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.

December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.

December 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 23, 1771).

Give him the Preference of buying his Ames’s Genuine Almanack before any PIRATED Edition.”

Ezekiel Russell claimed that he published “The Original Copy of Ames’s Almanack, For the Year 1772.”  On December 9, 1771, he announced that he would print the almanac the following week, as well as disseminate new advertisements that included the “Particulars of the above curious Almanack with the Places where the Original are sold.”  True to his word, he placed much more extensive advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on December 16 and 23.  Those notices included an overview of the contents, such as “Eclipses” and “Courts in the Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island,” as well as a list of nearly twenty printers and booksellers who carried copies, many of them in Boston, but others in Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth.

Russell also took an opportunity to air a grievance with other printers in hopes of convincing consumers to purchase his edition of Ames’s Almanack.  He asserted that he “purchased of Doctor AMES, at a great Expence, the true Original Copy of his Almanack.”  That being the case, he hoped that “the Publick, with their usual Impartiality,” would buy “hisAmes’s Genuine Almanack before any PIRATED Edition.”  Furthermore, he accused “some of his Elder Typographical Brethren,” other printers in Boston, of attempting to “prejudice the Interest of a YOUNGER BROTHER.”  In other words, Russell declared that his competitors, men with much greater experience as printers, unfairly attempted to sabotage his endeavor and ruin his business.  It was not the first time that residents of Boston witnessed disputes over which printers published the “Original” or the most accurate version of Ames’s Almanack.  In a crowded marketplace, several printers aimed to profit from the popular title.  Russell sought to convince consumers that the character of the printer mattered as much as the contents of the almanac.  At the very least, he wanted those who purchased copies of Ames’s Almanack to make informed decisions about what kind of behavior they were willing to tolerate from printers who produced and sold the almanac.

December 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 9, 1771).

“Subscriptions for the CENSOR, a New Political Paper.”

In a crowded market for selling almanacs, Ezekiel Russell advertised “The Original Copy of Ames’s Almanack, For the Year 1772” in the December 9, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Russell claimed that only he printed that version of the popular almanac and announced that he would publish it, along with “Three Elegant Plates,” at his printing office on Marlborough Street the following week.  In addition, he advised prospective customers to look for an updated advertisement that included the “Particulars of the above curious Almanack with the Places where the Original are Sold.”

Although Russell opted not to include that information in his current advertisement, he did devote space to promoting another publication that he recently launched on November 23.  “Subscriptions for the CENSOR, a New Political Paper, published every Saturday,” he declared, “are taken in at said Office.”  According to newspaper historian and bibliographer Clarence Brigham, The Censor was more of a magazine than a newspaper, though the advertising supplements that sometimes accompanied it resembled those distributed with newspapers.

Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy at the time Russell published The Censor, declared that “those who were in the interest of the British government” supported The Censor “during the short period of its existence” in his History of Printing in America (1810).[1]  Thomas credited his own newspaper with inspiring The Censor.  “A dissertation in the Massachusetts Spy, under the signature of Mucius Scaevola,” he explained, “probably occasioned the attempt to establish this paper.”  The piece “attached Governor Hutchinson with a boldness and severity before unknown in the political disputes of this country.”  In turn, it “excited great warmth among those who supported the measures of the British administration, and they immediately commenced the publication of the Censor; in which the governor and the British administration were defended.”

Thomas, one of the most ardent patriots among Boston’s printers, had little use for The Censor.  Neither did most other residents of the city.  According to Thomas, “the circulation of the paper was confined to a few of their own party.  As the Censor languished, its printer made an effort to convert it into a newspaper; and, with this view, some of its last numbers were accompanied with a separate half sheet, containing a few articles of news and some advertisements.”  In the end, Russell discontinued The Censor “before the revolution of a year from its first publication.”[2]  The last known issue bears the date May 2, 1772.  Despite Russell’s attempts to attract subscribers, he did not manage to establish a market for a publication, whether magazine or newspaper or amalgamation of the two, that defended the governor and British policies.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers, ed. Marcus McCorison (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 153.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 284-285.

