One hundred editions, 1963

A history of Wisden

L. E. S. Gutteridge

The year 1864 was memorable for many reasons. Paraguay was at war with Brazil. Britain was having some trouble with the Bhutanese in India and the Ashantis in West Africa. Charles Dickens produced Our Mutual Friend. In Manchester, photographs were taken for the first time by magnesium flashlight; the first stone of the London Embankment was laid; Clifton Suspension Bridge was opened and, after repulsing an attack on Kintang, the great General Gordon exploded 40,000 lb. of powder under the walls of Nanking before recapturing it.

Whilst the sound of this explosion was still reverberating, three other earth-shaking events occurred. At fifteen years of age, W.G. Grace scored 170 and 56 not out for the South Wales Cricket Club against the Gentlemen of Sussex at Brighton, overarm bowling was legalised and, most important of all, Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack was born.

A height of five feet four inches and a weight of seven stone is not perhaps the popular image of a fast bowler. Yet, John Wisden, a Brighton builder's son, rightly known as the Little Wonder, averaged 225 wickets a season for twelve years, took 455 wickets in 1851, and with a tremendous off-break clean bowled all ten wickets in the second innings for North v. South in 1850.

He was largely responsible for the tour -- the first by an English team -- to Canada and the United States in 1859 where he performed a double hat-trick, actually taking six wickets in six balls.

He owned a tobacconistt's and sports equipment store in Leicester Square. His chief rival was Lillywhite Brothers & Co. dealers in foreign cigars, tobacco etc. (unrivalled shag, highly recommended at 6s. 6d.) and sports equipment, whose premises were at 10, Princes Terrace, Caledonian Road, Islington. Since 1849 they had issued The Young Cricketer's Guide at eighteenpence a copy, falling to one shilling for the later issues. It ended in 1866, but The Cricketer's Companion had taken its place in 1865.

A mind as cogent as John Wisden's realised the value of such a publication as an advertisement and he determined to produce his own. It became a lasting memorial of his fame. It is significant that he played his first-class match against the M.C.C. and Ground at Brighton in August 1863 -- exactly one hundred years ago.

Books must not be classified by size and shape alone. They are subject, even as clothes are, to the decrees of fashion. There is a straining after novelty, but always a dislike of breaking with the past. There have been volumes as tall as a man and others as small as a walnut.

We confess to a certain dislike of the Elephant folio. At Addison's Banquet of the Books, the folio still takes the top of the table; the twelves are below the salt, and the slim books can hardly find a place at all. Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack, having chosen at the outset a most perfect size for its purpose, has retained it through 100 issues, and with age its girth has increased. A natural slimming was evidenced during the lean years of two world wars, but the astonishing and wholly admirable thing is that it continued at all.

In outward appearance, few vital changes can be noticed. The paper covers gave way to a limp-cloth binding in 1938 and an alternative cloth-boards edition was commenced in 1896. In 1938 the Wisden motif of two top-hatted players at the wicket, appeared on the cover of the limp edition and has continued. In the paper editions 1904-5 the spelling Almanac is employed but this usage does not appear on the front cover nor on the cloth edition, which has Almanack.

The first issue was published for one shilling and was available post free for 13 stamps -- obviously penny ones. By 1874 the number of pages had increased from the 112 of 1864 to 208 and a copy was sent post free for 14 stamps. It is curious that the issue for 1875, although 32 pages larger, was available for 13 stamps post free and that this also applied to that for 1876.

Changes in postal charges are not unknown today. The post free price for 1878 and 1879 was 1s. 1½d. and that for 1880 (234 pages with the advertisements) was 1s. 2d. The price was increased to 1s. 3d. post free with the issue of 1886 (382 pp.). So size and postage progressed, until today the cheapest way of posting a 1,067-page Wisden costs 1s. 3d.

The first advertisement was in 1867 where, on the last page, appears an illustration of John Wisden and Co.'s Patent Catapulta, the principle of working which will be shown at 2, New Coventry Street, Leicester Square. Mr. Wanostrocht, in his Felix on the bat published in 1845, shows a Catapulta which was based on the principle of the siege machine of classical antiquity. Wisden's model was of an entirely different principle, the ball being propelled by a bow-like structure.

In 1883, the first advertisement appears in the text and is on the verso of the title-page. Dr. Johnson in 1759 said: "The trade of advertising is now so near perfection that it is not easy to propose any improvement." In 1960, Britain spent £456 million on advertising and Wisden itself shows a similar evolution of the art to a stage much beyond any that Johnson could have conceived.

