January 26

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

Providence Gazette (January 26, 1771).

“THE TRIAL … published by Permission of the Court.”

In January 1771, John Fleeming published an account of the trials of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.  His marketing campaign began in the January 14, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post with a brief notice that he would soon take the book to press.  A week later, he published a much more extensive advertisement in the same newspaper, that one listing the various contents of the book from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” through “the Verdict returned by the Jury.”  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, joined Fleeming in selling copies in Boston.

The account of the trials was soon available in other towns as well.  On January 25, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement informing the public that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  The next day, Benjamin West published a longer advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  Like Fleeming, he listed the names of the “Soldiers in his Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot” tried “for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Grey, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr, on Monday Evening, the 5th of March, 1770.”  West may not, however, have intentionally replicated that portion of Fleeming’s advertisement.  Instead, he incorporated the lengthy title as it appeared on the title page of the book into his advertisement, a common practice when marketing all sorts of books in the eighteenth century.  West did compose unique copy, making appeals that had not previously appeared in other newspaper notices, for his advertisement.  “In this Book may be read,” he explained, “all the Evidence and Arguments on both Sides, which are contained in no less than 217 Pages.”  In addition to the length suggesting that the account was complete, West also promoted its accuracy, commenting on “The Whole being taken in Short-hand, and published by Permission of the Court.”  Fleeming made similar appeals, but he named the transcriber, John Hodgdon, and noted that his copy had been compared “with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”

Fleeming, West, and the Fowles adopted different approaches in their advertisements for an account of the trials for the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, but they all marketed memorabilia about a significant event with implications that reverberated throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic.  They and their potential customers did not know that the Boston Massacre and other events part of the imperial crisis they were experiencing would eventually culminate in the American Revolution.  Today, however, we look at the production and marketing of books and pamphlets about the Boston Massacre and prints depicting it and recognize that the commodification of the American Revolution began years before the first shots at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

December 22

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

Providence Gazette (December 22, 1770).

“On Wednesday next will be Published … Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”

Advertisements for almanacs were ubiquitous in American newspapers in late December during the era of the American Revolution.  They began appearing in late summer or early fall, usually just brief announcements that printers planned to publish and start selling them within the coming weeks.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall and continued as winter officially arrived just before the end of the year.  Printers continued to advertise almanacs in January, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that cut into their revenues.  Advertisements tapered off in February and beyond, though some notices occasionally appeared well into the new year.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both that almanac and the Providence Gazette, were among the promoters of almanacs in the public prints in 1770.  They offered “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity.”  In other words, shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others received discounts for buying by volume, thus allowing them to charge competitive retail prices.

By the first day of winter, West and Carter had already been advertising the New-England Almanack for more than a month.  The advertisement that ran in the December 22 edition of the Providence Gazette likely looked familiar to readers, but the conclusion announced a new product that would soon be available for customers.  Within the next week, Carter planned to publish “Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”  This condensed version of the pamphlet organized the contents on a single broadsheet to hang on a wall in a home or office for easy reference.  West and Carter realized that consumers might have use for an almanac in a different format instead of or, even better, in addition to the standard pamphlet version.  Their decision to publish a sheet almanac presented customers with choices.  Waiting to publish the sheet almanack until just a week before the new year may have been a savvy decision when it came to customers who preferred that format but who already purchased the pamphlet version.  For printers of all sorts, including those who published newspapers, almanacs were an important source of revenue.  For Carter, that made introducing a sheet almanac just a week before the new year worth the risk.

November 10

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

Providence Gazette (November 10, 1770).

“NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771.”

In eighteenth-century America, November was one of the most important months for marketing almanacs. Advertisements began appearing as early as August or September in some newspapers, but those were usually brief notices that printers planned to publish almanacs in the coming weeks or months.  More advertisements appeared with greater frequency in October, November, and December, many of them much more extensive than the earlier notices.  Those advertisements often included lists of the contents to convince prospective buyers that almanacs contained a variety of practical, educational, and entertaining items.  Sometimes they also featured excerpts taken from one of those features.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, ran a lengthy advertisement on November 10, 1770.  It extended more than half a column, much of that space filled with a list of its contents.  Practical entries included “High Water at Providence, and Differences of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent” and “Courts in the New England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method.”  The almanac also contained items intended to educate or entertain or both, such as “select Pieces of Poetry” and “an Essay on ASTROLOGY.”  A few verses appeared near the end of the advertisement, previewing what readers would encounter when they perused the almanac.  The astronomical calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of PROVIDENCE,” but the almanac also included useful information for anyone venturing beyond the city, such as a “Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected, with the most noted Inns prefixed, for the Direction of Travellers.”

West and Carter aimed their advertisement at both consumers and retailers.  They promised “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity” or a discount for buying by volume.  They hoped to supply shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others with almanacs to sell to their own customers, further disseminating them beyond what the author and printer could accomplish by themselves.  The lengthy advertisement in the Providence Gazette also served the interests of those prospective retailers.  They did not need to post their own extensive advertisements to convince buyers of the benefits of acquiring this particular almanac but could instead advise customers that they carried the New England Almanack.  West and Carter already did much of the marketing for retailers gratis.

Readers of the Providence Gazette could expect to see similar advertisements throughout the remainder of November and into December and January before they tapered off in late winter.  Just as falling leaves marked the change of the season in New England, the appearance and length of newspaper advertisements for almanacs also signaled that fall had arrived and winter was on its way.

January 20

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

Jan 20 - 1:20:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 20, 1770).

