December 21

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (December 21, 1771).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1772.”

As the first day of winter arrived and the new year approached, John Carter and Benjamin West continued marketing the almanacs that West wrote and Carter printed.  In the December 21, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, they inserted an advertisement that advised prospective customers that they could purchase “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” from either the printer of the author.  The contents included “the usual Astronomical Calculations,” undertaken by West, an astronomer, mathematician, and professor at Rhode Island College (now Brown University), as well as “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining.”  In addition, the printer and the astronomer also sold “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year 1772,” giving consumers a choice of formats.  The pamphlet version was more portable, but the broadsheet better for hanging on a wall for easy reference.

Carter and West had been marketing these products for several months.  On September 21, they advised prospective customers that the New-England Almanack would be published just days later.  To generate demand, especially among retailers, they listed prices that included a discount for purchasing a dozen and an even more significant discount for purchasing at least two dozen.  A little over a month later, they advertised the sheet almanac, once again offering a discount for purchasing a dozen.  For a while, they ran separate advertisements for the two formats, but by the end of the year incorporated parts of each advertisement into a single notice.  Perhaps they determined that they had already achieved any additional visibility garnered from multiple advertisements.  Alternately, Carter, who also printed the Providence Gazette, may have streamlined the advertisements to create more space for paid notices, news, and other items in the newspaper.  After several months of promoting the almanacs, Carter and West may have decided that additional advertisements, even though they proclaimed “JUST PUBLISHED,” operated as reminders for most readers, making multiple or elaborate notices ineffective or unnecessary.  Having worked together on publishing almanacs for several years, they very well may have calibrated their advertising with the same attention that West gave to performing the astronomical calculations.

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