The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XX. Magazines, Annuals, and Gift-books, 1783–1850

§ 15. Characteristics

The publications described as literary annuals and giftbooks varied in many respects but they agreed in being intended not primarily to be read but to be given away. They were “Keepsakes,” and “Souvenirs,” and “Forget-me-nots,” and “Tokens.” Many of them bore as sub-titles such phrases as “A gift for the holidays,” or “A Christmas, New Year’s and birthday present.” Almost or quite all of those published in America were literary miscellanies, the contents being original, or, in case of some of the cheaper volumes, “selected.” A few, such as The Odd-Fellows’ Offering and The Masonic Token were intended primarily for the members of certain organizations—there were religious annuals and temperance annuals, an anti-slavery annual, and even a “Knownothing Token”; but most such books made a general appeal to those who wished to bestow an “elegant” offering indicative of “refined” sentiment. They varied in size and elaborateness from large paper volumes selling for twelve dollars each to diminutive and inexpensive souvenirs which a Sunday-school teacher might present to members of her class. The bindings of the best were in leather, elaborately tooled and sometimes inlaid with mother-of-pearl, or in richly watered silk. The “embellishments,” as the pictures were commonly called, were most frequently engravings on steel, though there were many coloured plates, some coloured by hand.

The annual proper was supposed to be published from year to year, though many never made a second appearance. The year was frequently made a part of the title, as The Gift of Friendship, a Token of Remembrance for 1848, though sometimes the date appeared only at the foot of the title-page, or on the binding. The entire absence of a date was indicative of a desire to make unsold remainders available for the next year’s market, or of still more questionable practices on the part of the publishers. Among these practices was that of reprinting an old annual with a new name, sometimes with change of plates and of leading article; or that of bestowing on an inferior work a name that had been made popular by another publisher. These devious procedures bring despair to bibliographers today, and they may originally have been one reason why the whole tribe of annuals fell into something of disrepute. A few of the annuals were in reality bound volumes of popular magazines with date-lines and other indications of periodical publication removed. The gift-books which are here considered resembled the annuals in form and purpose, but were avowedly not members of a series.