National Library acquires first-ever Broons annual

The National Library of Scotland has added the last piece to its collection of Broons annuals. Library curators have been searching for the elusive 1939 first edition for at least a decade, only for a copy to appear on a bookseller’s website a few months ago. Sport, Leisure and Newspapers Curator Ian Scott arranged the purchase for the national collections. He said: “We’re really pleased to have found this first edition – the Broons annuals are some of the most important publications in 20th century Scotland. They have had enduring appeal since their inception in 1939, which makes them a publishing phenomenon. These iconic characters, aside from subtle changes to their clothing and technology use, still haven’t changed much in the 80-plus years they’ve been landing in Scottish households at Christmastime. Which is a major achievement for any publication. The Broons’ still has a large readership because even today, you can buy a copy from major retailers, who wouldn’t stock them unless they were guaranteed to sell a considerable number. Their enduring popularity can be put down to the multi-generational appeal. The Broons addresses, in quite a gentle way, generational conflict. In these modern times where societies and cultures are so fragmented, publications that gently chip away at generational conflict and other societal constructs such as class can bring a level of comfort to readers aged 8 to 80.”

A magical formula

Initially, the Broons books and comics were not collected by libraries chiefly because they are distributed via newsagents rather than bookshops. This, coupled with the fact that these publications are deemed ephemeral and therefore discarded, means the earlier editions rarely made their way to collecting institutions such as the National Library of Scotland. Since the 1940 edition (which was published in 1939), The Broons annual has appeared every two years, alternating with the Oor Wullie annual. There was a small gap in 1944 and 1946 due to paper shortages, during which time D C Thomson released Broons jigsaws. Otherwise, it has remained a biannual publication until the present day. On the 80th anniversary of the first Broons book, D C Thomson published The Broons and the Oor Wullie annual in the same year, but that was an exception.

Mr Scott attributes their instant popularity and enduring appeal to many facets, but primarily the Broons’s relatability saying; “The tenement flats, the neighbourhood streets and nearby countryside are relatable to readers all over the country. It replicates the lives people have, the places they live in, and the language they speak. The Broons is written in Scots, which is unusual for a big mainstream publication.” He added: “The Broons is never fashionable and a wee bit behind the times. But in a way, that’s where most people live their lives. It’s a magical formula, this unchangingness means it can never be out-of-fashion. It is current and nostalgic at the same time, which has a very strong appeal.”

The first Broons annual – which is the only known copy in a public collection in Scotland – will be displayed in the Treasures of the National Library of Scotland exhibition in 2024 at George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Anyone with National Library membership – which is free – can view these comics and annuals at the Library’s reading rooms.

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