“WEST’s ALMANACKS … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

In late January 1770, John Carter, publisher of both the Providence Gazette and Benjamin West’s New-England Almanack, continued to advertise the almanac in the newspaper, though he shifted his strategy. He commenced the new year by running the lengthy advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette for many weeks once again in the January 6 edition, but then he did not advertise the almanac the following week. An advertisement appeared once again in the January 20 edition, though much abbreviated. Rather than enticing prospective customers with an extensive description of the almanac’s useful and entertaining contents, the new advertisement simply announced, “WEST’s ALMANACKS, For the present Year … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Perhaps Carter weighed the space occupied in the Providence Gazette by continuing to insert the longer advertisement against how many surplus copies of the almanac remained in stock. As time passed, it became less likely that readers would purchase an almanac for 1770, but they did desire “the freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic,” as the masthead described the news. Carter may have determined that he better served his subscribers and, in turn, his own business interests by designating space in subsequent issues for news items and editorials rather than an advertisement for an almanac with decreasing prospects of being purchased. He continued to promote the almanac in hopes of reducing his inventory, but he did so less intensively.

In the same short advertisement, Carter also noted that he sold West’s “ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS,” another publication previously the subject of more extensive advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette for multiple weeks. He also kept that title before the eyes of readers who might decide to purchase it, but devoted much less space to it.

The same short advertisement ran the following week, in the final issue of the newspaper for the month of January, but in the lower right corner of the final page, the very last item in that issue. Its placement may have been intended to leave an impression on readers who perused the Providence Gazette from start to finish, but it also suggests that Carter inserted the advertisement only after allocating space for news items and advertisements placed and paid for by other colonists. In compiling the contents of those issues of the Providence Gazette, he balanced his responsibilities as editor and publisher of the newspaper and his interests as printer and bookseller, choosing the shorter advertisements for the goods he sold.

February 6

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

Feb 6 - 2:6:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 6, 1768).

“JUST PUBLISHED … THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

Despite the headline, Benjamin West’s “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1768” had not been “JUST PUBLISHED” when the advertisement appeared in the February 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Marketing for the almanac commenced nearly four months earlier with a short notice in the October 17, 1767, issue. That notice briefly announced the almanac was “NOW IN THE PRESS, and speedily will be PUBLISHED.” The same notice ran again the following week before being replaced in the October 31 issue with a much more extensive advertisement. The new version ran exactly as it would appear for the next several months with the exception of the first line. The interim notice stated “On Saturday next will be Published” before being updated to “JUST PUBLISHED” in all subsequent advertisements. The notice in the February 6 issue had been inserted in the Providence Gazette regularly throughout November and December 1767 and January 1768.

Just like leaves changing color on trees, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers marked the arrival of fall, starting with just a few sporadically published in a couple of newspapers yet gradually increasing in number until just about every newspaper printed in the colonies featured advertisements for one or more almanacs by the time winter arrived. The frequency of such advertisements tapered off after the first of January, but they did not disappear immediately. Some printers continued to hawk surplus almanacs well into the new year, even as portions of the contents became obsolete with each passing week. In addition to the daily astronomical calculations, by early February the “neat TYPE of the solar Eclipse that will happen on the 19th of January” had already passed. Printers still attempted to generate as much revenue as possible by selling leftover almanacs to any customers they could attract.

Unlike modern merchandisers, however, they did not experiment with discounts that acknowledged that an almanac for 1768 did not have the same utility in early February that it possessed in late December. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers of the Providence Gazette, did not reduce the prices of their almanacs, at least not in their advertisements. They set a rate of “Two Shillings and Eightpence … per Dozen, or Fourpence single” in the fall and continued to list the same prices in February. Goddard and Carter aggressively marketed the almanac by extensively listing the contents and advertising it every week, but, like their counterparts throughout the colonies, they overlooked an opportunity for innovative pricing that later became standard practice when it came to merchandising calendars.

December 6

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

dec-6-1261766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“This Almanack is embellished with the above Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.”

In colonial America, December was the time for marketing and selling almanacs. Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project featured an advertisement for the New-Hampshire Almanack from the New-Hampshire Gazette. Today’s advertisement for the “true and originalNew-England Almanack, printed by Mary Goddard and Company, appeared in the Providence Gazette.

To spruce up their advertisement, Goddard and Company included a “Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.” As the only image that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette (except for the lion and union that always appeared in the masthead), the woodcut certainly distinguished this advertisement from the others. It did more, however, than entice potential customers by merely previewing the almanac’s contents. It also served as a means of distinguishing the almanac printed by Goddard and Company “from an Almanack under the same Title, published at Boston” that did not incorporate the woodcut.

The PRINTERS” devoted nearly half of their advertisement to a dispute with printers in Boston, claiming that a copy of Benjamin West’s calculations and other contents of the New-England Almanack had been “insidiously obtained, and unhappily sold, after the SOLE PROPERTY justly became ours, by a fair and honorable Purchase.” Goddard and Company stated that they possessed exclusive rights to print and distribute this particular almanac. When they read the newspapers from Boston they were dismayed to discover that competitors also printed it and distributed it to booksellers to sell. To their chagrin, they had supported West’s almanac “at our own Risque, ever since it had a Name, and ay a considerable Expence before it had Credit,” yet other printers now undermined their investment.

Potential customers might purchase the edition printed by Goddard and Company because the woodcut of the seasons was an attractive bonus or because the calculations were accurate and the contents “correctly printed.” If this was not enough to convince prospective readers to choose Goddard and Company’s edition over the other, then purchasers were encouraged to think of their choice in terms of justice. Unlike their competitors, Goddard and Company printed their edition “without the Prostitution of Virtue and Honor.” They encouraged potential customers to simultaneously reward them and deprive the Boston printers of their patronage.