What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Hutchin’s Improved: BEING AN ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1771.”
By the middle of October 1770, advertisements for almanacs for 1771 began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies. Such notices were a familiar sight to readers of the public prints who encountered them every fall. Just like the changing of the seasons, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs followed a similar pattern from year to year. In the late summer and early fall printers first announced that they would soon publish almanacs for the coming year. Those were usually short notices that listed little more than the titles that would soon become available. As fall continues, the number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased, as did the length of advertisements for particular titles. This continued into the new year before the advertisements tapered off in late January and early February.
Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for Hutchin’s Improved Almanack in the October 15, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was one of the first of the lengthy notices in the fall of 1770. It extended more than half a column, making it the longest advertisement in that issue. In promoting the almanac, Gaine proclaimed that the “usual Astronomical Calculations” had been “laid down with as great Accuracy as in any Almanack in America.” In addition, Hutchin’s Improved Almanack contained a variety of other useful items, including a calendar of “Court Terms,” a guide to “Post Roads and Stages through every Settled Part of the Continent,” and instructions for remedies “to preserve Health” and “to cure Disorders incident to the Human Body.” Gaine devoted most of the advertisement to short descriptions of twenty “select Pieces, instructing and entertaining” that ranged from “Moral Reflections” to “Historical Remarks” to “entertaining Anecdotes, Similies, Aphorisms, [and] Epitaphs.” Among the “Moral Reflections,” readers would find “Rules for preserving HEALTH in eating and drinking.” Gaine opined that “An Observance of these Rules will bring us to Temperance.” The “Historical Remarks” included “An Extract from Mr. Anderson’s History of the Rise and Progress of Commerce,” while the “entertaining Anecdotes” featured “A diverting Tale” of “The Sausage Maker raised to a Prime Minister” and “the Pastor and his Flock; a droll, but True Story.”
Almanacs accounted for a significant portion of popular print culture in eighteenth-century America. Consumers from the most humble households to the most grand acquired almanacs each year. Printers competed with each other for their share of the market, aggressively advertising their titles in newspapers. In doing so, they sought to distinguish their almanacs from others and convince prospective customers that their version included the most extensive, most useful, and most entertaining contents.