The literary annuals were typically targeted as gifts for young women. This is evident in the inscriptions, as many of the annuals in the SCA collection have been dedicated to women; family members, friends, and often potential lovers. Poet Robert Southey even claimed in 1828 that "the Annuals are now the only books bought for presents to young ladies”, and while male authors may have disparaged their literary worth, they influenced the publishing market due to their popularity.
The Gem: A literary annual (1829-1832) Classmark: SPEC Annuals 1a.G325
This 1831 volume of The Gem held in SCA appears to be an example of a New Year’s gift. There is a handwritten inscription in ink which reads ‘Louisa (?) Isabella Griffith, from her Brother. With kind wishes for the coming year.’ There are also other inscriptions on different pages in the book; this annual was clearly gifted more than once. Many of these inscriptions also conform to the idea that family members often bought these for a female audience.
Other examples from the SCA collections include the inscriptions within The Gift Book of English Poetry (1859) Classmark: SPEC Annuals 1a.G455, which link the annual to the daughters of Richard Cobden. This is particularly interesting when considering the role of gender in the marketing of these books, as several of the Cobden daughters were involved in politics and were key figures in both the suffragist and suffragette movements.
Other clear dedications to women include The Christian keepsake and missionary annual (1835-1840; 1850) Classmark: SPEC Annuals 1a.C555, one of the several entirely religious-based annuals in the collection. The 1837 volume held in SCA features an inscription from an uncle to his niece: ‘To Miss Isabella Beckwith, from her affectionate Uncle. Stockton, January 1837.’
Aside from targeting the female audience, many of the annuals were also written/edited by women. For example, The Comic Offering (1831-4) Classmark: SPEC Annuals 1a.C735 was the first British humour publication entirely by a woman – written, illustrated, and edited by Louisa Henrietta Sheridan. It was initially considered unusual and not proper of a woman to write a humour annual but the series was popular and grudgingly accepted by male humourists. Other authors included Letitia Elizabeth Landon (LEL – poet), Frances Burney (author of Camilla and Evelina), and the Countess of Blessington.
Image: an illustration of a cat in a milk pail, titled "discovering the galaxy, or milky way: 'too much of a good thing', as the cat said when she fell in the milk pail" (The Comic Offering, volume 1, 1831, p. 127). This illustration accompanies a poem.
Digitised versions of The Comic Offering (by Ohio State University/New York Public Library) available via the Hathi Trust.
Women played an important part in the later Annuals. Seven annuals were run by women who contributed at least half of the literary content: Miss Hemans and Miss Landon (Fisher's Drawing Room Scrapbook) dominated the early years, and Lady Blessington (Heath's Book of Beauty ; Keepsake) were the most successful of the aristocratic editors in the later years.