Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Middlebrook's Apostrophe, 1817?

Title Page
It is always a delight when something I buy for one reason turns out to be interesting from a second perspective. This little almanac from 1817 is just such a book.

The bonus, in this case, was the punctuation of the title: Middlebrooks' Almanack for 1817, which sent me off into a brief exploration of whether or not the possessive apostrophe in the title would have been felt to be incorrect in 1817. From what I've been able to piece together, it probably would: the Wikipedia entry on the apostrophe, for instance, suggests that the "apostrophe-s" for singular genitive was regular by the end of the eighteenth century, though the use of "s-apostrophe" for plural genitive was not firmly established until the middle 1800s. Middlebrook's printer, here, has probably gotten it wrong.

[Bibliographic sidebar: Indispensable though it is, WorldCat/OCLC can be quite a pain to use sometimes. Looking up this book under the search terms "Middlebrooks' Almanack 1817" turns up six or eight entries, only a couple of which seem to point to actual, physical books: one at Yale, and one at the Wellcome Library in London. Interestingly several of the entries give the title as "Middlebrook's Almanack"--suggesting either the printing of a version with a corrected title, or else the accidental correcting of the title at the point where the catalogue entry was made. The two physical copies seem to have been catalogued one each way.]

Anyway, although I've bought and sold books casually for almost 20 years, when I started seriously working in rare books, I never would have guessed how often I'd buy and sell old almanacs. The Old Farmer's Almanac, naturally, had been a common fixture in my family's house when I was young, a lingering survival of a time in the 1800s when almanacs were probably as commonly found in American homes as bibles. And old almanacs are even more common than equally old bibles today because they had to be issued anew each year. By the end of the 1800s, almanacs were literally being given away, a popular vehicle for patent medicine advertisements and the like.

My instinct, therefore, was always to think of almanacs as trivial, ephemeral, and common: nothing a rare book dealer would deal in!

But of course I was wrong, and I've probably bought and sold dozens of almanacs over the years: American ones both common and rare, and occasionally European almanacs as well, including some surprisingly fancy and beautifully bound French almanacs.
Wrappers made from May 28, 1816
issue of The Connecticut Journal;
stab-sewn binding at left edge

I purchased this copy of Middlebrooks' Almanack, not for the apostrophe, but for the original wrappers, which derive from an 1816 New Haven, CT, newspaper. 

Although the image does not show it clearly, the book has
a double wrap made from two partial sheets of newspaper.

Longtime readers of my blog will known that I've long been fascinated by the use of manuscript fragments, printer's proof sheets, printed pages and documents, and--now--newspapers in the binding of later books: it's a tradition of practice that endured for centuries, and this American newspaper example was one I couldn't resist.