Notice: Access to Special Collections material, the Reading Room, and Instruction will temporarily be suspended starting on Aug.12, 2024 as the collection will be moved from the basement to 3 East. Normal operations are anticipated to resume late in the semester. Read more for current updates.
Notice: Access to Special Collections material, the Reading Room, and Instruction will temporarily be suspended starting on Aug.12, 2024 as the collection will be moved from the basement to 3 East. Normal operations are anticipated to resume late in the semester. Read more for current updates.
Notice: Maintenance affecting the library catalog will occur on July 26-29. The catalog will be available except for newly added e-resources, which will not appear until after the maintenance is completed and the backlog of changes can be delivered - possibly 10 days. In addition, renewals and changes to circulation status will not be visible in the EDS interface during this time.
Notice: Maintenance affecting the library catalog will occur on July 26-29. The catalog will be available except for newly added e-resources, which will not appear until after the maintenance is completed and the backlog of changes can be delivered - possibly 10 days. In addition, renewals and changes to circulation status will not be visible in the EDS interface during this time.
Notice: Due to ongoing construction, 4 East is currently closed to the public.  To obtain items located on 4 East, please place an online request for the item to be paged for you using the ‘Place Request’ button in the catalog. Please visit our Circulation FAQ page for assistance in using our catalog.
Notice: Due to ongoing construction, 4 East is currently closed to the public.  To obtain items located on 4 East, please place an online request for the item to be paged for you using the ‘Place Request’ button in the catalog. Please visit our Circulation FAQ page for assistance in using our catalog.

New “Marking Time” exhibit at MSU Libraries explores rare almanacs and calendars in Murray & Hong Special Collections

Authored by
Elise Jajuga

EAST LANSING, Mich., April 2024 – A new exhibit exploring the almanacs and calendars of the Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections is now on display at the MSU Libraries Main Gallery through the end of April.

The exhibit “Marking Time: Almanacs and Calendars from the Stephen O. Murray & Keelung Hong Special Collections” features more than 65 historical and rare publications ranging from the 15th to the 20th century. Almanacs are considered by some scholars to have their beginnings rooted over three thousand years ago in the Near East and are some of the most universal types of chronological text. The word “almanac” (also spelled “almanack” or “almanach”) first appeared in English in the late 14th century, referring to a collection of permanent tables of astronomical data, though the term appeared in Anglo-Latin usage during the previous century. In addition to the calendar for the year, these annual publications include current information like weather forecasts, astronomical predictions, tide tables and information regarding religious festivals. For centuries, almanacs were the second most popular genre of text in Europe and North America, after religious works like the Bible and prayer books.

The exhibit was put on by Tad Boehmer, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections Cataloger at MSU Libraries. Boehmer noted the significance of almanacs in providing insight into the daily lives of their users, as well as the exhibit’s major emphasis on survival. “Almanacs are tremendously important sources for historical research, not only for the information they contain but also for what they can tell us about their owners and readers,” he said. “We have almanacs in the collection containing marginal notes documenting their owners’ travels and finances, along with major life events (the births, marriages and deaths of family members) and references to the weather. In effect, the almanacs act as snapshots of daily life in an age-long past. Because they were commonly owned by people in agricultural professions, it is not uncommon to find notes in them on the health of livestock or the success of crops. One other major theme of this exhibit is survival. In many cases there were hundreds or even thousands of copies of an almanac made for a particular year, but we may know of only one or two survivors, since the information in them would have been rendered useless at the start of the following year. They would often have been destroyed or recycled, as we see in several almanac fragments rescued from later bindings that are now on display in the exhibit.”

According to Boehmer, the seed of the Murray & Hong’s almanac collection began with the development of the library’s popular culture collection in the late 1960s, which was guided by pop culture studies pioneer Professor Russel B. Nye during his tenure at MSU. Another significant leap forward came in 2016 with the acquisition of the William D. (Bill) and Helen M. Chase Collection. Bill Chase was renowned for “Chase’s Calendar of Events,” which he began publishing in 1957 with his brother, Harrison V. Chase, out of a basement under the Chases’ Apple Tree Press imprint. Now owned by Rowman and Littlefield, it has been issued every year since and includes holidays, special events, and notable birthdays and anniversaries, as well as unusual traditions like National Nothing Day, which “provide[s] Americans with one National Day when they can just sit without celebrating, observing or honoring anything.”

Catherine Ryan, daughter of Bill and Helen Chase, said that her father would be “most pleased”to have his calendars on display and that the MSU Libraries is “keeping his collection alive.” Ryan also shared a press release written by Bill Chase, noting that the person best able to speak to the importance of keeping track of time was the renowned almanacs author himself. An excerpt from the press release, published in 2018 when Bill Chase was 96 years old and titled “The Role of ‘Chase’s Calendar of Events’ since its founding in 1957, (the year in which man’s technology successfully reached out from Earth with a Space-Exploring satellite — Sputnik),” reads: “Since the beginning of time men and women have sought reasons to promote trade, celebrate traditions, to honor heroes, and to list the sometimes-mysterious events in our Universe. Whenever, and wherever we gather there has been and probably always will be celebration by — nations, cultures, religions, and every imaginable gathering of people of every age — all of us — to respect, and take pleasure from, that celebration and recognition. As long as we name and number our days, there will be a desire to identify and remember them — those striven for and those independent of human intervention such as geological, astronomical or unknown.”

Other items of note outside of the Chase collection include:

  • A fragment of the earliest known almanac printed in Latin, one of two surviving copies, most likely printed in 1480. It was printed in Passau, Germany, by Benediktus Mayr and covers the year 1481.
  • A broadside advertisement for the 1835 issue of the “Grosse rheinische hinkende Bote (Great Rhenish Limping Messenger)” featuring its title character as he travels from town to town selling his almanac. Per Boehmer, “If almanacs are rare, advertisements are rarer; what’s really interesting is that you can see how the product or service being advertised fits into someone’s year during a particular time period.”
  • Several editions of “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” which was written, printed and published pseudonymously by Benjamin Franklin from 1732 to 1758, and several editions of the more fact-oriented annual “The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” founded by Robert Bailey Thomas in 1792.
  • International almanacs from Turkey, Russia, Indonesia, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal that show how information contained in almanacs could differ according to communal need.
  • Miniature or pocket almanacs, which began appearing in the 18th century, and usually included the standard calendar, as well as lists of monarchs and government officials, currency conversion tables, and other valuable information. Over time miniature almanacs were produced in increasingly smaller formats, with some as tiny as a thumbnail.

There will be a private reception in the gallery space on Mon., April 29.

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