Saturday, 21 May 2011

Over 100 years of information

It started last Saturday. Mary volunteers in the Marie Curie charity shop a couple of times a week, and so on Saturday I drove down there to pick her up. I was a little early, and so while I was waiting I had a quick browse through the books, and I was delighted to see a copy of the dear old Pears Quiz Companion – the 1991 paperback edition . I’ve already got this edition, the original 1989 hardback, and the 2000 Penguin updated edition, so I wasn’t going to buy it. However it did start me off on a bit of a nostalgia trip about a book which was very much a mainstay of mine throughout the first few years of my career as a question master in the club.

As a result I thought about writing a whole post about the Quiz Companion. I looked at my three copies, and the introduction is pretty much the same in all of them. It tells you a bit , but there were quite a few things I’d like to have known the answers to. So I set out to track down Jim Hensman. Mr. Hensman compiled the whole book. I think that I found him on Facebook, and so I wrote to him asking if he wouldn’t mind if I asked him just a couple of questions about it. As yet he hasn’t replied, and if he decides not to reply then I have to respect that. So as it is, my post on the Quiz Companion is something the world for which the world will have to wait a little longer.

Still, in the course of thinking about the projected post I did speculate about the title “The Pears Quiz Companion” and I guessed that Penguin, who own the companies that have published the different editions, in their wisdom decided to call it this to link it in with the old favourite “Pears Cyclopaedia”. This is an interesting thing in its own right. I suspect we’ve all heard of it, but how many of us have actually used it ?

As the name suggests , the Cyclopaedia is in fact an Encyclopaedia, of one volume. I was surprised to learn that it actually first saw the light of day as long ago as 1897. Yes, if you are wondering, its Pears as in Pears soap. One Thomas Barrett, who had apparently married into the Pears family came up with the idea of the ‘shilling encyclopaedia’ as novel way of promoting soap. He was quite a smart cookie, so it seems – apparently it was his idea that cute kids sell a lot of soap, especially if you get that chap Millais to paint them.

I have just the one copy of the Pears Cyclopaedia in my personal library, the 2008-9 edition. This contains a chronicle of world events, sections on prominent people, background to world affairs, Britain today, the historical world, background to economic events, general compendium ( miscellaneous tables and statistics) Biblical glossary, classical mythology, ideas and beliefs, gazetteer of the world, general information, literary companion, the world of art, the world of music, the cinema, sporting almanac, the world of science, computing and the internet, the environment, medical matters and an atlas of the world. Phew. I did read that some of the subjects are rotated from edition to edition, which is sensible when you think about it.

One thing I would say about the Cyclopaedia is that you need to think carefully about tackling it without 20/20 vision, a good pair of glasses, or a strong magnifying glass. To cram all that information in the writing is very small.
There are collectors out there apparently, and if you click on the link, it will take you to a website I found -
The Pears Cyclopaedia Collectors Gallery
I’ll be honest, I have no idea how much a first edition from 1897 would set you back today.

The other work which I find often gets bracketed with the Cyclopaedia is Whitaker’s Almanack. If the Cyclopaedia is old, originating in 1897, then the Almanack is veritably ancient. The first edition was published in 1868, some 30 odd years earlier. It was originally published by the firm of J. Whitaker and Sons, then by the Stationery Office, and since 2003 by Bloomsbury , who I believe are best known for taking a punt on a then unknown writer called J.K. Rowling. However, I digress. A measure of the impact Whitakers’ made during its first decade was the fact that a copy of the 1878 Almanack was one of the books placed in a time capsule beneath Cleopatra’s Needle.

One thing I’ll say for the first two editors of Whitaker’s – they both had staying power. Joseph Whitaker, the founding editor, edited the Almanack from 1868 until 1895. His successor, Sir Cuthbert Whitaker, actually edited it from 1895 until 1950, an astonishing 55 years.

The big difference between Whitaker’s and Pears is that Whitaker’s makes no claim to being any sort of encyclopaedia. Its far more of a yearbook, and frankly a great source of up to date information on the UK – far more comprehensive than in virtually any other source I’ve come across. If we take the 2009 edition which I own, it has sections on the year 2009, The UK – which includes sections on Royal family, Precedence, peerage, parliament, Government and public bodies, regional government, local government, European parliament, law and order, defence, education, health, social welfare, utilities and transport, religion, communication, information technology, the environment, heritage, banking and finance, taxation, legal notes, the media, and organisations. There are also sections on the world, the year 2007-8, time and space and general reference.

In fact its very comprehensiveness in terms of the sections on the UK is impressive, but in terms of question setting, a little daunting. Its one of those books I’m happy to use to verify questions, but I’d need to think seriously before I start looking for question ideas from within its pages. Part of the problem with it is that by its very nature a lot of it goes out of date pretty quickly.
As with Pears, there are serious collectors out there, and here’s a link to a website that you could look at for further information.
Whitaker’s Almanack Collection


DanielFullard said...

Ah yes the good old Pears Quiz Companion. I have learnt quite a lot from the book and I think the way it is presented, although sometimes making it hard to find certain bits of information, has helped me remember so much.

As for the Pears Cyclopedia when I first started to become obsessed with amassing as large of a general knowledge as possible I bought that and used it quite a bit but as you say its much more tougher going than something such as Trevor Montagues A-Z of Everything which I greatly adore.

As for Whitaker I tend to buy the small pocket size books that come out each year rather than the full versions. Serves a great purposes and so much information in it!

A book I would recommend if you havent read it or used it is On the Tip of My tounge by David Gentle. Some great little questions and learning to be had inside that.

Londinius said...

Hi Danielfullard (or may I call you Daniel)

Yes, I really like On The Tip Of My Tongue too. I wrote a post over a year ago called Desert Island Quiz Books, and it was one of the ones which I picked to keep me going until I was eventually rescued.