The History of Wisden
To many Englishmen, the first sight of summer, means the promise of a new cricket season and the publication of the distinctive little book with yellow covers known as Wisden. The book evokes memories and names long past and provides the first reference source for queries and questions regarding our summer game.
Wisden was first published in 1864 by John Wisden, a diminutive fast bowler who played from 1845 to 1863 and appeared for Sussex, Kent and Middlesex. He toured America with Parr's team in 1859. Known as 'The Little Wonder' he was only the second bowler to take all ten wickets in an innings, for North v South in 1850, all clean bowled, and averaged 225 wickets a season for twelve years.
He opened a sports equipment shop in 1850 in the centre of London and he appears to have viewed the Almanack as both a lucrative publishing and advertising venture and a chance to extend the memory of his name.
The first issue was published in pale buff covers and contained just 112 pages of facts and figures on the game. In future years the book's size has peaked at around 1700 pages. Annual publication has continued uninterrupted to the present day making it the longest running sports annual in history.
Wisden was primarily published in paper wrappers from 1864 until 1937. The wrappers vary in colour through pink, buff and yellow. Demand for copies in the 1890's was so high that a second edition was issued from 1889-1901 with the exception of 1896 and 1900.
'Five Cricketers of the Year' portrait plates were introduced in 1897, a player can only appear once, and the first hardback edition was published in 1896. A small proportion of hardback copies were published each year until 1937.
In 1938 limp cloth covers were introduced and the hardback was redesigned, at the same time the cover design was standardised and has remained unaltered ever since.
During the Second World War, publishing numbers were radically reduced due to a war paper restriction. A larger proportion of hardbacks were produced after the war. 1961 saw the first publication of a facsimile edition of the first fifteen Wisdens (1864-1878). In 1965 dustwrappers were introduced with hardbacks. A limited edition leather bound edition of the Almanack was introduced in 1995 and in 2003 the cover featured a photograph of a player for the first time.
Today, Wisden is as popular as ever with sales of over 40,000 books per year, the majority in hardback. To mark England's recapture of the Ashes, Wisden published a larger format edition for the first time in 2006.