September 15

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 15, 1773).


It was a sign of the changing seasons, the arrival of fall, for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  On September 15, 1773, James Adams published one of the first advertisements for almanacs for 1774.  Soon, many other printers and booksellers would advertise other almanacs in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and other newspapers throughout the colonies.  That would include Hall and Sellers, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, and William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, inserting advertisers for almanacs they published.  The next day, Clementina Rind, printer of the Virginia Gazette, ran an advertisement for the Virginia Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1774, drawing readers into the same annual ritual of marketing, selecting, and purchasing the popular pamphlets.

For readers in Philadelphia and its hinterlands, James Adams advertised two almanacs that came off the presses at his printing office in Wilmington, Delaware.  Both included the kinds of information that made almanacs both entertaining and useful.  The Wilmington Almanack, for instance, contained the usual astronomical observations as well as extracts from The Family Physician, “shewing people what is in their own power both with respect to the prevention and cure of diseases,” an “address to the Ladies, on the present fashions” (conveniently ignoring that men just as eagerly participated in consumer culture), and both “jests” and “wise sayings.”  The reference material included “tables of interest at 6 and 7 per cent,” schedules for courts, fairs, and “Friends yearly meetings,” and descriptions of roads in the region.  Adams also sought to compete with printers in Philadelphia by publishing his own Pennsylvania Town and Country-Man’s Almanack.  Like the Wilmington Almanack, its contents included astronomical observations, schedules for courts, fairs, and Quaker meetings, descriptions of roads, and tables of interest.  For the edification of readers, it also featured “two extraordinary letters, one of them from Sir Walter Rawleigh, to his wife, after his condemnation; the other from James Earl of Marlborough, a little before his death, to his friend” as well as “memoirs of several other great and worthy men” and an essay “concerning casualties and adversities.”  Adams listed Jonathan Zane and William Wilson, both on Second Street in Philadelphia, as local agents who sold the Pennsylvania Town and Country-Man’s Almanack.

Throughout the fall, the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Pennsylvania Journal, and other colonial newspapers would become increasingly crowded with advertisements for almanacs.  As the new year approached, printers and booksellers would offer dozens of titles for consumers to select.  Some printers would also market discounts for purchasing in volume, hoping to enlist shopkeepers in town and country in selling and distributing almanacs.  As much as changes in the weather and fewer hours of daylight, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs signaled the arrival of fall for the reading public.

February 17

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 17, 1773).


Nearly six weeks into the new year, James Humphreys, Jr., commenced advertising a “SECOND PUBLICATION OF THE UNIVERSAL ALMANACK, For the Year 1773” with astronomical calculations “performed with the greatest exactness and truth” by David Rittenhouse.  Humphreys had advertised the first printing of the almanac more than three months earlier with notices in the November 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and the November 11, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Those advertisements featured identical copy, though the compositors devised very different formats.

When Humphreys advertised the second publication in Pennsylvania Gazette on February 17, 1773, he used a slightly truncated version of the original advertisement.  (Perhaps the compositor took advantage of type already set from the previous run of the notice.)  Two days earlier, however, a much shorter version, one without a list of the contents, appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet.  In the next issue, published on February 22, Humphrey’s advertisement once again included the contents of the almanac, doubling the length of the notice.  That represented some expense for Humphreys, though John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, may have given him a discount on advertising since he also sold the almanac.  Unlike the notice that ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette, one that listed only Humphreys, the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet stated that the almanac was “SOLD by JAMES HUMPHREYS junr. at his Printing-office, … and by John Dunlap.”

No matter the particulars of his arrangement with Dunlap, Humphreys took a chance on a second publication of the almanac so far into the year.  Other printers advertised surplus copies of almanacs that had not yet sold, hoping to achieve better returns on their investments for items that became more and more obsolete with each passing day.  Perhaps the initial publication did well enough that Humphreys considered printing a small number for the second publication worth the risk.  Perhaps he believed that the calculations by “that ingenious master of mathematics, Mr. DAVID RITTENHOUSE,” well known in Philadelphia, would recommend the almanac above all others.  In his first round of advertising, he asserted that “it is the only almanac published of his calculating.”  Perhaps Humphreys thought the other contents, a variety of poems, recipes, short essays, and even directions for “guarding against smutty crops of wheat,” were interesting enough to prospective customers that they would want to consult and enjoy them throughout the remainder of the year.  Perhaps he did not produce a second publication at all, but instead claimed he did in an effort to make the almanac appear popular and sell leftover copies of the first publication that he passed off as a subsequent printing.  Advertising a second publication of an almanac so far into the year was unusual, whatever Humphrey’s inspiration in doing so.

