What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Neatly engraved … The BOSTON MASSACRE.”
In the fall of 1771, Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, advertised an almanac for the coming year. In the October 27 edition of his newspaper, he announced that he published the “Massachusetts CALENDAR; or an ALMANACK, for the year, 1772.” He deployed several strategies to market the almanac to both retailers and readers. Like many printers, he listed the contents as a preview for prospective buyers. In addition to the usual astronomical calculations, this almanac included “Several Select Pieces … On Liberty and Government; Thoughts on Government; On the Culture of Silk,” and other essays. In addition, it contained poetry and useful tables, including one for calculating interest “on a Entire new Construction.”
Thomas also noted the price, including discounts for retailers and others who bought in volume. A single copy cost three shillings, but a dozen only twenty-two shillings and six pence. That meant that anyone who purchased eight copies received four additional copies for free, a pricing scheme that allowed booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to charge competitive prices that still allowed them to generate profits on the sale of the almanac. In addition, Thomas emphasized that he published “The SECOND Edition,” suggesting that this particular almanac was especially popular among the many choices available to consumers. Anyone interested in acquiring copies needed to act quickly.
To further entice customers, Thomas also promoted the “FOUR Plates, neatly engraved” that embellished the almanac. Those images included “The four Seasons, with the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac,” rather standard fare in eighteenth-century almanacs, as well as portraits of “The King of Denmark” and “Mr. Weatherwise,” whose “Prognosticks” appeared among the contents. Thomas considered one image especially significant, a depiction of “The BOSTON MASSACRE, on the evening of the 5th of March 1770.” He listed it first and used capital letters to draw attention to this relief cut from an engraving attributed to Paul Revere. The combination of essays examining “Liberty and Government” and an image of the Boston Massacre made clear that this almanac incorporated a particular political ideology among its contents. This was an almanac for American patriots who remained vigilant throughout the imperial crisis.