What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”
John Carter wanted prospective customers to know that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, FOR THE Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” and that it was ready for sale “At SHAKESPEARS’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE.” To make certain that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware of this publication, Carter exercised his privilege as printer of the newspaper to devote the entire final page of the October 28, 1769, edition to promoting the New-England Almanack. Full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century American newspapers, but they were quite rare. In the late 1760s, the printers of the Providence Gazette played with this format more than any of their counterparts in other cities and towns. Still, they did not resort to it often.
Appreciating the magnitude of such an advertisement requires considering it in the context of the entire issue. Like most other newspapers of the era, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages printed and distributed once a week. Each issue usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a single broadsheet and then folding it in half. That being the case, Carter gave over a significant portion of the October 28 edition to marketing the New-England Almanack, devoting one-quarter of the contents to the endeavor. By placing it on the final page, the printer also made the advertisement visible to anyone who happened to observe someone reading that issue of the Providence Gazette. Readers who kept the issue closed while perusing the front page put the back page on display. Those who kept the issue open while reading the second and third pages also exhibited the full-page advertisement to anyone who saw them reading the newspaper. Given the size of the advertisement and its placement, prospective customers did not have to read the Providence Gazette to be exposed to Carter’s marketing for the New-England Almanack.
Carter also eliminated the colophon that usually ran at the bottom of the final page. In addition to providing the usual publication information (the name of the printer and the city), the colophon doubled as an advertisement for services provided at Carter’s printing office. Why eliminate it rather than adjust the size of the advertisement for the New-England Almanack? Carter very well likely could have printed the full-page advertisement separately on half sheets that he then distributed and displayed as posters, augmenting his newspaper advertisements with another popular medium for advertising. Broadsides (or posters) were even more ephemeral than newspapers; far fewer have survived. Yet the format of Carter’s full-page advertisement suggests that he had an additional purpose in mind.