November 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 19, 1770).

“Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days.”

Was it news or advertising or both?  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, noted that “Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days” in the November 19, 1770, edition.  This note was one of several items collected together as news from Boston.  The various items from the city amounted to more than a column, but a short section included brief reports about local deaths, ships in port, and Ames’s almanac.  The Fleets informed readers of the death of Elizabeth Langdon, widow of Deacon Josiah Langdon, and advised that the funeral and procession would take place the next day “if the Weather be fair.”  The printers also made note of the death of Mary Collson, the wife of leather dresser Adam Collson and daughter of Solomon Kneeland.  They reported that the “Glasgow Man of War arrived her from the same Place” and the “Mermaid Man of War was to Winter at Halifax.”  The Fleets concluded this list of brief updates with the note about Ames’s almanac, adorning it with a manicule to enhance its visibility.

That was the end of the news in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Paid notices comprised the remainder of the contents.  The Fleets did not present the notice about the almanac as a freestanding advertisement, but they did treat is as a transition from news items they selected for publication and advertisements submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, auctioneers, and others.  The strategic placement may have allowed them to capture the attention of readers who perused the issue for news without intending to examine the advertisements, position it as a final news items before the advertisements commenced.  This served their own interests as entrepreneurs.  Several variations of the popular Ames’s Astronomical Diary or Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1771 hit the market in the fall of 1770, but this was probably the version with an imprint that stated it was “Printed and Sold by the Printers and Booksellers” of Boston.  Within the next several weeks, Richard Draper would advertise it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Edes and Gill would advertise it in the Boston-Gazette, and the Fleets would advertise it in the Boston-Evening Post.  At that time, the Fleets devised a freestanding advertisement that ran among other advertisements rather than placing a notice within or adjacent to the news.

In advance of the almanac’s publication, the Fleets alerted prospective customers that an edition of Ames’s almanac would soon be available for sale at their printing office.  They used their access to the press to craft an announcement that appeared to be news even as it promoted a product that the printers had an interest in supplying to the public.  The placement of the notice as a transition between news and advertising was strategic.

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.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 12, 1769).

“BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKS sold at the Printing-Office.”

Three advertisements placed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette rounded out the final page of the May 12, 1769, edition. Each appeared at the bottom of a column, immediately above the colophon that listed Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in Portsmouth as the printers. Each notice testified to a different aspect of the printing business.

The notice in the first column warned that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printers, for News-Papers, &c. are NOW desired to make payment, if ever they design it, and would avoid unnecessary Trouble and Expence.” Colonial printers frequently inserted such appeals into their newspapers, but the Fowles did so more regularly than most others in the 1760s. Some printers incorporated their calls to settle accounts into annual messages that commemorated the completion of one year of publication and the beginning of another. Such messages to subscribers and other readers often outlined improvements to be made in the coming year, but also earnestly requested that customers pay their debts. The Fowles used some of the most creative and colorful language, once even threatening to publish the names of any who did not settle accounts within a short time, though they never followed through on that strategy for public shaming.

The advertisement in the second column informed readers that “BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKs [are] sold at the Printing-Office.” Operating the newspaper was not the extent of how the Fowles earned their livelihood. They also sold books, some that they had printed but most imported from Britain. In addition, they did job printing and produced “BLANKS of all Kinds,” better known to day as printed forms. Colonists used these blanks for a variety of commercial and legal transactions, relying on the standardized language. A similar advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette provided a list of the various sorts of blanks available at the local printing office: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, indico certificates.” Some, such as the indigo certificates, were specific to local usage, but most were used throughout the colonies.   Like advertisements, blanks supplied an important revenue stream for printers.

