Another chance to see the ‘Voice of the Stars’ almanacs exhibition

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

If you missed the exhibition of almanacs at the Special Collections Service earlier this year, you have another chance to see it as it is now on display at the University Library (on the ground floor, either side of the lifts) until 24 January 2016.

The exhibition, entitled Voice of the stars : almanacs from the collections of the University of Reading, was curated in partnership with the Department of History at the University of Reading, and brings together examples of almanacs from various University collections, and examines the use and production of these fascinating publications.

The display forms part of Almanacs, Astrology and the Origins of Weather Forecasting, an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) project, undertaken by Aoife Lintin and Dr Anne Lawrence. The research focused on the nature of the weather forecasts found, and the role of astrology in producing them.

The ‘zodiac man’ from the Cambridge almanack for 1773.

Almanacs, which were produced annually, were amongst other things the forerunners of the modern pocket diary. They contained all sorts of useful information, including an accurate calendar for the coming year and lists of important dates and individuals like the Kings and Queens of England. They also made ‘prognostications’ for the weather and events of both political and national importance. They were as important to the ordinary individual in the past as the calendar is to us today.

The almanacs held in the University Special Collections cover a particularly broad range dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the late nineteenth century. Many of the almanacs had not been catalogued or studied before, and one of the highlights of the exhibition for me is the fragment of a sixteenth century almanac printed by John Herford [see image below] which Aoife found in the John Lewis Printing Collection. With a printing date of around 1540, this tiny fragment is the earliest almanac fragment in the University’s collections. The extensive John Lewis collection is not yet catalogued so we were not aware it was there until Aoife started researching our almanac holdings and made this exciting discovery (an example of how our readers often help us to get to know and document our collections!) There is also a nice local link as the fragment that we hold states the distances between towns in Berkshire, perhaps for fairs. We are now planning to individually catalogue some of the examples of almanacs in the John Lewis collection, as well as some of the other important early printed items which it contains.

A fragment of an almanac printed by John Herford, [1540?]. JOHN LEWIS PRINTING COLLECTION UNIVERSITY OF READING MS 5317 Box 7:2 – the oldest almanac fragment in the University of Reading collections.
A copy of the handlist that was produced as part of the research project is available to consult in the Special Collections reference book collection. Please note that for security and practical reasons, a number of the exhibits have had to be displayed in reproduction (including the Herford fragment). If you wish to view the original items, please ask a member of staff in the Special Collections Service reading room.

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