Following on from the tiny phrenology book and White’s Ephemeris I’ve become slightly obsessed with odd shaped books and almanacs. William Parsons Chronological tables of Europe is like a small flip notebook, bound at the top. It has one page for each century giving the names of the ruling heads of Europe. There is an index in the back so you can look up a monarch etc. by name and then follow the symbols to find out about them. The copy at the Whipple is, however, missing the table that shows you what the symbols mean but by using ECCO I’ve been able to track down a copy of the table.

Example of symbols used in Parsons
Example of symbols used in Parsons

The photo here shows a selection of the symbols used: the sun or sol as it is referred to in the table means “being ye most glorious of all ye characters the prince to whose name you find ye affixed is endowed wth ye greatest perfections. And by our historians esteemed a most accomplished prince.”, the symbol for Saturn (h like shape) means a cruel and bloody monarch, while the symbol for Mars (circle with arrow)  “denotes a prince of good courage and a warrior”, and the crescent moon is consigned to an unfortunate person. Other symbols appearing in the book cover various reign related information such as who they succeeded to the throne and how they died. The various symbols for cause of death include natural death, violent death, slain in battle, poisoned, beheaded, strangled, and died in prison. This book ends with a Perpetual Almanac, leading us nicely on to A pocket book by John Seller. Also containing a Perpetual Almanac  “For finding the day of the month for ever. For the past, present, and to come”, Seller’s book also provides a “description and use of the thirty-years almanack” and contains a history section. This section notes events which happened during the reign of Elizabeth I until 1678 including when the Thames froze over, the number of people who died of plague each year and when earthquakes occurred.  Many almanacs were political in tone, this one covering details from the reigns of James I, Charles I (mentioning him being “traitorously beheaded”) and Charles II and makes no references to Oliver Cromwell. Just like the previous book, this one is also missing pages when compared to copies on EBBO and does not have its original covers.

Title page of Playford's Pocket Companion
Title page of Playford’s Pocket Companion

Book number three in our little collection is Playford’s Vade mecum : or the necessary pocket companion. It is a slim tall book containing various tables and information including what you should be doing in your garden and orchard each month; weights and measures; postal rates; details of roads from London, including the distances to towns and cities and their market days; and the “rules, orders and rates, of hackney coachmen”. One of my favourite parts of this book is the rhyming guide to purchasing land (see photo below). This book used to belong to John Campbell, 4th  Earl of Loudoun (1705-1782) a Scottish soldier and Fellow of the Royal Society.

The books mentioned above date from the late 17th to 18th centuries but these types of publications were still available in the 19th century.  An index of dates by J. Willoughby Rosse was produced as a companion to Blair’s chronological tables.  It is an A-Z which covers the origins of countries, provides details about dynasties and eminent families, notes important battles throughout history, and other events such as earthquakes and major fires. Some sections are quite large, especially those which cover monarchs which have had the same name, for example there are about 15 pages on Charles’s. The slide show features various images from the books mentioned in this post. Its made a nice change looking at items that are not necessarily HPS related which have a more general audience.


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