Willows Wisden Almanack reprints August 26, 2006

Making history affordable

Martin Williamson looks at the man behind the series of Wisden Almanack reprints

David Jenkins - and books - at his Staffordshire home © Cricinfo
Over the last couple of decades the price of old copies of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack have escalated beyond the reach of most collectors. To a certain cross-section of anoraks (and I include myself firmly among their number) one of life's goals is to own a complete set. While obtaining copies back to the 1950s is not that hard and relatively inexpensive, before World War Two it starts getting pricy, and copies from the 19th century are for the Abramovichs and Murdochs of this world.

Faced with this situation, in the early 1980s, David Jenkins, an academic based near Stoke, took it on himself to split an early Wisden (and talking to him you can see that still pains him!) and have it reprinted in a limited-edition run bound in cloth. The interest from collectors was immediate ... sadly, so was the interest from Wisden's publishers. But after initially pouring cold water on the project, Wisden agreed to allow Jenkins to continue with limited print-runs of early editions. Such was their success that these now fetch prices into three figures and some have even had to be reprinted.

The purchase of Wisden by Paul Getty in the 1990s eased the restrictions there had been on what could be reproduced, and Jenkins' cottage industry continue to publish two or three back copies each year with the scope expanded. The highlight for collectors was the printing of the all but impossible to obtain 1916 volume.

Jenkins , now a director at Staffordshire University, continues to drive this admirable project from his home in his spare time - he admits his loft and any other space he can find are filled with boxes of various editions - and his family handle the processing and dispatching of orders. He is even considering expanding into the publication of other rare cricket books.

The latest edition to roll off the presses is 1922. Unlike earlier volumes - the heavy prose of which is nigh on unreadable to the modern eye and the content often bizarre - Wisdens published after the First World War are more recognisable to today's reader. The 1922 Almanack takes on board England's calamitous 1920-21 tour of Australia - where they were whitewashed 5-0 - and the following summer's triumphant tour by Warwick Armstrong's all-conquering side. The anomalies of the time are still evident - public schools cricket comes ahead of the Australia tour - and one has to feel for the editor who starts his notes with the observation that "there has never been a season so disheartening as 1921". His successors might have their own nominations.

  • Jenkins has many old editions still available. Email him at jenkins.willows@ntlworld.com, or write to the address below, for a list of those as well as details of what he has in the pipeline.

    17 The Willows
    ST15 0DE

    Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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