In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The Herald of Spring
24th May 2013
To me, the first sign that spring is approaching is coloured yellow. No, it is not the daffodil, though one can be excused for such thinking. It is the Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanack, splendid in its yellow dust jacket.
This year is is the 150th anniversary of the first Wisden. the first edition was in 1864.
I suppose that it can be argued that the 150th anniversary is not until next year, and there is validity in that position. However the 2013 edition is the 150th year in which the book has been published.
So what is Wisden and what does it do? The Almanack is an annual publication and one which records all serious cricket played anywhere in the world in the previous twelve months. The 1864 edition had 112 pages while that of the 2013 edition runs to 1584. In 1864 the price was one shilling and today it is £50.00.
John Wisden played cricket for Sussex in the years leading up to 1863 when he retired. He was a successful player in those pre Test Match days, taking, on one occasion, all ten wickets in an innings, for the North versus the South in 1850. In the near 170 years that the first class game has been played this has only happened on 80 occasions. He was also involved, in 1859, in taking the first team from England on an overseas tour, to the United States and Canada.
Wisden was born in 1826 in Brighton. On his retirement, Wisden set up a sports outfitters in London’s Leicester Square, selling football equipment as well as cricket items. Finding himself still needing funds to support his family, he instituted the Almanack to record the previous season’s games.
The first edition included non cricketing information as lighting up times, the rules of lawn bowls, the winners of the boat race and the horse racing classics, plus the quarters of the moon.
To my parent’s surprise, their first born son grew up loving cricket and played every Saturday during the season. The same first born was sacked from his second job for declining to do overtime on a Saturday on which he had been selected for a game, and more importantly, had given his word.
In 1953, after some 20 years, England beat Australia in an Ashes series and my Christmas present that year from my parents was a copy of John Arlott’s ‘Test Match Diary’. For my birthday the following year they gave me a 1954 Wisden, priced twelve shllings and sixpence. It was the start. I have bought every Wisden since and also began the search for all other copies, neither an easy or cheap process.
Eventually l managed to get my collection back to 1896 with original copies, many of them rebound from the old cloth covers. The most l ever paid for past copies was £225 for the rare 1942 and £175 for 1918. Because of the other distractions at the time, only 3000 copies were printed in 1942.
Wisden’s were able to see a market when it presented itself, and realised that many people were anxious to buy back copies of the book, more people, in fact than there were second hand copies available. They therefore about 20 years ago, offered facsimile copies of the first fifteen editions at £40 each.
In this way, l have been able to collect all the copies l was missing. This was a cheaper option as a full original set would have cost me in the region of £20,000, more if the provenance could be traced to someone famous, like the sainted John Arlott or Jonners.
John Wisden died from cancer in 1884 at the age of 57, but his name is known throughout the cricketing world. Not bad for a builder’s Son from Brighton.
Written by my Father B.M