Finally, the third column concluded with an advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack, for 1769, to be Sold at the Printing Office, in Portsmouth.” This was incredibly late for an advertisement for an almanac to appear; some of the contents certainly remained useful for the remainder of the year, but more than one-third of 1769 had already elapsed. By and large, printers, booksellers, and others had ceased advertising almanacs for quite some time. The appearance of this notice indicates that the Fowles still had surplus almanacs in stock. They hoped for some sort of return on their investment if they could sell any of them at that point. Its position as the last item in the May 12 issue, with the exception of the colophon, tells another story. The Fowles needed to fill the space to complete the column and the issue. This advertisement may have been just as valuable for that purpose as for any sales that resulted from it.

Indeed, the placement of all three advertisements from the printers suggests that they served dual purposes. Each tended to some aspect of operations at the printing office in Portsmouth while simultaneously completing a column and contributing to the tidy appearance of the final page of the May 12 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

December 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 23, 1768).

Ames’s Almanack, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST, 1769.”

Among the many options available to colonists in New England, An Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769 by Nathaniel Ames was quite popular. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised several almanacs in the December 23, 1768, edition. One advertisement briefly announced “WEST’s ALMANACK, for 1769, containing many useful Things, sold by the Printers hereof. ALSO, BICKERSTAFF’s famous Boston Almanac, for 1769.” A much longer advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack,” however, listed many of the contents, including “Courts in Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” and “Public Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at.”

The position of the advertisements on the page also differentiated them. The advertisement for Ames’s Almanack was the first item in the first column of the final page, but the shorter notice for West’s Almanack and Bickerstaff’s Almanack was the last item inserted in the final column. If a reader held aloft that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette while perusing the contents of the center pages, the advertisement for Ames’s Almanack would have been the first item observers noticed on the other side of the page. The advertisement for the other two almanacs, in contrast, did not have the same privileged place. Appearing last, it may have been filler that rounded out the last column on the final page.

The Fowles also commented on the volume of Ames’s Almanack that they anticipated selling to readers and retailers. They offered that title “by the Groce, Dozen or Single,” but did not indicate that they sold West’s Almanack or Bickerstaff’s Almanack in large quantities. If advertisements in other newspapers published the same day are any indication, there was indeed a vast market for the 1769 edition of Ames’s Almanack in New England. An advertisement in the New-London Gazette simply announced, “Ames’s Almanack, TO BE SOLD, At the Printing-Office.” An equally sparse advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy stated, “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1769, To be sold at the Printing-Office in N. Haven.” William Carter and Company’s advertisement immediately above concluded with a nota bene that informed prospective customers that “A few of AMES’s Almanacks, for 1769, to be sold at said Store.” Carter and Company apparently purchased by the gross or dozen from a printer or bookseller in order to integrate this popular almanac into their inventory of imported goods, rum, sugar, and beaver hats. The Fowles sold legitimate copies printed by William McAlpine in Boston, but the others may have peddled pirated copies produced by a cabal of rival printers who wished to claim a share of the market.

As the new year approached, printers, booksellers, and retailers promoted various almanacs to prospective customers in late December 1768. Among the many choices, Ames’s Almanack was especially popular among readers throughout New England, so much so that it appeared in advertisements printed in multiple newspapers published in several colonies. The details provided in some of those advertisements sometimes eclipsed the amount of information in notices for other almanacs. Its popularity may have resulted in more extensive advertising. In turn, that more extensive advertising likely further augmented demand for the popular almanac.

December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 2, 1768).

“AMES’s Almanack will be publish’d in a few Days.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, frequently inserted advertisements for books, pamphlets, stationery, and other items they sold. In the December 2, 1768, edition, they ran a short notice to encourage readers to purchase almanacs: “JUST PUBLISHED, And to be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Portsmouth; Bickerstaff’s & West’s Almanacks for the Year 1769.” Like other printers and booksellers, they offered several titles, realizing that customers developed loyalties for their favorites.

