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German Baptist Almanacs
Almanacs, annual publications featuring the calendar and other useful information.  In many homes in 18th and 19th Century America they were the only reading matter available, except for the Bible.  Rural families were able to keep track of time and obtain practical advice on seasonal activities from almanacs.
Printers associated with the Brethren issued many of these popular publications.  Although J. Christoph Sauer I never formally became a member of a Brethren congregation, he related closely to Brethren and they read his printed materials.  One of the first products of his
J. Christoph Sauer Press
famous press in Germantown, Pennsylvania, was an almanac, Der Hoch-Deutsch Americanische Calendar (The American High-German Calendar) for 1739, printed in 1738.  Its annual edition became the most widely read German almanac in Colonial America from New York to Georgia, attaining a circulation of more than ten thousand copies.  Although it was not the first German almanac in America — Andrew Bradford had published one, 1731-33 — it was the first to use the Fraktur type to which German readers were accustomed.  Thus his address to the "Dear Reader" in his first issue began: "The long-desired almanac in German type now sees the light of day."
Sauer's almanac, like the others of its day, contained the signs of the zodiac and aspects of the planets.  Times for sunrise and sunset and the dates for the phases of the moon were considered important by its users.  The first edition advised, for example, that crops which bear fruit above the earth should be planted when moonlight was increasing, while those whose fruit grows in the earth should be planted during waning phases of the moon.  Sauer, nevertheless, added the practical counsel that God's blessing would be with those crops planted in well-fertilized, well-weeded soil that had been cultivated to retain moisture.  The almanac also included weather predictions, which were compiled from other almanacs of the day and occasionally brought complaints to the publisher from those who relied on them too much.  Some other literary features and moral advice also received mixed reactions from readers.
Sauer used the almanac effectively as a medium for instruction.  Besides utilitarian information on court days and highway tolls, he included model legal forms, hand-writing patterns, instructions in the English language, and medical data.  He used two-color printing at times and expanded the almanac to forty-eight pages for the 1758 edition, the year of his death.  The 1743 almanac carried a cover that became a trademark: a flying angel bearing a scroll.  Several different mottoes appeared on the scroll, depending on the state of public and world affairs: "Hope for Better Times," "Wars and Rumors of War," "Troublesome Times."
Christopher Sauer II continued his father's profitable venture.  The younger Sauer is noted for having printed in installments (1772-78) an extensive herbal book.  The 1778 almanac was issued by Christopher Sauer III and Peter Sauer, who had taken over the printing business from their father in 1777.  The Sauer press was seized in 1778 by Revolutionary authorities.  John Dunlap, who bought much of the equipment at forced auction, published the almanac until 1784, when Peter Leibert purchased much of the former Sauer printing establishment.  He published the almanac until 1788, when he turned over the press to his son-in-law, Michael Billmeyer, who kept up almanac publication until 1833.  Other printers perpetuated the venerable serial until the 1880s.
Christoph Sauer I had published two Engligh-language almanacs for short periods, the American Almanack (1747) and the South Carolina Almanack (1754-59).  His son's name appears on another series, the Pennsylvania Town and Country-Man's Almanack, 1754-59.  Following the Revolutionary War, Christopher Sauer III continued the family tradition in St. John, New Brunswick (Canada) with an Astronomical Diary and Almanack (1780ff.).  Brethren-related almanacs were also printed at Ephrata, Pennsylvania.  The Sauer Hoch-Deutsche Americanische Calendar was produced with the permission of the Ephrata Community on their press in 1772 and one of the members of the Baumann family, who managed much of the printing at Ephrata, may have issued Der Christliche Calender (The Christian Calendar) at about the same time.
A century later, the enterprising, Henry Ritz Holsinger began a new line of almanacs with his Brethren's Almanac for 1871 (published in 1870 at Philadelphia, although Holsinger's printshop was located at Tyrone, Pennsylvania).  In an announcement in his paper, The Christian Family Companion, he solicited suggestions and promised that the almanac would "contain history, statistics, doctrine, pecularities, and incidents."  An important innovation was Holsinger's attempt to compile a current list of Brethren ministers; this has remained a valuable fixture in Brethren almanacs and yearbooks.  Although the first edition was "somewhat hastily compiled," as Holsinger admitted, it met with success.  He published editions for 1872-74 at Dale City (Meyersdale), Pennsylvania, before he sold his publishing interests to James Quinter.
Our Almanac & Annual Register
Late in 1872 Henry Boyer Brumbaugh and his brothers distributed an 1873 edition of a Pilgrim Almanac as a free supplement to their weekly paper.  For the 1875 edition the Brumbaughs and Quinter combined their almanacs as the Brethren's Family Almanac, published at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  In 1876 they combined all their publishing operations.  As various German Baptist Brethren publishing enterprises began to merge, the Brethren Family Almanac was printed elsewhere: at Mt. Morris, Illinois, and at Elgin, Illinois, where the Brethren Publishing House moved in 1899 to take advantage of better rail connections.  In 1918 the almanac became the Brethren Yearbook.  In 1980 the yearbook is still published, although its title since 1973 reflects its main function since 1918: a Church of the Brethren Directory rather than a general almanac.
Other Brethren-related almanacs appeared in the 19th Century.  Henry J. Kurtz distributed Our Almanac and Annual Register from Ohio after 1880.  The editors of Brethren at Work issued at least one almanac.  H. R. Holsinger started once more after the great division of 1881-83 with an almanac for members of the Brethren Church.  This Brethren Annual (1884ff.) shifted from an almanac format to a denominational yearbook during the years 1914-24.
Though not as dignified as many other church publications, the almanacs were popular money-makers.  They contain much information of permanent historical interest on pages which have grown brittle with age. Even the profuse advertising for patent medicines, farm machinery, and "plain clothes" retain interest.

Source:Donald F. Durnbaugh, Editor, The Brethren Encyclopedia, (Phila., Pa. & Oak Brook, Ill.: The Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1983), Vol. I, pp. 17-18.
Image Credits:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb
Copyright:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb