September 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 12, 1771).

“Just Published … POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772.”

It was a familiar sign of the changing seasons when advertisements for almanacs first appeared in colonial newspapers in the fall.  Two such advertisements ran in the September 12, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers of that newspaper, David Hall and William Sellers, hawked “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772,” the popular almanac they published.  Isaac Collins advertised the “BURLINGTON ALMANACK” available at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.

Neither advertisement provided much additional information, the printers likely not considering it necessary at the time.  After all, prospective customers had more than four months to purchase copies before the new year began.  The brief advertisements drew attention to these almanacs before competitors began marketing their own publications.  John Fleeming adopted a similar strategy for “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772” when he placed an advertisement in the August 15, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to announce that the almanac “Will be published in September next.”  As fall progressed, more advertisements for almanacs would appear in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  Each year, printers placed increasing elaborate advertisements in October, November, and December as competition for customers intensified.

For the moment, however, Hall and Sellers simply announced that they “Just publishedPoor Richard’s Almanackat theNew Printing-Office, in Market-street, Philadelphia.”  Collins offered a little more information, stating that his almanac contained “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, a Variety of useful and entertaining Matter, both in Prose and Verse.”  Collins also declared that he sold the Burlington Almanac “Wholesale and Retail,” encouraging booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to acquire copies to retail in their own shops.  Although Hall and Sellers did not mention wholesale transactions, alerting customers that they could add Poor Richard’s Almanack to their inventory may have been one of the primary purposes of publishing the almanac and advertising its availability so early.

Daylight hours diminished in September compared to the summer months.  Temperatures became colder.  Yet the natural world did not offer the only evidence that fall would soon arrive.  Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers began encountering advertisements for almanacs for the coming year, another sure sign that summer was in its final days.

August 15

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 15, 1771).

“Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772, Will be published in September next.”

Even though the middle of August 1771 was early, John Fleeming apparently determined that it was not too early to begin marketing “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772.”  In an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the August 15 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Fleeming announced that the popular almanac “Will be published in September next.”  He did not even have copies ready for sale, but he gave both consumers and retailers advance notice about when the almanac would be available to purchase.  Doing so made sense in the crowded marketplace of Boston’s printers who annually published an array of almanacs and competed for customers.  Fleeming encouraged brand loyalty by letting readers who preferred “Bickerstaff’s Almanack” know that they could soon acquire an edition for the coming year.  He also attempted to incite anticipation among consumers, encouraging them to scan the pages of the public prints for further updates.

Like other printers who advertised the almanacs they published, Fleeming provided a brief overview of the contents.  It would contain “the usual Calculations” as well as “many excellent Receipts, interesting Stories, curious Anecdotes, useful Tables, &c. &c. &c.”  By concluding with the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera (and repeating it), the printer hinted at the variety of informative and entertaining items that would be included.  He may have also intended for that portion of the advertisement to provoke curiosity and anticipation about what might be included among those recipes, stories, anecdotes, and tables.  Printers often revealed those details in longer advertisements, but Fleeming might have also hoped that prospective customers would visit his shop to peruse the almanac to learn more after it went to press.

For the moment, Fleeming’s advertisement stood out for being the earliest and only one for an almanac in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter and other newspapers printed in Boston, but soon enough that would no longer be the case.  With the arrival of fall, more and more advertisements for almanacs would appear, a sign of the changing seasons.  Fleeming was ready to serve loyal readers and prospective customers.

December 22

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

Providence Gazette (December 22, 1770).

“On Wednesday next will be Published … Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”

Advertisements for almanacs were ubiquitous in American newspapers in late December during the era of the American Revolution.  They began appearing in late summer or early fall, usually just brief announcements that printers planned to publish and start selling them within the coming weeks.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall and continued as winter officially arrived just before the end of the year.  Printers continued to advertise almanacs in January, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that cut into their revenues.  Advertisements tapered off in February and beyond, though some notices occasionally appeared well into the new year.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both that almanac and the Providence Gazette, were among the promoters of almanacs in the public prints in 1770.  They offered “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity.”  In other words, shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others received discounts for buying by volume, thus allowing them to charge competitive retail prices.

By the first day of winter, West and Carter had already been advertising the New-England Almanack for more than a month.  The advertisement that ran in the December 22 edition of the Providence Gazette likely looked familiar to readers, but the conclusion announced a new product that would soon be available for customers.  Within the next week, Carter planned to publish “Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”  This condensed version of the pamphlet organized the contents on a single broadsheet to hang on a wall in a home or office for easy reference.  West and Carter realized that consumers might have use for an almanac in a different format instead of or, even better, in addition to the standard pamphlet version.  Their decision to publish a sheet almanac presented customers with choices.  Waiting to publish the sheet almanack until just a week before the new year may have been a savvy decision when it came to customers who preferred that format but who already purchased the pamphlet version.  For printers of all sorts, including those who published newspapers, almanacs were an important source of revenue.  For Carter, that made introducing a sheet almanac just a week before the new year worth the risk.

November 10

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

Providence Gazette (November 10, 1770).

“NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771.”

In eighteenth-century America, November was one of the most important months for marketing almanacs. Advertisements began appearing as early as August or September in some newspapers, but those were usually brief notices that printers planned to publish almanacs in the coming weeks or months.  More advertisements appeared with greater frequency in October, November, and December, many of them much more extensive than the earlier notices.  Those advertisements often included lists of the contents to convince prospective buyers that almanacs contained a variety of practical, educational, and entertaining items.  Sometimes they also featured excerpts taken from one of those features.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, ran a lengthy advertisement on November 10, 1770.  It extended more than half a column, much of that space filled with a list of its contents.  Practical entries included “High Water at Providence, and Differences of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent” and “Courts in the New England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method.”  The almanac also contained items intended to educate or entertain or both, such as “select Pieces of Poetry” and “an Essay on ASTROLOGY.”  A few verses appeared near the end of the advertisement, previewing what readers would encounter when they perused the almanac.  The astronomical calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of PROVIDENCE,” but the almanac also included useful information for anyone venturing beyond the city, such as a “Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected, with the most noted Inns prefixed, for the Direction of Travellers.”

West and Carter aimed their advertisement at both consumers and retailers.  They promised “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity” or a discount for buying by volume.  They hoped to supply shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others with almanacs to sell to their own customers, further disseminating them beyond what the author and printer could accomplish by themselves.  The lengthy advertisement in the Providence Gazette also served the interests of those prospective retailers.  They did not need to post their own extensive advertisements to convince buyers of the benefits of acquiring this particular almanac but could instead advise customers that they carried the New England Almanack.  West and Carter already did much of the marketing for retailers gratis.

Readers of the Providence Gazette could expect to see similar advertisements throughout the remainder of November and into December and January before they tapered off in late winter.  Just as falling leaves marked the change of the season in New England, the appearance and length of newspaper advertisements for almanacs also signaled that fall had arrived and winter was on its way.

October 15

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

Hutchin’s Improved:  BEING AN ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1771.”

By the middle of October 1770, advertisements for almanacs for 1771 began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Such notices were a familiar sight to readers of the public prints who encountered them every fall.  Just like the changing of the seasons, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs followed a similar pattern from year to year.  In the late summer and early fall printers first announced that they would soon publish almanacs for the coming year.  Those were usually short notices that listed little more than the titles that would soon become available.  As fall continues, the number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased, as did the length of advertisements for particular titles.  This continued into the new year before the advertisements tapered off in late January and early February.

Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for Hutchin’s Improved Almanack in the October 15, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was one of the first of the lengthy notices in the fall of 1770.  It extended more than half a column, making it the longest advertisement in that issue.  In promoting the almanac, Gaine proclaimed that the “usual Astronomical Calculations” had been “laid down with as great Accuracy as in any Almanack in America.”  In addition, Hutchin’s Improved Almanack contained a variety of other useful items, including a calendar of “Court Terms,” a guide to “Post Roads and Stages through every Settled Part of the Continent,” and instructions for remedies “to preserve Health” and “to cure Disorders incident to the Human Body.”  Gaine devoted most of the advertisement to short descriptions of twenty “select Pieces, instructing and entertaining” that ranged from “Moral Reflections” to “Historical Remarks” to “entertaining Anecdotes, Similies, Aphorisms, [and] Epitaphs.”  Among the “Moral Reflections,” readers would find “Rules for preserving HEALTH in eating and drinking.”  Gaine opined that “An Observance of these Rules will bring us to Temperance.”  The “Historical Remarks” included “An Extract from Mr. Anderson’s History of the Rise and Progress of Commerce,” while the “entertaining Anecdotes” featured “A diverting Tale” of “The Sausage Maker raised to a Prime Minister” and “the Pastor and his Flock; a droll, but True Story.”

Almanacs accounted for a significant portion of popular print culture in eighteenth-century America.  Consumers from the most humble households to the most grand acquired almanacs each year.  Printers competed with each other for their share of the market, aggressively advertising their titles in newspapers.  In doing so, they sought to distinguish their almanacs from others and convince prospective customers that their version included the most extensive, most useful, and most entertaining contents.

September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1771.”

With the arrival of fall in 1770 came the season for advertising almanacs for 1771.  A few advertisements for almanacs appeared in various newspapers during the summer months, but they had not yet become regular features.  In late September, those advertisements began appearing in greater numbers.  Newspaper readers would have been accustomed to the seasonal pattern, expecting to encounter more and more advertisements for almanacs in October, November, and December and then a gradual tapering off in the new year as printers attempted to rid themselves of surplus stock before the contents became obsolete.  Almanacs were big business for printers, both those who published newspapers and those who did not.  These inexpensive pamphlets found their way into households from the most grand to the most humble.  Readers could select among a variety of titles, likely choosing favorites and developing customer loyalty over the years.

The compositor of the Pennsylvania Gazette conveniently placed four advertisements for six almanacs together in the September 20, 1770, edition.  The first announced that Hall and Sellers had just published the popular Poor Richard’s Almanack as well as the Pocket Almanack.  That advertisement, the longest of the four, appeared first, not coincidentally considering that Hall and Sellers printed the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers accepted advertisements from competitors, but that did not prevent them from giving their own advertisement a privileged place.  In the other three advertisements, local printers hawked other almanacs.  John Dunlap published and sold Father Abraham’s Almanack.  From Joseph Crukshank, readers could acquire Poor Will’s Almanack.  William Evitt supplied both the Universal Almanack and Poor Robin’s Almanack.  Hall and Sellers took advantage of their ability to insert advertisements gratis in their own newspaper by composing a notice twice the length of the others.  They listed far more of the contents as a means of inciting demand among prospective customers.

This was the first concentration of advertisements for almanacs in the fall of 1770, but others would soon follow in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  If the advertising campaigns launched in previous years were any indication, readers could expect to see even more elaborate notices than the one published by Hall and Sellers as well as many others that simply made short announcements that almanacs were available from printers and booksellers.  Such advertisements were a sign of the season in eighteenth-century America.

January 28

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

Jan 28 1770 - 1:25:1770 New-York JournalFREEMAN’s NEW-YORK ALMANACK, For the Year 1770.”

In the final week of January 1770, John Holt continued in his efforts to rid himself of surplus copies of Freeman’s New-York Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1770. He did so much more vigorously than other printers who reduced the length and size of their advertisements significantly as January came to an end, perhaps an indication that Holt seriously miscalculated demand for Freeman’s New-York Almanack, printed far too many, and now had an excessive quantity on hand.

Three advertisements for the almanac appeared on the final page of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal, Holt’s newspaper. He exercised his privilege as the printer to insert and arrange advertisements as he saw fit. The first of those notices was not at first glance an advertisement for the almanac. Instead, it appeared to be a public interest piece about “raising and preparing FINE FLAX” and the advantages of “farmers in North America” doing so. A separate paragraph at the end, just two lines preceded by a manicule, informed readers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” That note appeared immediately above the most extensive of Holt’s advertisements for the almanac. He had previously run the notices about “FINE FLAX” and the almanac separately, sometimes even on different pages, and left it to readers to discover the synergy for themselves. A month into the new year, however, he no longer left it to prospective customers to make the connection on their own.

To further increase the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of the almanac, Holt placed a third advertisement next to the second one. Even if readers perused a page comprised almost entirely of advertisements so quickly that they did not notice how the “FINE FLAX” advertisement introduced an advertisement listing the contents of the almanac, it would have been difficult to skim all three columns without taking note of Freeman’s New-York Almanack.

Holt’s advertisements for the almanac accounted for a significant portion of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal. Even taking into account the two-page supplement distributed with it, the entire issue consisted of only eighteen columns. The three advertisements for the almanac filled more than an entire column, displacing news items and editorials that Holt could have published instead. He apparently calculated that he included sufficient news between the standard issue and the supplement to satisfy subscribers, thus allowing him to aggressively advertise the almanac.

December 26

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

Dec 26 - 12:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 26, 1769).

“Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770.”

During the final week of 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, continued to advertise that he sold several different almanacs for the coming year. The final issue of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs, a longer one for “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770: Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM” and a shorter one for two other almanacs. That one announced “Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Hall had been advertising An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 by Nathanael Low for a month, but had not previously advertised the popular Astronomical Diary: or Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1770 by Nathaniel Ames. John Kneeland and Seth Adams in Boston printed Low’s Almanack, but Hall may have acquired Ames’s Almanack from any of several different printers. Thomas Green and Samuel Green in New Haven issued an edition, as did Timothy Green in New London and Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson in Hartford. Beyond Connecticut, Daniel and Robert Fowle printed their own edition of the popular almanac in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Several printers and booksellers in Boston collaborated in printing and advertising an edition there. Hall most likely carried either the Boston or the Portsmouth edition of Ames’s Almanack. Like Low’s Almanack, it received little fanfare in the advertisement in the Essex Gazette. Although Hall made an additional option available to his customers just in time for the new year, he continued to focus his marketing efforts on Philo’s Essex Almanack, which had been “Just published and to be Sold” by Hall himself according to the lengthy advertisement he inserted in the Essex Gazette for several weeks. He struck a careful balance between offering several choices to customers, including the popular Ames’s Almanack and Low’s Almanack, and attempting to funnel interest toward his own venture, the new and less familiar Philo’s Essex Almanack.

December 12

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

Dec 12 - 12:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 12, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack … Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, also published “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.” Just days before it went to press, he inserted a notice in the Essex Gazette to inform readers of the almanac’s impending publication. A week later, he ran another advertisement that proclaimed he had “Just published” the almanac and now sold it “Wholesale and Retail.” That advertisement demonstrated an evolution in Hall’s marketing efforts.

The first advertisement filled a “square,” the unit some eighteenth-century newspaper printers used to describe the amount of space with length approximately matching column width. It provided a brief overview of the contents of the almanac to entice prospective customers.   Upon publication, Hall dramatically increased the size of the advertisement to include a much more extensive list of the almanac’s contents. He previously promised that in addition to the “usual astronomical Calculations” the almanac contained “Thirty Pieces” for reference and entertainment, offering general categories for the various items (“religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial, satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical”). The new advertisement did not list any of those categories; instead, Hall named almost all of the “Thirty Pieces” that accompanied the astronomical calculations. Those who purchased the Philo’s Essex Almanack would be amused or instructed by “The Sausage-Maker raised to be a Prime Minister,” “Rules for preserving Health in Eating and Drinking,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Husband,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Wife,” and “Some Lines written extempore on the Sea-Shore, by a Lady.” Despite the length of the advertisement, Hall did not have sufficient space to include all the contents of the almanac. He concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that customers would discover even more when they acquired their own copies of Philo’s Essex Almanack.

This was the first time Hall published an almanac “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.” Although he printed and advertised it fairly late compared to counterparts who had more experience publishing almanacs in other towns, he did adopt some of the standard marketing practices for almanacs in eighteenth-century America. He promoted Philo’s Essex Almanack with a preview before going to press and later published an extensive list of its contents when the almanac was available for sale. Hall did not publish an almanac the following year, suggesting that sales of “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” were not successful enough to merit investing time, labor, and other resources in the enterprise a second time. Although his advertising matched others in terms of copy, the timing may have played a role in hampering sales. Residents of Salem were accustomed to obtaining almanacs printed in Boston and Portsmouth. Some may have acquired their favorite titles before Hall even advertised that he planned to publish an almanac in Essex. The same advertising campaign launched a month or more earlier may have had different results.

December 5

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

Dec 5 - 12:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 5, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.”

The December 5, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs. A brief notice announcing that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof” ran once again on the final page. A more extensive notice about “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” appeared on the third page. It stated that the almanac would be published on the following Friday and sold by Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette. The advertisement also offered an overview of the almanac’s contents: “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, about Thirty Pieces, religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical,— interspersed with a Variety of instructive Sentences, excellent Cautions, and profitable Sayings.” In previewing the contents, Hall deployed a common marketing strategy intended to incite interest in almanacs. Printers, authors, booksellers, and other retailers did so in hopes of distinguishing their almanacs from the many others available in the colonial marketplace.

In Massachusetts alone, colonists could chose from among at least eight different almanacs for 1770 published by local printers, according to Milton Drake’s bibliography of early American almanacs.[1] (Reprints and variant titles brought the total to ten.) With the exception of Philo’s Essex Almanack printed in Salem by Samuel Hall, all were printed in Boston. Hall also printed the Essex Gazette, the colony’s only newspaper not published in Boston. This may help to explain the different treatment Philo’s Essex Almanack and Low’s Astronomical Diary, or Almanack for 1770 received in the advertisements in the Essex Gazette. When it came to selling the latter, Hall served as a retailer and local agent for Kneeland and Adams. He likely had less interest in giving over space in his newspaper to promoting that almanac, especially when he had his own publication soon to come off the press. He exercised his prerogative as printer to give the advertisement for his own almanac a privileged place in the Essex Gazette, placing it immediately after the shipping news from the customs house in the December 5 edition. It was thus the first advertisement of any sort that readers encountered if they began on the first page and skimmed through the contents in order.

Like most of the other advertisements that ran in the Essex Gazette, this one was relatively streamlined compared to some that appeared in other newspapers. The title page of Philo’s Essex Almanack indicated that it had been “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM, in NEW-ENGLAND, Lat. 42 D. 35 M. North,” making it the only almanac specific to that location … yet Hall did not acknowledge this in his advertisement as a means of capturing the local market.[2] Hall intended to sell the almanac “wholesale and Retail,” according to the advertisement, but he listed the prices on the title page rather than in the newspaper. While he certainly put more effort into marketing his own almanac over others, Hall still neglected to adopt strategies that other printers, authors, and booksellers sometimes included in their advertisements. Given that many other almanacs were well established in a crowded marketplace, this may help to explain why Philo’s Essex Almanack did not appear in a new edition the following year.

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[1] Milton Drake, Almanacs of the United States (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962), 306-307.

[2] Philo’s Essex Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1770 (Salem, Massachusetts: Samuel Hall, 1769).