A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2017 Dec 5, 13:12 -0800
I know you're aware of this, but just to emphasize for anyone who hasn't considered this, it's important to understand that the publication of the tables in the almanacs informs us about the history of the almanacs and not the history of the practice of navigation. The editors of thee various almanacs made their decisions in an extremely conservative fashion, much as they do today, driven as much by the needs of licensing exams as by genuine practical navigation.
Lunars had nearly vanished at sea by about 1830 aboard ocean-going British vessels and by about 1850 about similar American vessels. As Lecky wrote in 1883 in the first edition of his "Wrinkles", they were "as dead as Julius Caeser" by then, and in his long, diverse experience at sea he had ecountered only a handful of men who even claimed to know about them. Naturally, history doesn't end with closed doors, and there are occasional rare examples in real navigational practice long after 1850, famously including Slocum's singular lunar on his circum-navigation. But the practice, as a reasonably important component of navigation, was long in the past (at least at sea!) by the time the tables were dropped from the almanacs. And yet they were still required for certain licenses until the very beginning of the 20th century, and examiners wielded lunars as a mace ... as a tool for torturing students. There are obvious modern analogies...
The dates that you have quoted today are all covered in a document which I have posted before. Aha, found it (last posted just over two years ago):
Chronology of the Nautical Almanacs :
Probably the most interesting bit of trivia regarding almanac lunars tables is the fact that they were included in the German nautical almanac, the Nautisches Jahrbuch, until after the First World War. Why? I have some speculations on that, but no hard evidence. I still keep an eye out for copies of the N.J. from 1920-1925, but I have not been able to pin down a date when they were finally dropped. Please let me know (you or anyone else!) if you can get access to copies of those German almanacs. It's a tiny bit of navigational minutiae, but it's just one of those loose ends that would be nice to tie off.