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.

**********

[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).

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 28, 1770).

“Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

With a little over a month until the new year arrived, the number of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers increased in late November 1769. Some printers and booksellers published elaborate notices, including a full-page advertisement for the New-England Almanack in the Providence Gazette, but others opted instead for brief notices. Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, chose the second method. The final advertisement in the November 28, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette announced that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

By “Low’s Almanack” Hall meant An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 … Calculated for the Meridian of Boston, in New-England … but May Indifferently Serve Any Part of New-England, written by Nathanael Low, a “Student in Physic.” Hall did not produce the almanac in his printing office. The imprint indicated that it was “Printed and sold by Kneeland & Adams, in Milk-Street” in Boston, yet “Sold also by the printers and booksellers.” Hall served as a local agent and retailer for “Low’s Almanack, for 1770.”

Kneeland and Adams pursued their own advertising campaign, inserting a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 26 to inform prospective customers that the almanac would soon be available. “TO-MORROW will be Published,” they proclaimed, “An ASTRONOMICAL DIARY; Or, ALMANACK … By NATHANIEL LOW.” Their advertisement provided a preview of the contents as a means of enticing consumers to choose this almanac rather than the any of the others published in Boston. It contained the usual astronomical information, such as “Sun and Moon’s rising and setting” and “Moon’s Place,” as well as guides to “Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” and “Courts in the four New-England Governments” and other useful reference information for the region. Other items were calculated to be both “very entertaining and instructive,” such as a “Dialogue between Heraclitus and Democritus, suited as near as possible to the Complexion of the Times” and a “brief Essay on Comets.” Yet Kneeland and Adams promised even more, concluding their list with a promise of “many other Things useful and entertaining” in the almanac.

Hall did not go to nearly the same lengths to promote “Low’s Almanack, for 1770” in his newspaper. Given the networks of exchange among newspaper printers, he would have seen advertisements for other almanacs, even if he did not happen to notice Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement for this particular almanac. In general, advertisements in the Essex Gazette, whether inserted by the printer or placed by others, tended to be streamlined compared to many that appeared in other newspapers. This may have made them easier for readers to navigate, but it limited the amount of information available to consumers.

October 16

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

Oct 16 - 10:16:1769 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 16, 1769).

“Just published … Father ABRAHAM’S ALMANACK.”

It was one of the signs that fall had arrived in the colonies: advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers from New England to Georgia. The appearance of these advertisements had a rhythm as familiar as the changing of the seasons. A small number appeared as early as July or August to announce that particular titles would be published in the coming months. A greater number ran in September and October. By the end of October, some printers informed customers that they had just published almanacs, alerting them to purchase their favorite titles before supplies ran out. In November and December the number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased. As the new year approached, printers devoted significant space to newspaper advertisements about almanacs. This continued into January, though the advertisements tapered off in February and beyond. Some printers continued their attempts to rid themselves of surplus copies that ate into their profits. By the time spring arrived, advertisements for almanacs practically disappeared.

John Dunlap inserted his own advertisement for “Father ABRAHAM’S ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD, 1770” in the October 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Noting that he had “Just published” the almanac, Dunlap made it available to customers two and a half months before the beginning of the new year. His marketing strategy consisted primarily of listing the contents, hoping to entice prospective customers with a combination of practical reference materials and entertaining essays and poems. The almanac included the usual astronomical calculations, such as “the Rising and Setting of the Sun; the Rising, Setting, and Southing of the Moon; … [and] Length of Days.” Other reference material included “Tables of Interest at 6 and 7 per Cent; a Table of the Value, and Weight of Coins,” and a calendar of “Quakers yearly Meetings.” The practical information even extended to medicine: “A Collection of choice and safe Remedies, simple and easily prepared.” Dunlap imagined some of his prospective customers when he suggested that these remedies were “fitted for the Service of Country People” who did not have immediate access to apothecary shops in Philadelphia. The pieces of entertainment included “An Essay on Toleration and the Search after Truth” as well as “The Ant and Caterpillar, a Fable” and “Spring, a Poem.” One item resonated with news reported in the public prints and discussed in town squares: “An Ode on Liberty.”

