What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“NOW IN THE PRESS, … THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”
As surely as leaves turned colors and then fell from trees in the fall, colonists had another reminder of the changing seasons and the approach of a new year: advertisements for almanacs published in newspapers throughout the colonies. Some printers and booksellers placed notices as early as September, prompting potential customers to anticipate the impending publication of the most accurate and most fashionable almanacs. Others began promoting their almanacs in October, but the advertisements became more frequent and more extensive in November and December. Although printers and booksellers attempted to gauge demand, some always ended up with surplus almanacs that they then advertised well into the new year.
Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, made an early start on printing and advertising the New-England Almanack, or, Lady’s and Gentleman’s Diary, for the Year of Our Lord 1768. Potential customers still had nearly eleven weeks to acquire their almanacs, but Goddard and Carter knew that their printing office would face competition from the many printers and booksellers in Boston who marketed competing volumes. Advertising early raised the visibility of their almanac, perhaps giving it a privileged place in the minds of potential customers who would eventually encounter other options. Using advertisements to make their almanac familiar to readers could have instilled a sense of loyalty even before they were available for purchase.
Goddard and Carter’s advertisement for the New-England Almanack, relatively sparse in terms of words and space, served as an initial announcement. Upon publication, the printers introduced more extensive advertisements that included the table of contents and listed the price (both by the dozen and singles). In that manner, some advertisements for almanacs offered yet another visual marker of the passing seasons. As the new year drew closer, advertisements for almanacs became lengthier. Just as modern Americans have grown accustomed to certain advertising practices timed to the holiday season, early American readers experienced annual rhythms of marketing for almanacs as the newspaper advertisements became more frequent and more prominent before fading after the new year.