The illustrated annual giftbook is one of the most distinctive publishing genres on both sides of the Atlantic, from the mid-1820s through to the 1850s. In 1823, the British published Rudolph Ackerman issued what is usually recognized as the first annual, the Forget-Me-Not, an almanac with poems and engravings, issued in a small format in papercovered boards in a printed slipcase. Ackerman's innovation was soon imitated by others: Friendship's Offering (from 1824), the Literary Souvenir (from 1825), The Amulet (from 1826), and The Keepsake (from 1828). American annuals included theAtlantic Souvenir (from 1826) and the Talisman (from 1828). Annuals were expensively produced for the Christmas gift market, with decorative silk, stamped or leather bindings, and numerous steel engravings, and their literary contributors included many of the leading authors of the day, both men and women. The standard reference on the genre remains Frederick W. Faxon, Literary Annuals and Giftbooks, a Bibliography 1823-1903 (originally published 1912; reprinted Pinner: Private Libraries Association, 1973), which also includes helpful explanatory essays. Also worth noting for guidance on contributors is Andrew Boyle, An Index to the Annuals (Worcester: Boyle, 1967).
Thomas Cooper Library has built up a special collection of over 300 literary annuals, both British and American, with full runs of most major titles. When the collection was catalogued, with a Title II-C award from the US Department of Education, full analytic entries were provided, allowing catalogue searches through USCAN by individual contributor and the title of the contribution as well as by the volume title. An exhibition from the collection, under the title Gifts of Love, was mounted in February 1994, curated by Kathryn Ledbetter and Lee McDavid; the published catalogue of the exhibit also includes (pp. 1-4) an introduction to the annual phenomenon.