What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PHILO’s Essex Almanack … Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.”
Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, also published “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.” Just days before it went to press, he inserted a notice in the Essex Gazette to inform readers of the almanac’s impending publication. A week later, he ran another advertisement that proclaimed he had “Just published” the almanac and now sold it “Wholesale and Retail.” That advertisement demonstrated an evolution in Hall’s marketing efforts.
The first advertisement filled a “square,” the unit some eighteenth-century newspaper printers used to describe the amount of space with length approximately matching column width. It provided a brief overview of the contents of the almanac to entice prospective customers. Upon publication, Hall dramatically increased the size of the advertisement to include a much more extensive list of the almanac’s contents. He previously promised that in addition to the “usual astronomical Calculations” the almanac contained “Thirty Pieces” for reference and entertainment, offering general categories for the various items (“religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial, satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical”). The new advertisement did not list any of those categories; instead, Hall named almost all of the “Thirty Pieces” that accompanied the astronomical calculations. Those who purchased the Philo’s Essex Almanack would be amused or instructed by “The Sausage-Maker raised to be a Prime Minister,” “Rules for preserving Health in Eating and Drinking,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Husband,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Wife,” and “Some Lines written extempore on the Sea-Shore, by a Lady.” Despite the length of the advertisement, Hall did not have sufficient space to include all the contents of the almanac. He concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that customers would discover even more when they acquired their own copies of Philo’s Essex Almanack.
This was the first time Hall published an almanac “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.” Although he printed and advertised it fairly late compared to counterparts who had more experience publishing almanacs in other towns, he did adopt some of the standard marketing practices for almanacs in eighteenth-century America. He promoted Philo’s Essex Almanack with a preview before going to press and later published an extensive list of its contents when the almanac was available for sale. Hall did not publish an almanac the following year, suggesting that sales of “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” were not successful enough to merit investing time, labor, and other resources in the enterprise a second time. Although his advertising matched others in terms of copy, the timing may have played a role in hampering sales. Residents of Salem were accustomed to obtaining almanacs printed in Boston and Portsmouth. Some may have acquired their favorite titles before Hall even advertised that he planned to publish an almanac in Essex. The same advertising campaign launched a month or more earlier may have had different results.