THE OLD FARMER'S Almanac, the oldest continuously published American periodical, is just entering its 200th year.
But despite its blatant nostalgia, this bit of Americana is marching vigorously into its third century, eyes forward.
Yankee Publishing Inc., the parent company, says it has just completed the most successful year ever, with revenues of $35 million. The privately held company, which also publishes Yankee and Alaska magazines and the annual Travel Guide to New England, does not disclose profits, but Joseph B. Meagher, president and chief executive, describes them as healthy.
In the midst of the magazine industry's worst advertising slump in two decades, the 1992 issue of The Almanac, which arrived in bookstores in September, had net advertising revenues of $2 million, more than double that of the previous year, Meagher said. "It is the largest ad revenue for any single issue in the history of this company," he said.
Circulation has remained consistent, Meagher said, with 3.3 million copies of The Almanac distributed to newsstands, 340,000 to bookstores and 120,000 sold through mail order. The newsstand and mail-order copies cost $2.95. Bookstore copies cost $3.95 and include an extra 24 pages of editorial matter.
The Farmer's Almanac ("Old" was added to the title in 1832) was founded by Robert B. Thomas, a bookseller and binder, schoolteacher and amateur astronomer, whose picture, along with that of Benjamin Franklin, still adorns the cover.
The Almanac, which sold for sixpence, or about 9 cents, was one of 20 similar almanacs distributed throughout New England. In its second year, The Almanac's circulation jumped to 9,000 copies from 3,000 and it became the leading publication in its field.
It has seen its share of glorious moments. Like its famous 1816 prediction of summer snow, which came true.
And the notorious Armstrong murder case, in which the defense lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, discredited the sole witness, who testified he had seen the slaying from a considerable distance "by the light of the moon." Lincoln scored by citing the 1857 Almanac, which indicated that the moon was in its first quarter and riding low on the horizon at the time of the slaying.
"There are two misconceptions about The Almanac," editor Judson D. Hale Sr. said. "The first is that it's a book about nostalgia, which it isn't, because it reflects the year in which it's published. The second is that its sole purpose is to forecast the weather."
John Pierce, publisher, said its readership was split between men and women in the mid-to late 40s, most of them college-educated.