Collectors Today

The Loewentheil Collection of American Gift Annuals

Gift Annuals

Literary gift annuals thrived in England and America between the 1820s and 1860s. Comprised of sentimental or romantic poems and stories accompanied by elegant engravings, “gift books” were all the rage with mid-nineteenth century consumers. During the peak of their popularity, more than sixty gift book titles were published annually, especially during the holiday season, when middle- and upper-class readers exchanged them as Christmas or New-Year’s presents.

Sold in elaborate, decorated bindings and displayed prominently in front parlors and drawing rooms, these colorful books provided entertainment and reflected the refinement and propriety of their owners. Today, gift annuals have become important sources for literary scholars. Many of the best-known writers of the day found employment by contributing to them. American gift books include poems and stories by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lydia Maria Child, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, along with the work of British authors like William Wordsworth, John Keats, William Shakespeare, and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Other gift books focused on progressive political and social agendas, such as abolitionism, temperance, and education. The Liberty Bell, for example, edited by Maria Weston Chapman and published by the American Anti-Slavery Society between 1839 and 1858, advocated the end of slavery and featured the work of noted abolitionists and sympathizers.

Cornell’s collection of several hundred American literary annuals was a gift of Stephan Loewentheil, law ’75, and his wife, Beth Farber ’77.

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