September 5, 2010

Wisdens from 1930s, sans dog ears

Willows' high-quality reprints of old Almanacks are a salvation for genuine collectors

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1932 Willows £67 + £4 p&p

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1933 Willows £67 + £4 p&p

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1934 Willows £67 + £4 p&p

While we might be in a recession, investments that seem guaranteed to continue appreciating are old copies and collections of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. Early editions have long since ceased to be affordable - a complete set recently sold for £120,000 - and even copies from between the wars have started to change hands for several hundred pounds each.

The salvation for genuine collectors rather than out-and-out investors remains the excellent series of Willows reprints. These are identical to the originals in every respect, so much so that purists may shudder to know an old Wisden is sacrificed to produce the reprint, carefully dissected to allow high-quality scanning.

Started in his kitchen a number of years ago by David Jenkins, Willows publishes three old editions a year, and has now reached the mid-1930s with its latest three releases. As with all the previous books, these are high-quality reproductions of the originals, and are available in hardcloth and paper wrappers.

The 1931 Wisden offers an insight into an Ashes series still almost a year away - despite our belief that it is a modern tendency to hype sporting events, the build-up to an Ashes encounter in those days really did start a year or two out - with the observation that Douglas Jardine "does not seem to have impressed people with his ability as a leader on the field". And the perennial debate over domestic cricket, which still rumbles on, surfaced with suggestions including two-day matches, one-innings games instead of two, and financial relief by fostering amateurs and reducing the fixture list.

The 1933 Almanack frustratingly went to press after three Tests of the Bodyline series, and therefore missed the real rumpus that resulted from Adelaide. "The public in Australia appear to be getting very excited about the fast bowling of some of the Englishmen," the editor, Stewart Caine, wrote, "and what is variously known as the leg theory, shock tactics and body-line methods." And to prove, as we sit here after two months of a fairly wretched English summer, little changes, he also lamented "delays, interruptions and abandonments" of a wet 1932 season.

Undoubtedly the most interesting of the last three releases is the 1934 Almanack, covering as it does, albeit from a distance of close to two years, the Bodyline series. By then the euphoria of regaining the urn had given way to an awareness that perhaps the way it was done was less than sporting, and the editor sought to downplay the whole affair, explaining he was not keen to "flog a dead horse".

The purchase of the Wisden brand by Bloomsbury at the end of 2008 caused some temporary jitters among those who avidly collect the excellent series of Willows reprints, but the good news is there is an agreement to continue publishing the reprints through to at least 1939 between now and March 2012.

For details of how to buy these and earlier reprints, Willows Publishing Company, 17 The Willows, Stone, Staffordshire, ST15 0DE. Email

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo