Almanacs (sometimes spelled with a “k”) are an American institution. Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack and The Farmer’s Almanac are the best-known examples, but thousands of other more particular, peculiar, and provincial almanacs have been published since the genre was established in the 17th century (the Library of Congress’ American Almanac Collection contains 3,986 unique titles). To view some almanacs online, view the results of this basic search on the Digital Public Library of America’s site, which produced over 2,000 results. Viewing the results in the timeline view shows the majority of items come from the 19th century, which comports with the boom of almanacs in the 1800s.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Chaucer has one of the earliest uses of the word, from 1391: “A table of the verray Moeuyng of the Mone from howre to howre, euery day & in euery signe, after thin Almenak.” Almanacs began as books of tables containing calendars with religious or geographic information as well as astronomical and meteorological data. They were, along with the Bible, the books most commonly kept in early American homes. In the 19th century, special interest groups like political parties, religious congregations, labor unions, educational materials companies, and other businesses began publishing almanacs that contained a blend of traditional information and advertisements.
If you search for almanacs in the Westchester Library System and the White Plains Collection, you will get results that run the gamut from traditional (The Old Farmer’s Almanac) to the farsical (Poor Heathcote’s Almanack). Since advances in meteorological science and communication technology made published almanacs obsolete (think of the ubiquity of weather forecasts), the term has been used to describe books that follow a calendrical format. In an ironic inversion of their original nature, most almanacs today are historical, filled with information about the past rather than the future.