What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768, to be sold by the Printer.”
Published in the lower right corner of the first page of the April 5 issue, this advertisement for “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768” made an unseasonably late appearance in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Readers throughout the colonies were accustomed to a certain rhythm when it came to printers advertising almanacs in newspapers. Some commenced as early as September, seeking to gain an advantage over competitors by announcing that their almanacs would soon go to press. They peddled the promise of a product that did not yet exist, but primed consumers to contemplate the version they offered before encountering any others. The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall as the new year approached. The advertisements usually continued for the first few weeks of January but then tapered off by the time February arrived. After all, more and more of the contents became outdated every week. Yet Charles Crouch still opted to publish an advertisement for almanacs in his newspaper in early April 1768. More than a quarter of the year had passed, but Crouch tested whether he could create a market for leftover copies that he had not managed to sell.
Many eighteenth-century printers sought to generate revenues beyond job printing, newspaper subscriptions, and advertising fees by publishing and selling almanacs. Doing so was a savvy investment of their time and resources since colonists from the most humble households to the most grand acquired these popular periodicals each year … but only if printers accurately estimated the market for almanacs. Not printing a sufficient number meant turning customers away. Even worse, it could mean losing their business in future years if they purchased another almanac and developed loyalty toward its contents, author, or printer. On the other hand, printing too many almanacs could undermine any profits if a printer ended up with a significant surplus. That Crouch was still advertising “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768” in April suggests that he did indeed have an unacceptable surplus crowding the shelves or storage space at his printing shop. Indirectly, it also testifies to the utility of almanacs in the eighteenth century. Prospective customers may not have dismissed the almanacs simply because a portion of the calendar and astronomical calculations had already passed. Instead, some may have instead focused on the other information contained within the pages of almanacs, information that remained useful throughout the year. Among their many contents, almanacs typically contained lists of colonial officials, dates for holding courts ands fairs, cures and remedies for various maladies, and amusing anecdotes. That being the case, Crouch took a chance that he might find buyers for some of his remaining almanacs even if readers did not expect to see them advertised at that time of the year.