Identifying Annuals

What are Annuals ?

Annual's are books based on a theme produced each year at Christmas and they have a long tradition in the UK. Most popular TV programmes , weekly or monthly comics and TV cartoons have annuals based upon them as well as current pop stars, football teams and many other subjects. In the main, annuals take the form of a hardback book, though there are exceptions such as Buster, where the first 16 annuals were paperback. They measure approximately 7½ inches wide by 10½ inches high as a standard (10.5cm x 27cm) known as "annual-sized" though they can vary in height (2 inches or more) and width. The term "annual" implies that the themed book is published every year, but quite often there may have only been one annual for a particular series (e.g. Klondike , Nipper and many of the blockbuster films)

Dating Annuals

Most annuals state as part of the title what year they are for (e.g. The Wombles annuals) but there are many that don't. It can be quite frustrating to the collector when searching the internet and online auctions, to find annuals for sale that are incorrectly dated, particularly when looking to fill gaps in their collection.

There is a basic rule (with very few exceptions) about the "date" of an annual and that is that it is for the year after the lastest* copyright date within. Take a look at any annual that states the date on the front, and it will be copyrighted within as the year before that date. Therefore, an annual that is copyrighted as say 1984, but does not have a date on the cover or spine as part of the title, is in fact an annual published for 1985 (though as I have said, there are exceptions which will be covered further on).

Some undated annuals contain more than one copyright date within, which can be further obfuscated by being in Roman numerals (see section below on deciphering Roman Numerals). In all these instances, the date of the annual will be for the year after the latest copyright date.

Quite often specialised sites make the mistake of dating annuals according to their copyright dates, and one particular example is The Muppet Show annuals. None of these have a date on the cover and therefore many sites state there were eight annuals from 1977 to 1984. In fact there were eight annuals for 1978 to 1985.

A further problem arises where sellers have not fully inspected the annual they're selling. Some dated annuals state the year they are for only on the spine and not on the cover (such as The Pogles annuals and the TV Comic annuals), and then they incorrectly use the copyright date instead because they didn't notice it.

Deciphering Roman Numerals

Many annuals have their copyright dates recorded as Roman numerals, and quite often have more than one copyright date shown in sequence. For example, the following snapshot is the copyright information from the Huckleberry Hound annual 1965...

As can be seen, there are three dates and the annual does not have the year stated on the cover or the spine. The copyright dates are MCMLXII, MCMLXIII and MCMLXIV. The table below shows all the symbols that can be used in Roman numerals and what each represents...


The starting point for a Roman numeral number (i.e. copyright date) is that it is constructed by arranging the symbols from left to right in order of decreasing value; the total is then calculated by adding the numerical values of all the letters in the sequence. For example, MDCLXVI = 1000 + 500 + 100 + 50 + 10 + 5 + 1 = 1666.

However, where a symbol representing a smaller number appears before a symbol representing a larger number, the principle is that the lower value be subtracted from the higher value, not added to the total. For example, IX is the Roman numeral for 9 (that is, 10 - 1 or if you like, one before 10).

In the same way XIX represents the number 19 (X + IX, or 10 + 9) rather than 21, which is written as XXI (10 + 10 + 1). Likewise, the Roman numeral for the year 1995 is usually written as MCMXCV (M + CM + XC + V, or 1000 + 900 + 90 + 5). The subtraction principle is used to avoid more than three consecutive occurrences of the same symbol in a number. For example, IV (one before 5) instead of IIII (4), XL (ten before fifty) instead of XXXX (40), and CD (one hundred before five hundred) instead of CCCC (400). An exception is the numeral M, or 1000, which is used 4 times to represent the number 4000, since the Romans had no single-letter numeral representing a higher value than M. It is also customary not to repeat the values V, L, or D (5, 50, or 500) in the same numeral. This means of course that in Roman numerals, there is no number higher than 4999 (there are other principles for higher numbers but for the purposes of dating annuals, I don't think we need to worry about that for a while !)

So what does that tell us about the copyright dates in the example above ?

(M + CM + L + X + II)
1000 + 900 + 50 + 10 + 2
(M + CM + L + X + III)
1000 + 900 + 50 + 10 + 3
(M + CM + L + X + IV)
1000 + 900 + 50 + 10 + 4

The highest copyright date in this instance is 1964, therefore applying the dating rule above, this annual was for the year 1965. I have seen this annual listed on auction sites as 1962 because only the earliest copyright date is being used, either by mistake, or possibly because they wish to make their annual sound older, and therefore potentially more valuable. Always ask the seller a question and determine the true copyright data of an annual.

Annuals 'With' and Annuals 'Without' !

I have often been asked by visitors to my site why an annual in my gallery shows the full title when the one in their possession does not, and is it a printing error. The answer is no, it is not a printing error. Take a look at these two images of the Doctor Who Annual 1981...


...and the inside front page of each...


The one on the left has "annual 1981" on the cover and inside, plus a printed price in Pounds Sterling (£1.95). The one on the right does not have either. This is because there were two print runs, one for the UK market (left) and one for the overseas market (right). Because annuals and the dating of such are a British phenomenon, placing the year in the title of the overseas editions (which are usually printed around August each year), would cause confusion so they are omitted, as is the price of course. Many overseas copies make their way back to the UK, hence two cover variations.

Exceptions to the Rule !

As everyone knows, there are exceptions to every rule (except the one about not being able to scratch your left elbow with your left hand !) and a prime example is found in the Knight Rider annuals. All five of the Knight Rider annuals state a copyright date of 1982 which is the year the series first started on TV. Where this happens we need to take into account the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and/or the price. ISBN sequences are issued to publishers who then use them sequentially, so if the ever increasing prices doesn't put them in the right order (prices of annuals rarely went down in subsequent years) , then the ISBN will. The table below shows the Knight Rider annuals ISBN, price, copyright date and the resultant year they were for, remembering that the year an annual is for is the year after the copyright date of (in this case) the earliest identified annual...

Year For

So, five annuals all dated 1982 within are actually the range of annuals for 1983 through to 1987.

Undated Annuals

Then there are the undated annuals, the bane of any collector's life including mine. These annuals provide no clues to their date, lacking any copyright date information, price, and title addition (cover or spine). So how do we date these ? Sometimes, if you have all the annuals and there is a gap, it is logical, but it gets confusing where there was more than one (!) annual for some years (e.g. the Batman and Bonanza annuals).

However, there are other clues that can be used to narrow down the year an annual is for. One such clue lies amongst the World Distributor published annuals - these used distinctive black and yellow spine styles and colour from the mid fifties to the mid sixties, and if you have several annuals, some with and some without dates across a range of titles, matching the font on the spine and the cover between dated and undated can help identify the year of the undated ones. Another broad clue is that World Distributors only started putting their name on the spine of annuals for 1966 onward, so if its not there, it is older than 1966.

It occurred to me that I had failed to mention that the other clue to dating undated annuals lies in the inscription/dedication that is sometimes found in used annuals. Such messages are often dedicated as a Christmas present and dated, and given that it was likely the annual was new when given as a present, any dedication marked with the Christmas it was for would indicate the annual was for the year after that Christmas.

Finally, of course, rather than do the work yourself, you can always bookmark my galleries and use them as a reference source...