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, Almakach 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 did not run the same notice that week, but it did include 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.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:20:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“Prevent the Money’s going out of the Province to the Detriment of every Individual.”

Advertisements for almanacs usually began appearing, sporadically, in colonial newspapers in September, allowing readers plenty of time to acquire their own copy before the new year commenced. As January approached, the variety of titles and the number of advertisements increased. By the end of November, just about every newspaper throughout the colonies included at least one advertisement for almanacs each week. Many printers testified to the accuracy of the calculations in the almanacs they published and sold. Some promoted them by listing an extensive table of contents, informing prospective customers of the entertaining anecdotes and valuable reference material.

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, took a rather unique approach when they marketed “AMES’s Almanack For the Year 1768.” They did acknowledge that “particular Care will be taken to have it correct,” but most of their advertisement focused on the advantages of purchasing their imprint rather than the same title printed in Boston. They first asserted that they provided an important public service that merited reciprocation from readers (not all of whom would have been subscribers) of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The Fowles took on “very great Expence” in publishing the colony’s only newspaper and informing “their Customers [of] every Occurrence Foreign and Domestick, that they thought worthy of public Notice.” They suggested that this should predispose readers to purchase their almanacs rather than any printed by their competitors.

If that were not enough to convince readers, the Fowles made another practical argument, one founded on the collective economic welfare of the colony’s inhabitants. When readers purchased almanacs from printers in Boston, they did so “to the Detriment of every Individual at this scarce Season for Cash.” The Fowles cautioned against “the Money’s going out of the Province” that way, warning that readers could prevent that situation. The printers balanced their civic service in publishing the newspaper with the civic duty of readers to also act on behalf of their community’s shared interests. The Fowles assumed that readers planned to purchase almanacs; they developed marketing aimed to funnel existing demand to their product.

February 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Feb 15 - 2:14:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 14, 1766).

“Ames’s Almanacks for the Present Year, to be Sold by T. Green.”

An almanac is “an annual publication containing a calendar for the coming year, the times of such events and phenomena as anniversaries, sunrises and sunsets, phases of the moon, tides, etc., and other statistical information and related topics.” In today’s society we do not see an almanac in everyone’s back pocket and purse; however back in the 1700s they were a lot more popular.

Here in the New-London Gazette, T. Green is advertising Ames’s Almanack for the “present year” which was 1766. Nathaniel Ames is considered to be the first person to publish an almanac in colonial America. The first annual publishing was done in 1725 and was published in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, until he moved to the South Shore later in his life. Ames’s Almanack was for many yeas considered the greatest with it publishing more then 60,000 copies. That’s quite a large number of copies for a colonial work. He started an industry that would spawn the likes of Poor Richard’s Almanack (Ben Franklin, 1733, Pennsylvania) and Rhode-Island Almanack (James Franklin, 1727, Rhode Island)

Almanacs were a major part of day-to-day life for people during the colonial time. They helped “everyday” people such as farmers, shopkeepers, and black/silversmiths know a little about each day. They would include astrological information, some details of the previous years weather, tide flow charts, copies of poems and stories, and historical essays. They also promoted reading throughout the countryside, and commerce for people such as T. Green. One family could purchase an almanac annually and it would give them access to literary works and a variety of useful information.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth is correct when she notes the ubiquity of almanacs in colonial America. They were cheap print. These small, inexpensive pocket references could be found in households from the grandest to the most humble and were published locally in large numbers from an early date.

This is not the first time that an advertisement for Ames’s Almanack in the New-London Gazette has been featured by the Adverts 250 Project. In fact, it was the second advertisement I selected when this project was still confined to #Adverts250 on Twitter. This earlier advertisement demonstrates how far in advance almanacs were printed. By the end of October, Timothy Green advertised that his imprint of the almanac did not include “Some Errors which passed in the first Boston Impression” and marketed the version of Ames’s Almanack he printed as “preferable to those which are Pedled about in the neighbouring Towns.”

Oct 25 - 10:25:1765 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (October 25, 1765).

Not unlike purchasing calendars in the modern era, it is reasonable to expect that colonial consumers bought almanacs before the first of the year or as shortly thereafter as possible. To gain the full value of a calendar or an almanac requires using it throughout the entire period it covers. I previously featured an advertisement for almanacs placed three weeks into the new year. Elizabeth selected an advertisement for almanacs placed nearly seven weeks into the new year!

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 Connecticut Courant
New-London Gazette (February 14, 1766).

What is happening here? It could be that the advertisement is filler, especially given its brevity, but it is also possible that Green ended up with a surplus and sought to continue to sell as many almanacs as possible to those who had not yet purchased them or desired additional copies. This advertisement could have been both padding that filled the page and the issue and an attempt to recoup his investment in printing Ames’s Almanack. This was the very first advertisement to appear in this issue of the New-London Gazette. Subscribers who read the news would have had to also read this advertisement to register that the advertising section had begun. Even if they did not continue with the other advertisements, at least they would have seen this one. It was the printer’s prerogative to place advertisements for his own goods and services wherever he wished in the issue.