What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST PUBLISHED … THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”
Despite the headline, Benjamin West’s “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1768” had not been “JUST PUBLISHED” when the advertisement appeared in the February 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Marketing for the almanac commenced nearly four months earlier with a short notice in the October 17, 1767, issue. That notice briefly announced the almanac was “NOW IN THE PRESS, and speedily will be PUBLISHED.” The same notice ran again the following week before being replaced in the October 31 issue with a much more extensive advertisement. The new version ran exactly as it would appear for the next several months with the exception of the first line. The interim notice stated “On Saturday next will be Published” before being updated to “JUST PUBLISHED” in all subsequent advertisements. The notice in the February 6 issue had been inserted in the Providence Gazette regularly throughout November and December 1767 and January 1768.
Just like leaves changing color on trees, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers marked the arrival of fall, starting with just a few sporadically published in a couple of newspapers yet gradually increasing in number until just about every newspaper printed in the colonies featured advertisements for one or more almanacs by the time winter arrived. The frequency of such advertisements tapered off after the first of January, but they did not disappear immediately. Some printers continued to hawk surplus almanacs well into the new year, even as portions of the contents became obsolete with each passing week. In addition to the daily astronomical calculations, by early February the “neat TYPE of the solar Eclipse that will happen on the 19th of January” had already passed. Printers still attempted to generate as much revenue as possible by selling leftover almanacs to any customers they could attract.
Unlike modern merchandisers, however, they did not experiment with discounts that acknowledged that an almanac for 1768 did not have the same utility in early February that it possessed in late December. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers of the Providence Gazette, did not reduce the prices of their almanacs, at least not in their advertisements. They set a rate of “Two Shillings and Eightpence … per Dozen, or Fourpence single” in the fall and continued to list the same prices in February. Goddard and Carter aggressively marketed the almanac by extensively listing the contents and advertising it every week, but, like their counterparts throughout the colonies, they overlooked an opportunity for innovative pricing that later became standard practice when it came to merchandising calendars.