What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The sittings of the superior and inferior courts … may be depended on as correct.”
In January 1769, printers and booksellers throughout the colonies advertised almanacs for the new year, attempting to sell excess inventory rather than take a loss on surplus copies. In his efforts to incite demand for a second edition of “BICKERSTAFFs BOSTON ALMANACK,” John Mein emphasized the accuracy of its contents, especially the dates of the “sittings of the superior and inferior courts” in Massachusetts. In so doing, Mein implicitly referenced a dispute between other printers in Boston, William McAlpine on one side and T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Richard Draper on the other. After McAlpine issued Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 in the fall of 1768, a cabal of rival printers published a counterfeit edition of the popular almanac. To add insult to injury, they promoted the pirated copy by running advertisements that claimed “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy” and implied that it contained “above Twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts.”
Mein did not weigh in on that controversy, but as one of the printers of the Boston Chronicle he almost certainly would have been aware of it. With so many competing titles, he took advantage of an opportunity to distinguish the almanac that he printed and sold at his bookstore on King Street. His advertisement in the January 12 edition of the Boston Chronicle did not comment on any of the contents except to declare the accuracy of the court dates. Mein did not highlight any of the entertaining features. He did not promote other useful information included in the almanac. Instead, he assured prospective customers that “The sittings of the superior and inferior courts of this province, inserted in this Almanack, may be depended on as correct; being obtained from a Gentlemen, one of the Clerks of the court.” Mein had done his due diligence in confirming the dates with a reputable source before taking the almanac to press. Furthermore, “The same care has been taken with the courts of the other provinces.” Prospective customers who might have business in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island could depend the accuracy of the dates in Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack.
That Mein issued a second edition testified to the popularity of the almanac, yet he presented readers an additional reason for choosing it over others. Amidst the uncertainty of which edition of Ames’s Almanack contained accurate information, consumers could sidestep the confusion by purchasing Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack instead. Its contents had been carefully compiled after consultation with officials who possessed the most accurate information about when the courts would conduct business in 1769.