November 27

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

New-London Gazette (November 27, 1772).

Just Published, and to be Sold by TIMOTHY GREEN, Freebetter’s New-England ALMANACK.”

The “POETS CORNER,” a regular feature, appeared in the upper left corner of the final page of the New-London Gazetteon November 27, 1772.  Except for the colophon, advertising filled the remainder of the page.  Although some colonial printers interspersed news and advertising throughout their newspapers, Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, tended to segregate advertisements from the news, running articles and editorials on the first several pages and then reserving the remainder for paid notices.  Such was the case in the November 27 edition.  Advertising began in the final column of the third page and filled the rest of the issue, except for the poem and colophon.

That description, however, does not take into account an advertisement for “Freebetter’s New-England ALMANACK, For the Year of Our Lord CHRIST 1773” that ran just below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page.  The news, starting with “An Act for preventing and punishing he stealing of Horses,” followed that advertisement.  Like many other advertisements for almanacs, it promoted a variety of “useful, entertaining, and instructive” contents “beside the usual astronomical Calculations,” including “a Table of the Weight and Value of Coins, as they pass in England, New-England, and New York,” an essay on “the mental and personal Qualifications of a Husband,” and a guide to “an infallible Method to preserve our Health, to secure and improve our Estates, to quiet our Minds, and to advance our Esteem and Reputation.”

Why did that advertisement merit such a privileged place in the newspaper?  It happened to be “Just Published, … and Sold by TIMOTHY GREEN.”  The printer took advantage of his access to the press to give his own advertisement a prime spot that increased the likelihood that prospective customers would see it.  Given that printers exchanged newspapers in order to reprint content for their own subscribers, Green may have seen John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, recently deploy the same strategy to hawk “The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY.”  On the other hand, Green did not need to see that example to take the initiative in placing an advertisement for the almanac he printed on the front page of his newspaper.  Colonial printers frequently gave their own notices priority over news, editorials, and paid advertisements.

October 24

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

Providence Gazette (October 24, 1772).

“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.

September 9

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 9, 1772).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1773.”

When Isaac Collins published the Burlington Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord, 1773, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement in the September 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet may have been the first extensive notice about an almanac for 1773 to appear anywhere in the colonies.  Collins, however, did not long remain the only printer occupying a considerable amount of space in the public prints to promote an almanac for the coming year.  When the same advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Packet two days later, it appeared with a notice for another almanac, a much more familiar title with a significantly longer publication history.

David Hall and William Sellers, printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and successors to Benjamin Franklin, announced that they “Just publishedPOOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1773.” That advertisement followed a brief notice, just three lines, from the previous issue. Like Collins, they deployed a longer advertisement that listed a variety of contents “besides the usual astronomical Observations,” hoping that useful and entertaining material would attract buyers.  Poor Richard’s Almanack included, for instance, schedules for “Friends Yearly Meetings, Courts, [and] Fairs,” an essay on a “Way of preventing Wheat Crops, sowed on dunged Land, from being over-run with Weeds,” “Tables of Interest, at six and seven per Cent,” “An Antidote against mispending Time,” and “Wife Sayings.”

Hall and Sellers exercised their prerogative as printers to place their advertisement for Poor Richard’s Almanack at the top of the center column on the first page of the September 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, making it one of the first items readers encountered.  Collins’s advertisement for the Burlington Almanack appeared immediately below it.  Hall and Sellers could have instead opted to place the notice about the Burlington Almanack among other advertisements on another page rather than giving it such visibility on the first page.  Positioning the two advertisements one after the other, however, allowed for easy comparison.  It also eliminated the possibility that, if separated, prospective customers might notice only the advertisement for the Burlington Almanack and overlook the one for Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Hall and Sellers realized that the Burlington Almanack served a market in New Jersey, but they also knew that the many and varied contents of almanacs had value far beyond their places of publication.  Colonizers in and near Burlington had experience purchasing and consulting Poor Richard’s Almanack and other almanacs published in Philadelphia, especially prior to Collins launching the Burlington Almanack in 1771.  Similarly, some readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, especially those in towns beyond Philadelphia, may have considered the Burlington Almanack just as useful as Poor Richard’s Almanack.  In placing their advertisement for Poor Richard’s Almanack immediately above Collins’s advertisement for the Burlington Almanack, Hall and Sellers increased the chances that consumers were aware of the available options.  Some may have considered the contents complementary, convincing them to purchase both.

