Friday, January 1, 2010

January in Almanac and Book of Hours

January 1, 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

I start the year with images from the Library of Congress copy of "Poor Richard's Almanack" (printed by Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia, 1733). A "best seller" for decades in the American colonies, Franklin's annual "Almanack" included not only a calendar but astronomical and weather forecasts, witty maxims and puzzles, and practical advice.

The page for January (above) shows the astrological sign Aquarius and a domestic scene.

Each month's illustration is preceded by a calendar listing important days (religious festivals) and astronomical events.

Above, a detail of an anatomical man along with Zodiac signs.

Both the structure and layout of the "Almanack" owe much to the medieval book of hours (see this informative website for more). Compare the humble "Almanack" to the exquisite calendar and anatomical man in this 15th-century book, the "Tres Riches Heures" of Jean, Duc de Berry:

While the print "Almanack" is in English and the manuscript "Heures" in French/Latin, these books clearly participate in a shared visual tradition.

For more on the "Almanack" in the context of Franklin's work, see this Library of Congress website.

You can also view high-resolution images of each page of the LOC copy of the "Alamack" as well as a medieval book of hours.

For more information on the "Tres Riches Heures," see here and here.


  1. Huh, very interesting. I've never even heard of the Book(s) of Hours, but apparently it's influence in medieval Europe is pretty strong. The Almanack is interesting too. I have often heard that they can be surprisingly accurate with weather, but the formula is a family secret. The witticisms and odd diagrams are amusing too. I was totally unaware of the strong influence of astrology in everyday culture, since I assumed it was verboten in Christian culture.

    Who knew? :)

  2. Glad to see you're finding the blog informative/educational! Re: astrology - as I understand it, there was considerable overlap between what we'd now call "astrology" vs. "astronomy" in the Middle Ages. So there wasn't as much a conflict between tracing the movements of planetary bodies in a "scientific" sense and using such phenomena for prognostication purposes.

  3. Hi, surfing in from a Google search, sorry this is untimely. The almanack tradition goes back to antiquity, and the Book of Hours and the American almanacks were steps along the common path. The "homo signorum" (man of signs) was/is a common feature of almanacks, and indicated parts of the body supposed to be ruled by zodiac constellations, based on Aristotelian medical traditions, debunked in modern times. Astrology was rejected in Christian Europe, but this usually meant forbidding "nativities," i.e., using astrology for personal divination. Notions that we would consider astrological were so bound up with notions of science that it took centuries to untangle. Anyway, thanks for posting this.