In addition to listing the two almanacs they already stocked, the Fowles concluded with a nota bene about another that would soon be available: “N.B. AMES’s Almanack will be publish’d in a few Days.” They did not provide any additional information about this almanac. Readers who also perused any of the newspapers from Boston that week may have known about an altercation among printers who sold Ames’s almanac. William McAlpine published legitimate copies, but Richard Draper, Edes and Gill, and T. and J. Fleet collaborated to print, market, and sell a pirated edition. Their marketing efforts included inserting notices in the newspapers they published – the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Evening-Post, respectively – that had the appearance of news items warning consumers against purchasing a “counterfeit Ames’s ALMANACK” that contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts” and bore William McAlpine’s name in the imprint.

What about the almanac advertised and sold by the Fowles? According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, the Fowles sold copies that bore these imprints: “Printed for, and sold by, D. and R. Fowle, at Portsmouth, New-Hampshire” and “Printed by William M‘Alpine, for D. and R. Fowle, at Portsmouth.” Both were typographically identical with those having an imprint stating “Printed and sold by William M‘Alpine.” The Fowles had not launched their own pirated edition to compete with the printers in Boston, nor had they joined the cabal that printed and distributed the actual counterfeit. Instead, they cooperated with McAlpine to distribute legitimate editions in their own market.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1768 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (November 28, 1768).

“Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.”

As November came to an end and a new year drew even closer, printers and booksellers in Boston and throughout the colonies placed advertisements for almanacs for the year 1769. Almanacs were big business for eighteenth-century printers. From the most humble to the most elite households, customers of assorted backgrounds purchased these slender and inexpensive volumes, creating a broad market. As a result, printers and booksellers considered almanacs an important revenue stream, one that justified extensive advertising.

Compared to many other advertisements for almanacs, William McAlpine’s notice in the November 28, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle was short and simple. In its entirety, it announced, “Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.” Other printers and booksellers sold other titles by other authors, but some also sold “Ames’s Almanack.” Indeed, more than one version of that popular almanac circulated in the fall of 1768.

The same day that McAlpine advertised in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette ran identical notices that warned readers that “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy.” That notice implied that the counterfeit contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts,” making that important reference information included among the contents of many almanacs useless to anyone who purchased the counterfeit. The notice also advised prospective buyers how to recognize the counterfeit: “the Name of William MAlpine” appeared in the imprint at the bottom of the title page. Anyone wishing to acquire “the true genuine correct Ames’s ALMANACKS” needed to “take Notice” of the imprint and select only those “that at the Bottom of the Outside Title, is ‘BOSTON, Printed and sold by the Printers,’ &c. and no particular Name thereto.”

Rather than a public service, this notice was actually an act of sabotage. A cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of McAlpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almakack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 and, adding insult to injury, accused McAlpine of introducing multiple errors into a counterfeit that he printed and distributed. Charles Nichols estimates that printers annually sold 50,000 copies of Ames’s almanac by the time of the Revolution, making it quite tempting for printers to seek their own share of that market. Not coincidentally, the notice warning against McAlpine’s supposed counterfeit ran in newspapers published by printers responsible for the pirated edition. T. & J. Fleet printed the Boston Evening-Post and Edes and Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. Richard Draper, printer of the Boston Weekly News-Letter, operated the third printing office involved in the conspiracy. His newspaper ran the same notice that week, but it also included an advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack for 1769” that bore the imprint “Sold by the Printers and Booksellers in Town, and Traders in the Country.”

Quite simple in appearance, McAlpine’s advertisement for Ames’s almanac provides a window for a much more complicated story of competition, piracy, and sabotage committed by printers in eighteenth-century Boston. The notice about a counterfeit inserted in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette had the appearance of a news item. In each instance it appeared at the end of news content and the start of advertising, blurring the distinction. The marketing strategy deployed by the printers of the pirated edition went far beyond fair dealing.