Monday, 10 July 2017 13:51 PM BST
Tales from the Library: Annuals

In celebration of the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library’s status in charting not only the history of The Championships but the history of lawn tennis, Librarian Robert McNicol has assembled a 13-day guide showcasing the stellar sources available. Here he explains which titles he has selected for Day 7.

Tales From the Library

Here’s a quiz question: what association do the following books have with tennis - Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Ventriloquism Made Easy, Society Small-Talk and Party-Giving on Every Scale? The answer is that they are all published by Frederick Warne, who, in the late 19th century, ventured into the world of racket and ball by printing the first-known yearly record of the sport, The Lawn-Tennis Annual for 1882.

This small red handbook compiled by L.S.F. Winslow – with an introduction that declares the difficulty of his task and an admonition to certain club secretaries for the inaccuracy of their submissions – gives a county-by-county record as well as sections explaining Volleying at the Net, Laws of Lawn Tennis, and Umpires and the Duties (“the duty of an umpire is a very thankless as well as an unenviable task”). As ever, the adverts serve up a wonderful vision of how tennis was played in those days of yore. Lawn Tennis Suits are advertised for 30 shillings – comprising flannel trousers, milled flannel coats, tennis hats, silk waist belt and handkerchief. Eat your heart out, Roger Federer!

“As well as every edition of the unrivalled Wimbledon Compendium, we hold over 2,500 other yearbooks and annuals, from more than 30 different countries,” says Librarian Robert McNicol. “From The Lawn-Tennis Annual for 1882 right up to the shiny Wimbledon 2016 Annual, the collection is truly comprehensive. The value in them as a resource is that there are so many different types and they contain so much information.”

The Field Lawn Tennis Calendar, which ran from 1884 to 1891 and has a microscopic font size, is probably the rarest title in the whole Library collection. “We’ve got the only set of these in the world,” confirms Robert. “The funny thing is that there are lots of copies of the 1888 edition – if we’re offered a copy, we know it’s bound to be the 1888 one - but no one apart from us has any of the others.” Other vintage titles include Ayres’ Lawn Tennis Almanack and the Lawn Tennis Association Annual from the UK, as well as Spalding’s Lawn Tennis Annual and Wright and Ditson’s Lawn Tennis Guide from the USA.

It is poignant to think these books were compiled by the very first individuals who were determined to establish and promote the game. “A book might be written on this subject, but the reader need not be frightened, for I have no such intention,” writes J.S. Clark in the preface to Wright and Ditson’s guide of 1893. “It is my purpose to give a brief sketch only of the history and purposes of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association and the value of its existence to the tennis interests of the community.”

Once established, the popularity of the annual continued to boom until the glossy volumes we treasure today: a tennis fan’s appetite for facts, figures and trivia knows no bounds.

...the duty of an umpire is a very thankless as well as an unenviable task.

- Lawn Tennis Annual, 1882

 “More recent publications include media guides from all the Grand Slam tournaments and the invaluable ATP/WTA Media Guide, which contains a huge amount of information on every ATP and WTA tournament and player. It’s also great for finding contact information for programme requests,” Robert confirms.

“We acquire our annuals and yearbooks in all sorts of different ways. For example, every year during The Championships, former World No.4 and Wimbledon doubles champion Helena Sukova, personally delivers to us a copy of the yearbook of the International Lawn Tennis Club of the Czech Republic.”

Grand Slams like to differentiate themselves from each other. The annual publication from Roland-Garros, home of the French Open, is a large coffee-table-style photographic celebration of the spirit of the venue - there is no date on the cover or any images of tennis in play.

“Our own Wimbledon Annual 2016 is a day-by-day review with beautiful photographs, completed draws, the roll of honour, and lots of quirky nuggets such as ‘Novak’s Towel Secrets’,” says Robert, alluding to Djokovic’s guilty admission that he often sneaks an extra Championships towel or two into his bag. “During the match, they’re my comfort zone. For a second or two, I’m able to lose myself in a towel if I need some concentration. The size of the towel is perfect for that. They're also great memorabilia. I also give away a lot.”

The Library, founded in 1976 by Alan Little, holds one of the largest and most diverse collections of tennis literature in the world. Dating from the birth of Lawn Tennis in the 1870s to the present day, the collection holds books, magazines, yearbooks, annuals, programmes and newspaper cuttings from more than 80 countries and continues to grow all the time. 

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