July 13

An almanac published in 1780 by the printer Isaiah Thomas in Worchester, Massachusetts, gained a unique distinction and greatly increased its printer’s reputation and subsequent business in almanacs with an accidental prognostication for this day. When the apprentice who was composing the page for this date inquired of Thomas what should be placed against the date, the printer, engaged in another task, put the boy off with the remark, “Anything, anything!”

The apprentice, no doubt feeling his oats as an editor, set the words, “rain, hail, and snow.” Nobody checked the proof of the page, so into the book it went. Naturally enough the purchasers of the almanac were surprised to find such an entry for a summer date, but they were astounded when on July 13th it actually did rain, hail, and snow.

Almanacs were for centuries a basic item of trade for printers, when there were weekly newspapers and virtually no other means of disseminating information. They served in the capacity of newspapers, by carrying advertisements particularly for nostrums and patent medicines. Their use had become so widespread by the 16th century that Henry III of France decreed that they could not be utilized for making prophecies against parties and individuals. In England James I granted a monopoly in the printing of almanacs to the Universities and to the Stationers’ Company, which was subject to censorship by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the American colonies, the almanac published by Benjamin Franklin under the title Poor Richards Almanac helped to establish its printer’s reputation as a sage.

Isaiah Thomas, whose reputation was enhanced by the amazing prognostication of his 1780 almanac, became the best known printer of his generation. He established printing offices in various locations, such as Boston, Albany, Baltimore, and Newburyport. He also became well established as a book printer, producing in his career over four hundred titles, including prayer books, children’s books, and textbooks in a variety of subjects. He published the first novel to be written by a native American—The Power of Sympathy, by William H. Brown. In common with other printers of his time, he was not averse to making a profit in what today would be under-the-counter literature.

Thomas’ biographer mentions two of these titles, The Amours and Adventures of Two English Gentlemen in Italy, and Aristotle’s Complete Master Piece, in three parts; Displaying the Secrets of Nature in the Generation of Man, both of which were “standard hayloft reading for curious boys in that generation.”

Encouraged by the success of these books, Thomas wrote to England in 1786 for a copy of the infamous Fanny Hill, or the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. He received a letter from the English bookseller: “The Memoirs of a W. of P. which if you must have, must beg you will apply to some of the Ship Captains coming here, as it is an article I do not send to my Customers if I can possibly help it.”

Leave a Reply