The earnest desire of the proprietors to keep the cost as low as possible meant that advertisements must increase in quantity and to a very great extent these were banished to the front and end of the actual work itself. The increasing circulation helped to lower the cost of production, but the advertisements were an absolute necessity if the price were to remain at 1s. And so it did for over half its present life, that is for 51 issues until during the First World War in 1915.

With the exception of 1868 there are only three publishers' imprints, with one minor variation. Until 1937 John Wisden and Co. were the publishers (in 1914 it became a limited liability company) and it seems that for a trial period of one year, John Wisden had a partner by name Maynard, and, for the year 1868 only, the imprint was Wisden and Maynard.

Research has failed to provide any information on this short partnership. Wisden's publishers were blitzed during the winter of 1940 and all the records were lost, while Wisden's Mortlake factory with other records was destroyed in 1944. H.S. Altham says: "No doubt the Cabinet was unmoved, but cricketers felt it an almost personal outrage."

Six printers are known to have been concerned with its production and Messrs. Balding and Mansell printed 39 consecutive issues.

A main contributory to Wisden's success was the founding in 1880 of the Cricket Reporting Agency. Begun by Charles Pardon, who, seven years after its foundation first undertook the Editorship of Wisden, the editorial work has, since the 1887 edition, been carried through by the Cricket Reporting Agency, and Wisden's Editor has generally been a partner in the firm.

Some members of the firm have worked on Wisden for long periods, notably Sydney Pardon, from 1887 to 1925, Charles Stewart Caine, 1887 to 1933, S.J. Southerton, 1894 to 1935, and Hubert Preston, 1895 to 1951. Four current members with long service records are E. Eden, who began in 1922, H. Gee in 1931 and Norman Preston and Leslie Smith in 1933.

Perhaps the greatest of the editors was S.H. Pardon, who was responsible for the issues from 1891 until 1925. He would have been the first to acknowledge his debt to C.F. Pardon and E.S. Pardon.

This was a great and formative period. His first issue had 420 pages and his penultimate one 1,010 pages. Every aspect of the game came under his careful scrutiny. The number of entries under Births and Deaths in 1891 was 753 and in his final issue of 1925, was 6,274.

His was a cultured mind. He had definite opinions and was prepared to state them. His editorials make most interesting reading and his influence on the growth of the game throughout the world was immense.

Like all great editors, he had the ability to pick the right helpers, and F.S. Ashley-Cooper's meticulously accurate and informed statistical assistance was invaluable. Hubert Preston was in the same tradition and was equally notable in other and different fields.

The present editor has shown that he too is worthy of the great traditions and has a lively sense of the best interests of the game. He is still fighting space, as all his predecessors have done, but is nevertheless allowing the publication to grow, and even the lesser-known touring teams are allowed their brief mention.

At this point it should be stated that the Almanack has attained a most remarkable degree of accuracy. The possibilities of errors are incalculable. The fact is that the degree of accuracy attained over the years has been astonishing. The old adage says that there are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Charles Dexter Cleveland in his preface to A Complete Concordance to the Poetical Works of John Milton says: "I had occasion to look at Todd's Verbal Index in connection with Lycidas. I found 63 mistakes." This in a poem of 193 lines. Yet, in its day, Todd's Verbal Index was considered to be a literary masterpiece. The fact is that in view of the inevitably large content of statistics, Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack has performed with very great credit.

Wisden has attained an authoritative position that is now unrivalled. In its earlier days it met and squarely beat its competitors. Captain Bayley produced The Cricket Chronicle for the season 1863 which contained full scores of minor as well as important matches and the Lillywhites produced Guides, Companions and Annuals from 1849 to 1900. Wisden appears in the committee rooms of the whole world where cricket is played and is the final arbiter in any matter under dispute.

Such is its present authority that I must remind the reader that it is published by a private firm that has no official connection with cricket's rulers. Its success has been due to its manner of presentation and to its emphasis on accuracy and detail. It is a one hundred volume history of the game, a permanent source of information to which many authors have freely admitted their indebtedness and to which many more have not.

The evolution of the growth of overseas cricket is a fascinating study and deserves an article to itself. Even the second issue of 1865 devoted 22 of its 160 pages to the doings of the Twelve in Australia under the captaincy of George Parr.

In 1868, the full scores of a match played by I Zingari against the Paris Club, which I.Z. won very comfortably, is recorded, and in 1869 both the English Team in America and the results of the visit of the Australian Aboriginals to this country are given ample space.

In 1875 an American Baseball team came to this country to demonstrate the virtues of their game and stayed for one month only. The comment generally made was that their fielding was good.

