What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Just PUBLISHED … The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”
In advance of having copies of the “The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773” available for sale, John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, inserted an announcement among the local news to inform prospective customers that the almanac “is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.” The following week, he once again exercised his power as printer to give an advertisement for the almanac a privileged place in the newspaper. It ran first among the advertisements in the October 31, 1772, edition. Even if readers did not peruse all of the advertisements, they likely noticed the one about the almanac that immediately followed the news. In subsequent issues, Carter placed the advertisement among the paid notices, but the first time it appeared it occupied a prime place on the page.
Prospective customers would have been familiar with the New-England Almanack, written by West. The astronomer and mathematician had a decade of experience authoring the almanac and collaborating with the printers of the Providence Gazette in marketing and selling it. As the newspaper changed hands over the years, the new printers continued publishing both the Providence Gazette and the New-England Almanack, augmenting their revenue by doing so. For the 1773 edition of the almanac, Carter and West declared that it included “Some valuable Improvements” and “is a Quarter Part larger than usual, but the Price is not advanced.” For the same price they paid the previous year, customers could acquire an almanac that contained thirty-two pages rather than twenty-four, certainly a bargain.
In addition to the notice placed “by the Printer hereof, and by the Author,” the New-England Almanack received attention in another advertisement the first week it was available for sale. Thurber and Cahoon ran a lengthy advertisement that listed scores of items available at their shop at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes. They included “WEST’s ALMANACKS” among the books in the final paragraph. That item appeared in all capitals, distinguishing it from the rest of the merchandise mentioned in the advertisement. Did Thurber and Cahoon arrange to have the almanac highlighted in their advertisement in hopes of benefitting from retail sales? Or did Carter make the intervention in their advertisement, recognizing any sales of the almanac as beneficial to his bottom line? Either way, the advertisement suggests that Carter and West quickly distributed the almanac to retailers to increase sales. As soon as it came off the press, consumers could purchase the almanac at several locations in Providence.