What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”
When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing. Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers. While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.
Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year. As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale. For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post. “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items. Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.
Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.” Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia. Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death. Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies. The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.