What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767. Is in the Press at W. Weyman’s.”
When it came to the printers and booksellers in colonial America, almanacs were a staple among the merchandise they produced and sold. These inexpensive pamphlets were in great demand, finding their way into the hands of readers from all kinds of backgrounds, from the elite to the most humble. In the 1960s Milton Drake compiled a bibliography of hundreds of almanacs printed in America in the eighteenth-century. Printers met the high demand for these calendars that doubled as reference periodicals by delivering an extensive supply to colonial customers, competing with each other in the process.
Given the diversity of almanacs available for public consumption, printers (as well as the authors of the almanacs themselves) needed to direct potential customers to the volumes they produced. Among the most common appeals, they promoted the accuracy of their almanacs, sometimes underscoring the education or other qualifications of the author or compiler. Benjamin Franklin’s almanacs, authored under the pseudonym Richard Saunders or Poor Richard, gained popularity for the aphorisms the astute printer inserted. (Arguably, those aphorisms made Franklin’s almanacs the most famous of the eighteenth century. Poor Richard’s almanacs remain well known in popular culture today, not just among scholars of early American print culture, thanks not only to their connection to one of the founders but also because the aphorisms have become nuggets of wisdom passed down from one generation of Americans to the next.) The authors and compilers of almanacs, like “Poor Richard,” became brands in and of themselves, contributing to the popularity of certain almanacs and forging a loyalty that predisposed colonists to continue purchasing familiar publications.
William Weyman devised another strategy for placing his almanacs in the hands of readers. He advertised them early (indeed, very early!), which allowed him to bring his almanacs to the attention of potential customers before they even considered others printed by competitors. “THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767” was not yet ready for sale at the time that Weyman placed today’s advertisement. It was merely “in the Press … and will be published in due Time.” This advertisement appeared on September 1, a full four months ahead of the year covered in the almanac, but Weyman was priming customers to consider his almanac. They might not have needed it yet, but it was a product many of them knew that they would purchase eventually.
Modern retailers engage in similar practices. This year many stores started stocking Halloween items in August. Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise will be available soon, if it is not on shelves already. Today’s merchants did not invent promoting seasonal goods well before customers needed them. William Weyman and others were already doing that in the eighteenth century.