What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Price Three Shillings per single Dozen, Two Shillings and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”
As fall arrived in 1771 advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies. On September 21, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement that he would publish “THENEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” by Benjamin West. For several years West, an astronomer and mathematician, and Carter collaborated on almanacs, the former as author and the latter as printer. As always, the newest edition included “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining” in addition to “the usual Astronomical Calculations.”
Like others who promoted almanacs, Carter and West offered the New-England Almanack wholesale and retail. Consumers could purchase single copies for “Six Coppers” or six pence from the author or at the printing office. Shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others who bought by the dozen, however, received discounts. Carter and West charged “Three Shillings per single Dozen,” but offered an even better bargain to those who bought in even greater volume. Those customers paid “TWO SHILLINGS and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.” In other words, a dozen almanacs cost thirty-six pence (or three pence each), but two dozen almanacs cost thirty pence per dozen (or two and a half pence each).
This pricing structure suggests just how much retailers could mark up prices for almanacs. Those who bought only a dozen still acquired them for half the retail price that Carter and West charged. Retailers who purchased two dozen or more could double the price they paid to five pence per almanac and still charge less than Carter and West did for single copies. The printer and author probably did not worry too much about being undersold by retailers who assumed the risk for finding consumers for the almanacs, preferring the revenues guaranteed in bulk sales. For their part, some readers may have decided to hold off on purchasing new almanacs for their homes, hoping to get better bargains from local shopkeepers and booksellers.