November 6

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

Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1771).

“If any wholesale dealers have any of the Universal or Poor Robin’s Almanacks for 1771 on hand … they shall have new ones.”

When it came to publishing and advertising almanacs for 1772, William Evitt was late to the game.  He inserted an advertisement in the November 4, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to inform readers that he had “Just Published … THE UNIVERSAL AMERICAN ALMANACK, OR YEARLY MAGAZINE, For the YEAR of our LORD, 1772” as well as “POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACK for 1772.”  To entice prospective customers, he listed the various contents of each.  In addition, he declared that the “Gentleman and Citizen’s POCKET ALMANACK for 1772, will be published soon.”  He was still in the process of gathering “the many curious and useful lists, tables, &c. &c.”

Evitt offered an apology for his tardiness in taking these almanacs to press and advertising them for sale.  He regretted that “he could not get them published as soon as some others, which was owing to several unexpected disappointments.”  He hoped, however, that since they contained “what is really useful, instructing and entertaining” that it would “make amends for a few weeks delay in publication, which he could not possibly avoid.”

In addition to those apologies, Evitt offered a deal to retailers who took a chance on acquiring these almanacs for resale at such a late date.  After all, many consumers, even those who favored the titles published by Evitt, likely already purchased other almanacs that had been on the market for weeks.  Realizing that retailers did not want to get stuck with surplus inventory that would never sell, the printer instructed “Country store-keepers, and others who purchase these Almanacks from his office” that they could “have them exchanged, in case any should lay on hand till this time twelve-month.”  In other words, Evitt offered a guarantee of sorts to retailers who took a chance on stocking his almanacs even though so much of the season for purchasing them already passed.  If the almanacs did not sell by early November 1772, retailers could exchange them for new almanacs for 1773.

Evitt also informed “wholesale dealers” who had “any of the Universal or Poor Robin’s Almanacks for 1771 on hand” that they could exchange them for “new ones” for 1772.  He retroactively applied the promise he made about almanacs for 1772 to those for 1771 that had not yet sold (and were extremely unlikely to sell with less than two months remaining in the year).  Other printers may have made similar arrangements with “Country store-keepers” and other retailers, but they did not promote such exchanges in their advertisements.  Alternately, Evitt may have improvised that deal out of necessity when “unexpected disappointments” prevented him from making his almanacs available in a busy marketplace at the same time as his competitors.  In general, printers marketed their almanacs to both consumers and retailers.  They depended on the latter purchasing in volume and distributing their product.

October 27

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 24, 1771).

“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.

September 29

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 26, 1771).

Bickerstaff’s Boston ALMANCK, For the Year 1772.”

With the arrival of fall in 1771 newspaper advertisements for almanacs for 1772 became more numerous and more extensive.  Starting in August and continuing into September, printers announced that they would soon publish popular and favorite titles, but by the beginning of October their notices indicated that consumers and retailers could purchase almanacs.  To encourage sales, some printers composed advertisements that previewed the contents of their almanacs.

John Fleeming followed this progression in his marketing efforts.  On August 15, he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform readers that “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772, Will be published in September.”  He declared that it would “contain many excellent Receipts, interesting Stories, curious Anecdotes, [and] useful Tables” in addition to “the usual Calculations.”  On September 26, he placed a much lengthier advertisement, one that extended two-thirds of a column, to announcement that the almanac was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED.”  Fleeming devoted most of the advertisement to the contents, hoping to incite curiosity and interest.

As promised, the almanac included “USEFUL RECEIPTS,” with a headline and separate section that listed many of them.  Buyers gained access to a recipe for “A Cure for the Cramp,” “Dr. Watkins famous Family Medicine,” “An excellent remedy for all Nervous Complaints,” and “A cure for the Scurvy,” among others.  In terms of “interesting Stories [and] curious Anecdotes,” readers would be entertained or edified by an “Account of a remarkable fight betwixt a sailor and a large Shark,” “A description of the wonderful Man Fish, with a print of the same,” and “A caution to Juries in criminal causes, and the uncertainty of circumstantial evidence shewen in two very remarkable causes.”  The “useful Table” included “Distances of the most remarkable Towns on the Continent, with the intermediate Miles,” “A Compendium Table of Interest,” and a “Table of the value of Sterling Money, at Halifax, Nova-Scotia, the different parts of New-England, New-York and Philadelphia.”  Among the “usual Calculations,” Fleeming listed “Sun’s rising and setting,” “Full and changes of the Moon,” and the “Time of High Water at Boston, twice a day.”  He also promoted several poems and “A few good Husbandry Lessons.”

Fleeming faced competition from other printers.  Immediately above his advertisement, a consortium of Boston printers placed their own notice for “The NORTH-AMERICAN’S ALMANACK: Being, the GENTLEMENS and LADIES DIARY For the Year of Christian Æra 1772” with calculations by Samuel Stearns.  That advertisement, a fraction of the length of the one placed by Fleeming, listed some of its contents, but did not go into as much detail.  For consumers who did not already have a strong loyalty to one title over others, Fleeming likely considered his extensive list of the contents of his almanac effective in winning them over and well worth the investment.

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.