Authorship in the American Literary Annuals
Between 1826 and 1865, a multitude of relatively expensive illustrated books containing collections of prose and verse were produced in America that were intended primarily to be given away as gifts. These gift books or literary annuals were published primarily for profit rather than for literary merit. History and the critics have either dealt rather harshly or ignored these American literary annuals. Ralph Thompson made a study identifying and describing them in 1938, and an extensive index of the annual contents was published by Kirkham and Fink in 1975. This study identifies the most prolific authors in the annuals and characterizes them as to: when and how many contributions they made; their gender, occupation, and regional publisher. It is anticipated that this information will provide a new and broader perspective concerning the annuals and their role in the development of American literature.
History of the Annuals
The idea of the literary annual was imported to England from Germany by the publisher, Rudolph Ackermann, with his first Forget Me Not in 1823. Aimed primarily at middle-class women to enhance their expectations for increased sophistication, these and subsequent other gift books were sentimentally entitled: Amulet, Book of Beauty, Keepsake, and Literary Souvenir. Great care was given to the appearance of the annuals to ensure that they were fitting ornamentation for library, parlor, or boudoir. Although initially intended as Christmas presents, the annuals were soon advertised as suitable gifts for all occasions. They were produced in as elegant, elaborate, and attractive detail as possible. Many innovations in book binding technology were developed and tested on the literary annuals (Faxon 7). Early volumes had colored and glazed paper boards printed with decorative titles and designs, and then were inserted in slip cases of the same design. Later volumes were bound in silk fabric or embossed leather bindings. The publishers were reimbursed by thousands of people anxious to prove their possession of great refinement of taste.
The Atlantic Souvenir, the first American annual to copy this British publishing fad, was published in 1826 at Philadelphia, and it existed about six years before it was incorporated with The Token and continued publication until 1851 (Pearson 209). Other American annuals were tailored to attract many types of purchaser and interest: humor, botany, temperance, anti-slavery, religious, and missionary annuals. A few American authors made contributions to British annuals, but many British works were printed in American annuals without their author's knowledge. In respect to illustrations, the American annuals rarely equaled the best of their English prototypes. Figure 1 shows the relative rise and fall in the publication of annuals in England and America respectively. There are totals of about 220 British annuals and 469 American annuals displayed in this figure. Only original American annuals are shown because many were reissued. One annual, The Token for 1838, appeared in at least ten reissues by different publishers, with changes of title and of illustrations, and in some instances with various contents omitted (Trent 173). The decrease in annual production in both countries may be attributed to market saturation and severe economic depressions in England in the 1840s and in America in the 1850s.