What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Bickerstaff’s Boston ALMANCK, For the Year 1772.”
With the arrival of fall in 1771 newspaper advertisements for almanacs for 1772 became more numerous and more extensive. Starting in August and continuing into September, printers announced that they would soon publish popular and favorite titles, but by the beginning of October their notices indicated that consumers and retailers could purchase almanacs. To encourage sales, some printers composed advertisements that previewed the contents of their almanacs.
John Fleeming followed this progression in his marketing efforts. On August 15, he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform readers that “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772, Will be published in September.” He declared that it would “contain many excellent Receipts, interesting Stories, curious Anecdotes, [and] useful Tables” in addition to “the usual Calculations.” On September 26, he placed a much lengthier advertisement, one that extended two-thirds of a column, to announcement that the almanac was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED.” Fleeming devoted most of the advertisement to the contents, hoping to incite curiosity and interest.
As promised, the almanac included “USEFUL RECEIPTS,” with a headline and separate section that listed many of them. Buyers gained access to a recipe for “A Cure for the Cramp,” “Dr. Watkins famous Family Medicine,” “An excellent remedy for all Nervous Complaints,” and “A cure for the Scurvy,” among others. In terms of “interesting Stories [and] curious Anecdotes,” readers would be entertained or edified by an “Account of a remarkable fight betwixt a sailor and a large Shark,” “A description of the wonderful Man Fish, with a print of the same,” and “A caution to Juries in criminal causes, and the uncertainty of circumstantial evidence shewen in two very remarkable causes.” The “useful Table” included “Distances of the most remarkable Towns on the Continent, with the intermediate Miles,” “A Compendium Table of Interest,” and a “Table of the value of Sterling Money, at Halifax, Nova-Scotia, the different parts of New-England, New-York and Philadelphia.” Among the “usual Calculations,” Fleeming listed “Sun’s rising and setting,” “Full and changes of the Moon,” and the “Time of High Water at Boston, twice a day.” He also promoted several poems and “A few good Husbandry Lessons.”
Fleeming faced competition from other printers. Immediately above his advertisement, a consortium of Boston printers placed their own notice for “The NORTH-AMERICAN’S ALMANACK: Being, the GENTLEMENS and LADIES DIARY For the Year of Christian Æra 1772” with calculations by Samuel Stearns. That advertisement, a fraction of the length of the one placed by Fleeming, listed some of its contents, but did not go into as much detail. For consumers who did not already have a strong loyalty to one title over others, Fleeming likely considered his extensive list of the contents of his almanac effective in winning them over and well worth the investment.