December 17

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

Providence Gazette (December 17, 1768).

A NEW EDITION. … THE New-England TOWN and COUNTRY Almanack.”

With only two weeks remaining before the new year, John Carter placed the most extensive advertisement yet for the New-England Town and Country Almanack … for the Year of our Lord 1769 in the December 17, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. It filled an entire column. Carter and his former partner, Sarah Goddard, had previously advertised the almanac, commencing their promotional campaign in the final week of August with a notice that was almost as lengthy. Just a few weeks later they ran an updated advertisement announcing that they had published a second edition, implying significant demand for the New-England Town and Country Almanack. Their advertising efforts tapered off as fall continued.

Perhaps other concerns, especially Goddard’s retirement, the dissolution of their partnership, and Carter assuming sole responsibility for the Providence Gazette and the other operations of the printing office, took precedence over advertising an almanac that may have been selling quite well already. After all, this advertisement, even more extensive than any previous notice, proclaimed, “A NEW EDITION. Just PUBLISHED.” Steady demand may have prompted Carter to take the almanac to press once again, but he hedged his bets by making sure that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware that they could purchase it “Wholesale and Retail” at the printing office or from “the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” For the past five weeks Carter ran his address “To the PUBLIC” in the newspapers that he now operated on his own. Publishing and promoting a new edition of the New-England Town and Country Almanack signaled that the transition had concluded.

The transition to sole proprietorship of the Providence Gazette and the printing office did not, however, lead to new strategies for marketing the almanac. Carter’s advertisement reiterated many of the appeals made in earlier notices, including lengthy descriptions of the contents to convince prospective customers of the almanac’s value. He once again emphasized the frontispiece, “a Portrait of the celebrated JOHN WILKES, Esq; engraved from an original Painting,” expecting that the portrait and “some Anecdotes of that most extraordinary Personage,” a defender of American liberties, would resonate with colonists. He did conclude with a new offer: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” Such discounts were standard, but worth underscoring now that Carter had “A NEW EDITION” and only two weeks before the new year.

Almanacs were big business for colonial printers, comprising an important revenue stream. The potential profits may have convinced Carter to issue one more edition of the New-England Town and Country Almanack in hopes of getting his new enterprise off to a successful start. To that end, he devoted significant space in his own newspaper to promoting the almanac, filling an entire column that otherwise would have contained news content or paid notices. Doing so signaled his willingness to take reasonable risks and, ultimately, his confidence in operating the printing office as the sole proprietor.

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