Sad to record, they played a number of cricket matches as well and the Americans having one or two good bowlers, several plucky hard-hitters, and a team of good fielders, they had the best of every match they played. When Lillywhite went on his second trip to America in 1868 with Willsher as captain, the team beat the best baseball side that America at that time could produce.

In 1887, reference is made to the Tour of the Parsees and also of the visit of the West Indian Gentlemen to Canada and the United States. Australian Inter-Colonial Matches were first recorded in 1891.

By 1893 the visit of an Irish team to America, and statistics prepared by Lord Harris of Cricket in India, were considered of sufficient interest to occupy valuable space, and a visit during the month of August by the Gentlemen of Holland was recorded in 1895.

It was nothing less than an editorial stroke of genius when Charles F. Pardon decided that to signalise the extraordinary success that bowlers achieved in 1888 he would give new portraits, specially photographed by Hawkins of Brighton, of six of the most prominent and skilful of their number. A proof of its popularity is that the demand for 1889 was so great that for the first time a second edition was necessary.

The photograph is still clearly legible and unfaded after over 70 years. (Prints were substituted for actual photographs in 1915.) It became a regular feature thereafter (except for 1916 and 1917, and this for an obvious reason). In 1897, it had developed into that much-loved and delightfully argumentative feature, Five Cricketers of the Year. Why is it that we so rarely guess all the five in advance, and yet agree with the final choice?

It was a most happy thought in 1918 to give the Five School Bowlers of the Year, and in the following year, the Five Public School Cricketers of the Year. It should be mentioned that one of the latter was A.P.F. Chapman, of Uppingham. "Though he bowls left-handed with some ability, it is also as a batsman that Chapman is chiefly distinguished... he ought to make his mark." It becomes most impressive on the four occasions that the Five Cricketers of the Year were dropped to find the solitary names of John Wisden, W.G. Grace, P.F. Warner and Jack Hobbs in lonely grandeur.

The beginnings of the important obituary section were in 1872 when 15 cricketers were listed as having died in 1871. These included Mr. Dark, of Lord's, and the father of W.G. Grace. In 1891 a brief obituary notice was given of Charles F. Pardon and this inspired the editor to do the same for other deaths in the following year and brief biographical notices were added.

Since then there have been brief and accurate summaries from various pens. Obituaries of cricketers killed in action were separated from the others during the wars.

I must confess to a certain sadness at the inevitable passing of the almanack that graced the earliest editions. 1864 commences its 12 pages of almanack by informing us that the British Museum closes on January 1st, and amongst other gratuitous information, tells us when carpets were first manufactured in Kidderminster, the date of the Battle of Lodi on the Adda in 1796 and ends with a mention of Thomas Brett, the fastest and straightest underhand bowler ever known.

In 1865 the almanack gives more cricket information than other subjects, and in 1870 it is given a new form and has only four pages. This continued until 1879 when a single page calendar was substituted. Even the calendar disappeared in 1941 and all that is left of the almanack is its mention in the title. (A twelve-page Almanack, extracted from G.D. Martineau's Cricketer's Historical Calendar which Sporting Handbooks Ltd. will publish late in 1963, has been included in this edition.)

The first issue contained a deal of delightful, but quite extraneous, matter -- such as the Rules of Knur and Spell, a brief history of China, the Rules for playing the Game of Bowls, the winners of the Derby, Oaks and St. Leger, and sundry other discrete information on Canals, British Societies, The Wars of the Roses, and Coinage. It ends with a mention of the interesting fact that a brass bell weighing 17 cwt. cast at Woolwich Arsenal in 1699 was cleft by the hammer while ringing from the effect of the severe frost.

The Laws of Cricket have appeared in every edition. In the very earliest editions they followed the almanack, and until 1937 they appeared towards the beginning of the volume. From 1938 to 1947 they were to be found after the statistics and immediately before the details of matches played. From 1948 the Laws have been placed at the end. A study of their variations would in itself provide much of the history of Cricket. The laws governing bets were dropped in 1885.

Women's cricket was honoured by having its first mention in 1938. There is a detailed account with full scores of the first women's Test Match between Australia and England, by Miss V.M.M. Cox, of the Women's Cricket Association.

In later years improvements and additions come thick and fast. Public Schools had space accorded to them as early as the second issue, where a whole page is given to the recording of the Eton v. Harrow match at Lord's when over 9,000 people were present. In 1962 sixty pages are devoted to Public Schools cricket. It is fascinating to notice a C.J. Kortright playing for Tonbridge in 1887 or a T.W. Graveney with 4 innings, twice not out, 27 runs, 10 as the highest innings, and an average of 13.50 for Bristol Grammar School in 1942.

