There’s no shortage of choice: Barbie and Sindy, My Little Pony and the Brownies continue to have mass appeal for the girls, while us boys go for Thunderbirds, Spiderman and relative newcomer Bob the Builder.
All are on sale this Christmas and so it was –admittedly with a different cast of characters – since the 1820s, which means there’s a rich collecting vein for lovers of children’s annuals.
When I was a lad, Christmas wasn’t Christmas without a Rupert, Dandy or Beano annual in my stocking.
Why I didn’t keep them I’ll never understand. Today they fetch good prices.
A quick search on eBay confirmed the point. A 1954 Beano annual (I was a toddler then) was up to £150 with 11 bids and four days’ bidding to go.
Another, the owner of which thought was from 1951, was being sold along with the first ever Eagle annual (you remember Dan Dare) from 1950 “both “owned by Dad from new” had reached £72 with 25 minutes to go.
The prices of Rupert annuals were scarier still. One from 1942 had received seven bids and was at £200 with seven days to go.
The amazing thing is that these things still turn up at car boot sales and in charity shops and flea markets and change hands for a fraction of what a collector is prepared to pay, while auction sales are often the source of job lots of dozens of the things that have been slung into cardboard boxes and are sold without reserve.
No one really knows when the first child’s annual was published in this country, although contenders for the earliest include Child Companion Annual, which appeared in 1824, and Children’s Prize (later known only as Prize), published in 1863.
Among my personal early favourites is Chatterbox, which also first appeared in 1863. A mere £30 buys a good, clean example today.
It was followed in 1879 by Boys’ Own Paper and its companion Girls’ Own Paper; Young England in 1880 and Chums in 1893.
The earliest children’s annuals started life as weekly or monthly paper-wrappered pamplets the content of which was largely evangelical.
Each Christmas, a special edition was given a richly printed pictorial title page bearing the date of the issue and the volume number.
The idea was that the year’s issues were bundled together and bound into a single volume.
One of the earliest of these was The Juvenile Magazine, edited by one Lucy Peacock, which didn’t last long. Just 12 monthly issues were published, the last dated December 1788.
Interestingly, the impetus for children’s Christmas annuals was probably the appearance of adult versions.
Forget Me Not, published for adults in 1823, was followed by dozens of others – for all ages. The most enduring was The Children’s Friend, which started life as a monthly penny magazine in 1824 and continued without interruption until 1860.
Until 1850, it was edited by the Rev. William Carus Wilson, who founded the Clergy Daughters’ School at Kirkby Lonsdale which the Bronte sisters were forced to attend.
Charlotte got her own back later, though. She modelled the character Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre on her schooolmaster, a hard taskmaster who was generally disliked by his pupils.
The Boy’s Own Book, published in 1827 and 1828, was among the first real annuals for children. According to its title page, it was “A complete encyclopedia of all the diversions, athletic, scientific, and recreative, of boyhood and youth”.
The Christmas Box; an Annual Present for Children was more like an adult annual and was probably too well produced for its own good. It lasted for only two issues – in 1828 and 1829.
The first colour illustrations ever to appear in a children’s book were published in the 1836 edition of The New Year’s Token; or Christmas Present, a delightful annual that first appeared the previous year.
The illustrations showed George IV’s fishing temple in a delicate view of Virginia Water, in Surrey, which appeared on the frontispiece, while a vignette of a small boy examining a bird’s nest appeared on the title page.
They were printed from woodblocks by the great George Baxter who invented the process of printing with oil colours. The vignette of the boy is one of the rarest of all so-called Baxter prints.
The first real children’s annual in the modern sense was The Excitement, which first appeared in 1830. Contained within its pictorial covers were romantic adventure stories such as “A Lion Hunt in Africa” “Whale Ship Destroyed by a Whale” and “Sufferings Endured in the Black-Hole of Calcutta”.
The fact that The Excitement contained no religious tracts caused consternation in some quarters to the point where the editor, one Adam Keys, an Edinburgh schoolmaster, was forced to resign.
Undaunted, he set up a new annual, which he named, aptly enough, The New Excitement, first published in 1838.
The Boy’s Own Paper was among the longest running early monthly magazines which survived from 1879 until its final appearance in 1967.
A spin-off, The Boy’s Own Annual, published in a pictorial cloth binding, was issued regularly until the outbreak of the Second World War but was then dormant for 26 years until it reappeared at Christmas, 1964.
The Girl’s Own Paper was without doubt the most famous equivalent for girls which ran from 1880 to 1948. It appeared each year-end as The Girl’s Own Annual.
By about 1900, publishers began to move away from the practice of offering annuals that were simply bound versions of what had been printed in weekly or monthly installments throughout the year.
Pioneers were Blackie’s Children’s Annual, published first in 1904, and, in 1909, Empire Book For Boys (and Girls).
However, the massive growth in children’s annuals began in earnest after the first war. Amalgamated Press, which was enjoying huge sales of its weekly comics, saw annuals as a way of enhancing profits even further.
Titles included Puck (1921); Tiger Tim (1922); Rainbow; and Bubbles (both 1924) followed in the next decade by Funny Wonder (1935); Jester Annual (1938) and Chips Annual (1939).
D.C.Thomson, the Scottish rival to Amalgamated Press issued Adventureland in 1924; Rover (1926); Skipper (1932) Hotspur (1935) and Wizard (1936).
Newspapers too were quick to get in on the act. They had been printing cartoon strips since the early 1920s in order to attract a younger readership and it quickly dawned on executives that here was material for an annual.
The Daily Mirror started the ball rolling with its Pip, Squeak and Wilfred Annual in 1920, followed by the Daily Herald’s Bobby Bear in 1922.
In the same year the Daily Sketch produced Uncle Oojah and in 1934 the Daily Mail weighed in with Teddy Tail.
Not to be outdone, in 1937 the Daily Express harnessed the pulling power of its Rupert the Bear strip and introduced annuals which continue to this day.
Somehow, I don’t think builder Bob will last the course!
This 1954 Beano annual was up to £150 on eBay with 11 bids and four days’ bidding to go.
Boys Illustrated Annual, published in time for Christmas 1894. It marked the end of an era, Boys magazine being taken over by Boy’s Own Paper
Leading Strings “The Baby’s Annual” published in 1925 and worth only a few pounds
Rupert Stories, written by Mary Tourtell, creator of the comic strip character, and published in 1947