What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press.”
Where advertisements appeared in colonial newspapers varied from publication. Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, placing news items on the front and interior pages. Others placed advertisements on the first and last pages since those were the first pages printed when producing a standard four-page edition. Advertisements, which often repeated for multiple weeks, could be set in type and printed first, saving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office. In some instances, printers distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing paid notices in the rightmost column on each page.
John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, consistently placed advertising at the end of the newspaper. Paid notices usually filled the final page, though sometimes news items ran in the upper left corner. The third page often had advertising that appeared to the right of the news. In general, Carter printed news and editorials in the first two pages.
That made the placement of an announcement about “WEST’s ALMANACK, for the Year of our Lord 1773, with some valuable Improvements and Additions” all the more noteworthy for its placement in the October 24, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette. Rather than appearing among the advertisements or even as the first of the advertisements, the notice ran on the third page, immediately below local news from Providence and above shipping news from the customs house, a regular news feature. The first advertisements in the issue appeared lower in the column. The notice about the almanac, authored by Benjamin West in an annual collaboration with the printer of the Providence Gazette, declared that it was “now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.” The notice appeared in larger type than the news above and below it, helping to draw attention to it.
Given his interest in the success of the almanac, Carter treated the notice about its publication as a news item. In so doing, he exercised his prerogative as the printer of the newspaper to give the notice a privileged place, separate from other advertisements. The following week, Carter inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that he “Just PUBLISHED” the almanac, placing it first among the advertisement in that issue. In both his initial effort to incite interest and his subsequent attempt to market the almanac, Carter took advantage of his access to the press to increase the likelihood that consumers saw his notices.