February 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Feb 15 - 2:14:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 14, 1766).

“Ames’s Almanacks for the Present Year, to be Sold by T. Green.”

An almanac is “an annual publication containing a calendar for the coming year, the times of such events and phenomena as anniversaries, sunrises and sunsets, phases of the moon, tides, etc., and other statistical information and related topics.” In today’s society we do not see an almanac in everyone’s back pocket and purse; however back in the 1700s they were a lot more popular.

Here in the New-London Gazette, T. Green is advertising Ames’s Almanack for the “present year” which was 1766. Nathaniel Ames is considered to be the first person to publish an almanac in colonial America. The first annual publishing was done in 1725 and was published in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, until he moved to the South Shore later in his life. Ames’s Almanack was for many yeas considered the greatest with it publishing more then 60,000 copies. That’s quite a large number of copies for a colonial work. He started an industry that would spawn the likes of Poor Richard’s Almanack (Ben Franklin, 1733, Pennsylvania) and Rhode-Island Almanack (James Franklin, 1727, Rhode Island)

Almanacs were a major part of day-to-day life for people during the colonial time. They helped “everyday” people such as farmers, shopkeepers, and black/silversmiths know a little about each day. They would include astrological information, some details of the previous years weather, tide flow charts, copies of poems and stories, and historical essays. They also promoted reading throughout the countryside, and commerce for people such as T. Green. One family could purchase an almanac annually and it would give them access to literary works and a variety of useful information.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth is correct when she notes the ubiquity of almanacs in colonial America. They were cheap print. These small, inexpensive pocket references could be found in households from the grandest to the most humble and were published locally in large numbers from an early date.

This is not the first time that an advertisement for Ames’s Almanack in the New-London Gazette has been featured by the Adverts 250 Project. In fact, it was the second advertisement I selected when this project was still confined to #Adverts250 on Twitter. This earlier advertisement demonstrates how far in advance almanacs were printed. By the end of October, Timothy Green advertised that his imprint of the almanac did not include “Some Errors which passed in the first Boston Impression” and marketed the version of Ames’s Almanack he printed as “preferable to those which are Pedled about in the neighbouring Towns.”

Oct 25 - 10:25:1765 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (October 25, 1765).

Not unlike purchasing calendars in the modern era, it is reasonable to expect that colonial consumers bought almanacs before the first of the year or as shortly thereafter as possible. To gain the full value of a calendar or an almanac requires using it throughout the entire period it covers. I previously featured an advertisement for almanacs placed three weeks into the new year. Elizabeth selected an advertisement for almanacs placed nearly seven weeks into the new year!

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 Connecticut Courant
New-London Gazette (February 14, 1766).

What is happening here? It could be that the advertisement is filler, especially given its brevity, but it is also possible that Green ended up with a surplus and sought to continue to sell as many almanacs as possible to those who had not yet purchased them or desired additional copies. This advertisement could have been both padding that filled the page and the issue and an attempt to recoup his investment in printing Ames’s Almanack. This was the very first advertisement to appear in this issue of the New-London Gazette. Subscribers who read the news would have had to also read this advertisement to register that the advertising section had begun. Even if they did not continue with the other advertisements, at least they would have seen this one. It was the printer’s prerogative to place advertisements for his own goods and services wherever he wished in the issue.

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