It’s the most famous yellow book in the world. Published every year since 1864, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is a sporting institution and it’s still going strong as influential and essential as ever.
Founded by John Wisden, who played cricket for Sussex, Kent and Middlesex, the book represents the height of collectable cricketing memorabilia. Even two world wars could not prevent its publication and today Wisden is the longest running sports annual in history.
However, short print runs, particularly in the early years, have affected availability of certain editions on the secondhand market. Prices for some editions stretch to four and five figures. Luckily, you can still find very collectable editions without looking for copies more than 100 years old – a collection of 56 Wisdens (1950-2005) was sold on AbeBooks for £900 in 2007.
Most of the highly valued editions are in the hands of collectors and rarely enter the open market. However, Michael Gauntlett from Ian Dyer Cricket Books in North Yorkshire, England, has kindly listed the 10 most collectable Wisdens in chronological order along with his current estimated market values:
- 1864 – The first ever issue of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack. It had 112 pages, was padded out with non-cricket information and cost one shilling or five pence (£20,000)
- 1865 – Second issue that describes the 1864 season in which over-arm bowling was legalized (£10,000-15,000)
- 1869 – A team of Australian Aboriginals become the first overseas side to tour England in 1968 (£15,000)
- 1875 – A shorter print run than previous years means these copies are scarce (£25,000)
- 1896 – The first hardback edition (£25,000-£30,000)
- 1897-99 - These early hardbacks also command higher than average prices (£5,000 per year)
- 1916 – This edition contains the obituaries of cricket legends WG Grace and Victor Trumper, hardback copies are highly coveted (£10,000)
- 1934 - Record of England’s highly controversial ‘Bodyline’ tour of Australia in 1932-33, again the hardback edition is more valuable. Editor Sydney Southerton attacks Bodyline bowling, writing: "I deplore its introduction and pray for its abolition" (£2,000)
- 1940-41 - Limited number of hardback copies were printed due to war rationing, only 800 copies of the 1941 issue were published (£2,000 per year)
Here are some facts to help a budding Wisden collector:
- Due to the increasing demand for some of the early annuals a second edition of the book was published from 1889 to 1901 (with the exception of 1896 and 1900).
- Wisden Almanacks were only published in paper wrappers until 1896 when the brown cloth board edition was added.
- The 1924 edition exceeds 1000 pages for the first time
- The records of exact print numbers were lost as a result of bombing in 1940 and 1944. However in 'A History of Wisden' - an article appearing in the 100th edition (1963) and it reveals 8,500 paper-bound copies were published in 1936.
- The paper wrappers were replaced from 1938 by limp linen covers. Early cover colours ranged from buff, brown, pale pink and pale yellow. The famous bright yellow cover was introduced in 1938.
- Dust wrappers for brown cloth (hardback) copies came in with the 1965 edition and are an important contributor to the re-sale price of copies today.
- In 1993, Sir Paul Getty - a cricket-loving American-born billionaire - buys John Wisden & Co.
- In 1995, the first leather-bound edition is published.
- In 2003, the first photograph (of England captain Michael Vaughan) appears on the cover.
Many thanks to Michael Gauntlett from Ian Dyer Cricket Books in North Yorkshire, who assisted with this article. For more information on cricketing, check out our feature on the most expensive cricketing books sold on AbeBooks.