. Following the lapse in 1695 of the Printing Act, which had restricted publication of books to London, Oxford and Cambridge, Jones moved to Shrewsbury, then the economic capital of mid-Wales, and continued his printing business from there.
Thomas Jones's almanac, usually published under the title Newyddion oddiwrth y sêr (News from the stars), consisted of 20 or 24 leaves. It contained an astronomical and astrological guide for twelve months, lists of fairs and markets in Wales and the Borders, samples of Welsh poetry and literature, a chronology of important historical events, a guide to reading Welsh and keeping accounts, a list of the law terms, the names of Welsh bishops, and miscellaneous advertisements. It was aimed at poor farmers who relied on detailed weather forecasts for their livelihood, and who also held a superstitious belief in astrology. Jones's almanac contained strong elements of propaganda in its reporting of wars on the Continent, being staunchly Protestant and anti-French. He was also concerned at the plight of the Welsh language and literature, and gave amateur poets the opportunity to have their work printed for the first time.
In both England and Wales there was fierce rivalry between almanacers. Although Thomas Jones maintained to the end of his life that he had the sole right to print almanacs in Welsh, he encountered increasing numbers of rivals from 1695 onwards. There was a bitter feud between him and John Jones of Caeau, Wrexham, who began publishing Cennad oddiwrth y sêr (A message from the stars) in 1701. Other 18th-century Welsh almanacs include Newyddion oddiwrth y sêr, published by John Rhydderch in Shrewsbury and then Carmarthen; Dehonglydd y sêr, published in Shrewsbury by John Prys; Tymmhorol, ac wybrenol newyddion, published in Shrewsbury by Gwilym Howell and then by Cain Jones; Ouranoskopia: neu, ddrych y ffurfafen, published by Evan Thomas in Shrewsbury; Britannus Merlinus liberatus, published in Carmarthen and later in Brecon by Matthew Williams; Vox stellarum et planetarum, published in Carmarthen and later in Brecon by John Harris; and a series with titles beginning Cyfaill, probably printed by John Jones of Trefriw using a fictitious Dublin imprint. Similar publications continued into the 19th and 20th centuries.
Since much of the information in the almanacs became obsolete after a year, and since they were printed on cheap paper which easily disintegrated, not many copies have survived. However, thanks to the foresight and collecting zeal of Sir John Williams, Bt., the Library's first President, and J.H. Davies, another of our major benefactors, we have a substantial collection of 17th, 18th- and 19th-century Welsh almanacs. These have received treatment from the Library’s conservation experts and been bound in hard covers to preserve this unique record of rural Welsh life.
Thomas Jones, 1648-1713
John Roderick (Sion Rhydderch), 1673-1735
John Prys, 1739?-1786?
Gwilym Howell, 1705-1775
Cain Jones, fl. 1775-1795
Evan Thomas, 1733-1814
John Harris, fl.1790-1806
John Roberts (Sion Robert Lewis), 1731-1806
Robert Roberts, 1777-1836
John Roberts, Holyhead
John Edwards, 1692?-1774
Mathew Williams, 1732-1819
John Jones, fl. 1707-1740
- Geraint H. Jenkins, “’The sweating astrologer’: Thomas Jones the almanacer”, Welsh society and nationhood: historical essays presented to Glanmor Williams (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1984), p. 161-177
- Geraint H. Jenkins, “Almanaciau Thomas Jones, 1680-1712”, Ysgrifau beirniadol, 14 (Dinbych: Gwasg Gee, 1988), t. 165-198
- Maredudd ap Huw, 'Calendr, dyddiadur ac almanac', NLW blog [Welsh only]
- Catherine Evans, 'Hen almanaciau', Cymru, Vol. 69, 1925, pp. 13-16 [Welsh only]
- D. Hywel E. Roberts, 'Almanac y Cymro', Ceredigion : Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1995, pp. 62-84 [Welsh only]
- R. S. U., 'Welsh Calender Customs', Montgomeryshire collections, Vol. 50, 1948, pp. 92-119
- 'Thomas Jones, the Almanacer', Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, Vol. 1, No. 8, July 1915, pp. 239-245
- 'Thomas Jones, the Almanac maker', Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, Vol. 2, No. 3, December 1918, pp. 97-110
- Llewelyn C. Lloyd, 'Thomas Jones', Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, Vol. 4, No. 7/8 July 1936, pp. 337-345
- Bob Owen, 'Sion Rhydderch yr Almanaciwr, 1673-1735', Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, Vol. 3, No. 7, July 1930, pp.275-290 [Welsh only]
- Bob Owen, 'Almanac cyntaf Sion Rhydderch', Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, Vol. 3, No. 8, July 1931, pp. 347-34 [Welsh only]