County cricket has always rightly formed a very large part of a year's issue and during the Second World War, when we lacked this important feature of our national life, we were solaced with many details of League cricket and of the Northern Universities.

In 1960 room was found for the permanent inclusion of League cricket. Lists of Blues were commenced in 1923 at the suggestion of W. Livingstone Irwin, and Mr. Ashley-Cooper drew up two tables adding the schools of the players. A list of Blues from 1827-1939 appeared in 1940. Statistics of many kinds are provided and the Cricket Records have been amended every year.

The reporting of matches in earlier days was quaint and typical of the period. It was always readable and never descended to the type of journalese provided by Bell's London Life. The reporting of matches is now factual and unlike former years, the Test match reports are initialled, thus departing from the strict anonymity that was traditional.

The first article was by W.H. Knight in 1869 and he wrote in a fresh and bright manner on the Individual Innings of 200 or more Runs. He is recorded as the editor in the preface of 1870. Since then, many lesser known and greater names have contributed. The Hon. Mr. Justice Herbert V. Evatt -- later the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia -- contributed an article in 1935, and another celebrated lawyer, Lord Birkett, also appeared in 1958.

Among famous cricketers contributing articles are G.O.B. Allen in 1938 on A Case for More Natural Wickets, Sir Jack Hobbs on The Hobbs Era and Spofforth on Schoolboys' Bowling in 1904. A list of all the special articles appears at the end of the Index which was produced by Mr. Rex Pogson in 1944.

In certain years it was found that an insufficient number of copies of the Almanack had been published. It was decided to issue a second edition and I have seen the issues for each year from 1889 to 1901 except 1896 and 1900. It is always more costly to produce small numbers and the published price in these cases was 2s. for the paper edition and in 1899 3s. for the cloth.

A curious situation arose in 1898. The Five Cricketers of the Year appear in one edition on the cover in a pattern of two names with one in the centre and two underneath. But another copy of the same year has a pattern 1-2-2. Further there is a variation of the same kind that has the name P.F. Warner correctly on the title-page and another that has the misprint W.P. Warner.

A list of cricket books at that time in print was given in 1938 and was dropped in 1943, to reappear in 1950 with a further list of books to be published during the year.

A bibliography of cricket was written by that Sussex enthusiast, Alfred J. Gaston, in the editions of 1892, 1894, 1900, and 1923. From 1952, John Arlott has reviewed the books of the previous year except where an item was his own.

Considerable space has always been accorded to the matches of the M.C.C., and all decisions of legislative bodies have been fully covered. Even the dinner following the A.G.M. was reported in 1878 (it must have been a little embarrassing for the retiring President of 1877, Lord Londesborough, to have to record that he had great satisfaction in proposing the Duke of Beaufort as his successor, but that the Duke was not present since he had misinformed him as to the day).

I have frequently been asked why the edition of 1875 is so very scarce and the simple answer can only be that fewer of them were issued. It is always a very difficult problem to estimate circulation and particularly so at the beginning of a new publication's career.

The edition of 1873 was a bumper issue for its time and contained the full scores of the visit of the English Twelve to America and Canada. This will have sold well. The issue for 1874 was smaller by 28 pages and may not have had so wide a circulation, although on the basis of the previous year's demand, more copies may have been issued. It would have been normal practice to have reduced the number of copies printed for 1875.

It is also interesting to note that at this period, the year of publication was given at the foot of the title-page and that the title-page gave always the same year. This is not true for 1875 which reads John Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack for 1875 and had the date at the foot of the title-page as 1874. This implies that 1874 and 1875 were published in the same year, and although this has often been taken for a misprint, it is probably true that 1875 was issued in December 1874.

I have seen a letter addressed to an enquirer by John Wisden & Co., in 1881. It thanked the writer for his letter but regretted that 1875 was not available. It pointed out that they themselves were paying 10s. for a copy, which is the equivalent of paying £10 for a 1962 copy! The 1875 edition is not, however, so scarce as the first issue of 1864. It was a great day for the enthusiast when the present publishers decided to reprint the first fifteen issues in facsimile.

As I have said, Wisden's were their own publishers until 1937. By then, as a result of the years of slump, sales had fallen to such an alarming extent that professional help was called in and the publishing of Wisden was passed over to J. Whitaker & Sons, Ltd., publishers of Whitaker's Almanack. From the 1938 edition substantial changes were made, designed to make Wisden easier to use and understand.