Dunlap offered little commentary on the contents of the almanac, leaving it to prospective customers to assess the value on their own. Clearly, however, he believed that listing the contents would stimulate demand. Doing so provided a preview while also distinguishing this almanac from the many others printed, published, and sold in Philadelphia. If he had not considered listing the contents an effective means of marketing the almanac, he could have truncated the advertisement to just a few lines merely announcing its availability.

February 1

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

Georgia Gazette (February 1, 1769).

“TOBLER’s ALMANACKS, for 1769.”

Even as February 1769 arrived, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, and Messrs. Clay and Habersham, shopkeepers, continued to advertise “TOBLER’s ALMANACKS” for sale. In so doing, they participated in the final stage of advertising almanacs for the new year, a process that would soon cease for several months until it was time to market new almanacs for 1770.

Although some printers announced their plans to publish almanacs as early as July or August, most usually waited until September to place their initial notifications about the titles they intended to print. The earliest advertisements frequently noted that almanacs would soon be going to press, within weeks or a month. Advertisements that ran in November and December, on the other hand, most often reported that almanacs had been printed and were available to purchase from printers, booksellers, and shopkeepers. Those advertisements continued into January, but tapered off as the weeks passed. Relatively few advertisements for almanacs appeared in newspapers in February and March, though some printers did continue their attempts to rid themselves of surplus copies. As time passed, some of the contents became obsolete. By the time Johnston’s advertisement ran in early February, the astronomic calculations for January were outdated.

That being the case, printers and others who advertised almanacs curiously did not pursue marketing innovations that could have aided in selling remaining copies. Unlike modern calendar merchandisers who slash prices, advertisers who continued to sell almanacs in February and March did not offer discounts. Nor did they promote other contents, such as entertaining essays or useful lists of government officials, in an effort to demonstrate that their almanacs contained plenty of valuable information. Many printers and booksellers deployed such strategies earlier in the year, offering reduced rates to customers who bought in bulk and publishing extensive descriptions of the contents, but they did not choose to replicate those methods in the final stage of advertising leftover copies. For whatever reasons, they unevenly applied the strategies they sometimes used to convince customers to purchase their almanacs.

January 15

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

Boston Chronicle (January 12, 1769).

The sittings of the superior and inferior courts … may be depended on as correct.”

In January 1769, printers and booksellers throughout the colonies advertised almanacs for the new year, attempting to sell excess inventory rather than take a loss on surplus copies. In his efforts to incite demand for a second edition of “BICKERSTAFFs BOSTON ALMANACK,” John Mein emphasized the accuracy of its contents, especially the dates of the “sittings of the superior and inferior courts” in Massachusetts. In so doing, Mein implicitly referenced a dispute between other printers in Boston, William McAlpine on one side and T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Richard Draper on the other. After McAlpine issued Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 in the fall of 1768, a cabal of rival printers published a counterfeit edition of the popular almanac. To add insult to injury, they promoted the pirated copy by running advertisements that claimed “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy” and implied that it contained “above Twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts.”

Mein did not weigh in on that controversy, but as one of the printers of the Boston Chronicle he almost certainly would have been aware of it. With so many competing titles, he took advantage of an opportunity to distinguish the almanac that he printed and sold at his bookstore on King Street. His advertisement in the January 12 edition of the Boston Chronicle did not comment on any of the contents except to declare the accuracy of the court dates. Mein did not highlight any of the entertaining features. He did not promote other useful information included in the almanac. Instead, he assured prospective customers that “The sittings of the superior and inferior courts of this province, inserted in this Almanack, may be depended on as correct; being obtained from a Gentlemen, one of the Clerks of the court.” Mein had done his due diligence in confirming the dates with a reputable source before taking the almanac to press. Furthermore, “The same care has been taken with the courts of the other provinces.” Prospective customers who might have business in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island could depend the accuracy of the dates in Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack.

That Mein issued a second edition testified to the popularity of the almanac, yet he presented readers an additional reason for choosing it over others. Amidst the uncertainty of which edition of Ames’s Almanack contained accurate information, consumers could sidestep the confusion by purchasing Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack instead. Its contents had been carefully compiled after consultation with officials who possessed the most accurate information about when the courts would conduct business in 1769.