A very rare perpetual calendar by the mysterious John Balch

John Balch, CENTENNIAL Revolving Almanac From 1800 to 1900 inclusive, Boston, 1837.
Engraving with cutouts for viewing a red volvelle with the months lettered in gilt, the volvelle held in place by a brass pin with a decorative star-shape head. Housed in a period frame (11”h x 8 ¾”w) with replacement glass, the volvelle extending through slots in the sides of the molding, with brass loop at top for hanging. Back of frame with a pasted-on broadside bearing calendrical and astronomical tables, labeled “Second Edition.” Calendar face somewhat toned, dusty and faintly water stained. Broadside on back scuffed with some loss and some additional loss from an old tape adhesion. Volvelle rotates only with difficulty.

A rare perpetual calendar issued in Boston in 1837, with a rotating volvelle and housed in the original frame.

The instrument features a calendar in the form of an arch spanning two finely-engraved Corinthian columns. Between the columns is a table of “dominical letters” for the years 1800-1900 and a brief paragraph of instructions:

“Find the Dominical Letter for any year from 1800 to 1900 in the left hand column of the Table. Turn the revolving part till the Dominical Letter appears at the top, and under it in the semicircle [i.e., the arch] will be found a Calender [sic] for the several months of that year.”

A perusal of America’s Historical Newspapers reveals no mention of publisher John Balch or his Almanac. A less restrictive search did turn up the following gem about an instrument developed by Rufus Porter in the 1820s:

“Look out.-A “revolving” GENTLEMAN, a few days since, offered us a subscription book for a “Revolving Almanac,” which, as he represented, would, by finding the dominical letter, and turning the revolver, give you the day of the month, the changes of the moon, and the rising of the sun, ‘from the creation to endless ages,’ for 50 cents only! Who would not give 50 cents to be able to tell 40,000 years hence, when he was born? And what hour the sun first peeps over the mountains, without ever having to get out of bed to look at him? What is 50 cents? I’ll subscribe-it will make a handsome picture, when framed. Now in this way, these revolving gentry get considerable money from people who cannot afford it, and for what is of little use to them; an to the detriment of others to whom they honestly owe the money. In this case, there are several names subscribed who have had the newspapers and stationary for years without paying for them-if they can pay revolvers, they must pay the stationer and printer.-Look out.” (New Hampshire Sentinel, vol. XXIII no. 1169 (Sept. 1, 1821), p. 2)

The maker of the Revolving Almanac may have been John Balch (1776-1837) of Topsfield (Though I have seen him described as a “yeoman,” and his year of death coincides with the year the Almanac was published.) The Balches were an ancient North Shore family, ancestor John Balch having arrived with Robert Gorges at Cape Ann in 1623. (“Balch Genealogy,” The Essex Antiauarian, vol. VI no. 1 (Jan. 1902). OCLC lists no other publications under the name of John Balch, and he is not mentioned in Silvio Bedini’s Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers.

OCLC 874928308 (Boston Public) and 1006452623 (American Antiquarian Society).