The cumbrous early Victorian survival of a division into two parts was discarded, a new cover was designed, a complete index was provided, the Counties were set out in alphabetical order instead of, as previously, in the previous year's County Championship table order, and more illustrations were provided. Sales increased considerably, and immediately.

Whitaker's imprint as publishers stayed until the 1944 edition when the name of the publisher changed to Sporting Handbooks Ltd. (Whitaker's had purchased in 1939 a firm called Sporting Handbooks Ltd. as being a more suitable imprint under which to publish Wisden, and Wisden's had taken a share in it, it then being jointly owned by Wisden's and Whitaker's.

The change of imprint was made with the 1944 edition, and has remained the same since then. In 1957 Whitaker's bought out the Wisden interest in Sporting Handbooks Ltd., which is now a whollyowned subsidiary of Whitaker's and continues to publish Wisden under agreement with John Wisden & Co. Ltd. who remain the proprietors of the copyright in Wisden.)

The quantity printed of the early years would be fascinating to know, but it has proved impossible to trace any printing orders earlier than 1936. The following table shows the number printed in the years from 1936, and the way in which the demand for the cloth boards edition has increased is particularly notable:

YearQuantity paper
1936 8,500(total, no separate cloth boards figure known)
1937 8,000(total, no separate cloth boards figure known)
limpcloth boards
1938 12,000not known
1939 12,000not known
1940 8,000not known
1941 3,200 800(War paper restriction)
1942 4,100 900 "
1943 5,600 1,400"
1944 5,600 1,400"
1945 6,500 1,500"
1946 11,000 5,000"
1947 14,000 6,000(Restrictions eased)
1948 14,500 6,500 "
1949 21,00010,500 (Restrictions ended)

1949 was the peak. With other consumer goods in stringently short supply, and sport one of the few outlets, sport and writing about sport boomed as never before.

The boom slowly diminished, but even in 1955 the limp edition sold 15,500 copies and the cloth boards edition had increased to 11,000 copies. Today the sale is steady, averaging 11,000 of the limp edition and 10,000 of the cloth boards edition.

What a pity it is that all owners of books do not put their signatures on a fly-leaf! It is far more interesting than a bookplate and takes up less room. It is most interesting to learn who have been the previous owners and to trace them through the relevant volumes. I have, for example, seen the signatures of Haygarth, C.B. Fry, R. Daft and even Horatio Bottomley (once rightly mis-spelled Hotairio) on Wisdens, and perhaps even more rewarding are the signatures of such relatively little known players as W. Rashleigh.

Perseverance produced the information that he played for Oxford University in 1886 and that he made 21 and 107 against Cambridge University. That he made 49 against a strong M.C.C. side which included Studd, Hearne and Webbe and that in seven matches that year, he had 13 innings and made 343 runs.

Did Rashleigh own only the one copy of Wisden in which his name appeared to such advantage, or was he a genuine devotee and are the rest of his volumes with his bold signature still in existence somewhere?

I have a catalogue issued by A.J. Gaston in 1899 of the library of T. Padwick. A set (1864-1898) of the Almanack was advertised for £10. One of the best cricket book catalogues ever produced was that of A. Maurice & Co., of Covent Garden. It was issued in 1909 and is itself a rare item.

It has no set for sale, but lists the rarer Wisdens at 5s. each. Gaston issued a further general catalogue of cricket books in 1925 and has a bound set (1864-1924) available, at fifty guineas. Sotheby's auction in 1937 of the library of J.A.H. Catton had a set (1864-1936) and a further 11 duplicate volumes unspecified. This fetched £33. Messrs. Hodgson & Co., of Chancery Lane, auctioned a set (1864-1953) in 1954 and the price was £145. The present accepted price for a set in good condition and collated as completed is £250.

Great is bookishness and the charm of books. No doubt there are times in the lives of most reading men when they rebel against the dust of libraries. We all know the dark hours when the vanity of learning and the childishness of merely literary things are brought home to us in such a way as to put the pale student out of conceit with his books, and to make him turn from his best-loved authors as from a friend who has outstayed his welcome. In what a different category are a set or a run of Wisden.

K.A. Auty, a well known Yorkshireman, who had spent the greater part of a long life in America, and whose obituary appears in Wisden, possessed a most notable collection of cricket books. He kept his complete set of Wisden under his bed. He could then, having made himself properly comfortable, forget his maturing bills and overdue argosies, dip down and take at random any volume that came to hand. He was often found perusing the same volume hours later.


Square brackets denote unnumbered pages.* Denotes largest issue to date.


© John Wisden & Co