What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“We have therefore reprinted a few Hundreds.”
Throughout January and February each year the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements for almanacs tended to taper off, though some printers and booksellers did continue their efforts to sell surplus copies and turn expenses into revenues. Each day that passed meant that more of the contents, especially the astronomical calculations, became obsolete. Based on their advertisements, retailers expected that most colonists would purchase their almanacs before a new year commenced or very shortly after.
That made an advertisement in the February 16, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal rather unusual. Instead of announcing that he still had copies of “FREEMAN’s ALMANACK” for sale, John Holt announced that he planned to print more copies in order to meet the ongoing demand. “Having been much called for since the first Edition has been all sold off, And many People being not yet supplied,” Holt explained, “We have therefore reprinted a few Hundreds, which will be ready for delivery To-Morrow, at the usual Prices.” This raises several questions about the production and distribution of Freeman’s New-York Almanack. When did it sell out? How long did it take Holt to decide to issue a second edition? How many prospective customers, especially retailers who indicated they would purchase copies by the dozens, approached Holt about printing a second edition?
The entire enterprise seems suspicious. Even though the almanac included contents that retained their value throughout the year – such as “Times of the Courts in New-York, New-Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” – seven weeks of 1769 had elapsed. It seems strange that consumers voiced so much demand for this almanac at the same time that printers and booksellers ceased advertising almanacs and further attempts to sell any remainders. Did Holt actually issue a second edition? Or did he devise this announcement to make Freeman’s New-York Almanack seem like it had achieved extraordinary popularity in hopes of bamboozling readers into purchasing his surplus stock? Or could this notice have been his first attempt at marketing almanacs for the following year, planting the idea that Freeman’s New-York Almanack for 1769 was still in such high demand that prospective customers needed to acquire Freeman’s New-York Almanac for 1770 as soon as they saw it advertised in the fall? Holt’s advertisement deviates so significantly from others that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies that it merits skepticism.