September 7

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

Pennsylvania Packet (September 7, 1772).


As they perused the September 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, readers encountered a sign that fall would soon arrive.  Isaac Collins announced that the Burlington Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord, 1773 “IS JUST PUBLISHED, and to be SOLD” at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.  Hoping to entice customers, Collins provided a list of the “entertaining and useful” contents “Besides the usual Astronomical Calculation.”  It was one of the first advertisements for almanacs for 1773 that appeared in colonial newspapers, an early entry in an annual ritual for printers throughout the colonies.

Publishing almanacs generated significant revenues for printers.  Some produced several titles in their printing offices, catering to the preferences and brand loyalty of customers who purchased these handy reference manuals year after year.  Marketing began late in the summer or early in the fall, often with printers declaring their intentions to print almanacs.  In such instances, they encouraged readers to anticipate the publication of their favorite titles and look for additional advertisements alerting them when those almanacs were available to purchase.  Collins dispensed with the waiting period.  He made the Burlington Almanack available immediately, perhaps hoping to attract customers whom he suspected would choose more popular and familiar alternatives when other printers began marketing and printing them. After all, he first published the Burlington Almanack two years earlier, but others had annual editions dating back decades.  Just five days before Collins’s advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Packet, David Hall and William Sellers ran a brief advertisement about the popular “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK for 1773,” just three lines, in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They announced that copies would go on sale the following day.

The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall as printers shared their plans for publishing them and informed customers when they went to press.  Some printers inserted brief notices about popular titles, as Hall and Sellers did.  Other adopted the same strategy as Collins, disseminating lengthy descriptions of the “entertaining and useful matter” between the covers of their almanacs.  Such material became even more important in marketing almanacs after the arrival of the new year.  Printers often had surplus copies that they advertised in the winter and into the spring, the number and frequency tapering off.  The “Astronomical Calculations” became obsolete with each passing week and month, but the essays, poetry, remedies, and other contents retained their value throughout the year.

Collins concluded his advertisement with a note that he “performs Printing in its various branches” and sold a “a variety of Books and Stationary, Drugs and Medicines.”  Publishing almanacs accounted for only one of several revenue streams at his printing office, but an important one.  Especially with effective marketing, printing almanacs could be quite lucrative for colonial printers.

February 7

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1772).

“Ames’s Almanack, for 1772, may be had at the Printing-Office.”

Colonial printers usually began advertising almanacs for the coming year in the fall, first alerting prospective customers of their intentions to take certain popular titles to press and later informing them that they could purchase copies.  Occasionally printers made initial announcements in the summer, but most appeared in colonial newspapers in October and November.  Starting in November, printers proclaimed that they “just published” almanacs and called on consumers to acquire copies of their favorites.  Many also offered discounts to retailers who bought in bulk.  Not surprisingly, the greatest number of advertisements for almanacs ran in newspapers in November and December as the new year approached.  During those months, practically every issue of every newspaper printed in the colonies carried at least one advertisement for almanacs, those published by the printer of that newspaper, and many carried multiple advertisements.  Almanacs generated significant revenues for printers.

Advertising for almanacs continued in January, but tapered off over time.  By February, most advertisements disappeared, though some printers continued to run short notices to attract stragglers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a brief notice in the February 7, 1772, edition.  It announced, “Ames’s Almanack, for1772, may be had at the Printing-Office.”  The Fowles apparently had surplus copies that reduced any profit they earned on the venture.  They exercised their prerogative as printers in making decisions about the format and placement of the advertisement.  Even though it extended only two lines, the words “Ames’s Almanack” featured some of the largest type on the final page of the newspaper.  The Fowles placed the notice at the top of the center column, likely in an attempt to draw even more attention to it.  In contrast, their advertisement for “BLANKS of most Sorts, for respective Counties, sold by the Printers” ran at the very bottom of the final column on the third page, seemingly filler as much as intentional marketing.  The advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack” may have functioned in part as filler as well, but its format and placement suggest that the Fowles made deliberate decisions beyond merely seeking to complete a column or fill a page.

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.