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.

July 29

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 29, 1772).

“The Necessity of altering the Day of their weekly Publication.”

It last only two weeks.  On July 15, 1772, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford shifted the publication day of their weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Journal, from Thursdays to Wednesdays.  That meant they circulated the Pennsylvania Journal a day earlier than David Hall and William Sellers distributed the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In a notice on the first page, they explained that “A Great number of our friends, thinking that the publication of two Papers on the same day was rather inconvenient to the public, have solicited us to alter ours from Thursday to Wednesday.”  Whether or not any friends played a role in the decision, the Bradfords aimed to scoop their competitor among both subscribers and advertisers.

They managed to do so for two weeks.  On July 29, Hall and Sellers altered their publication day, inserting a notice in their own newspaper to announce that the “Publishers of the PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, being under the Necessity of altering the Day of their weekly Publication from Thursday to Wednesday, think it their Duty, on the Occasion, to express their grateful Acknowledgments of the public Favour and Encouragement, continued to them for so long a Series of Years past.”  The printers indicated that the Bradfords forced their hand, making it necessary to change “the Day of publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette to Wednesday, that they might have an equal Chance with the Printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, to avail themselves of the Intelligence by the Posts, and the other usual Channels of Conveyance.”  That was the only way for Hall and Sellers to “exert their utmost Abilities to merit [the public’s] Approbation” and serve their readers.

Did this change come to the attention of the Bradfords before Hall and Sellers distributed a new issue on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday?  Perhaps.  On July 22, they moved their notice about shifting the publication day to the third page, interspersing it among other advertisements, but on July 29, the day Hall and Sellers altered the schedule for the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Bradfords moved their notice back to the top of the first column on the first page of the Pennsylvania Journal.  If they had an inkling that the two newspapers once again appeared on the same day, they may have wished to underscore that their new publication day at least meant that they had not lost any ground to their competitor.  A week later, the Bradfords dropped their notice after the public witnessed the other newspaper follow their lead by adjusting the publication schedule.  Hall and Sellers continued publishing their announcement that the Pennsylvania Gazette matched the recent change by the Pennsylvania Journal.

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.

April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 14, 1768).

“Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivaled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in the laws of Great Britain and the true interest of the COLONIES.”

In the April 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette David Hall and William Sellers published an advertisement for a pamphlet containing a popular and widely read set of letters written by John Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator from Pennsylvania. They are titled “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.” According to the introductory notes in the “Online Library of Liberty” compiled by the Liberty Fund, Dickinson penned them under the name of “A Farmer” due to the fact that they were quite controversial. In these letters, he spoke out against the British Parliament and discussed the sovereignty of the thirteen colonies. The “Letters” famously helped unite the colonists against the Townshend Acts. These acts were passed largely in response to the failure of the Stamp Act. Dickinson argues in his letters that the taxes laid upon the people with these laws were for the sole purpose of gaining revenue from the colonies. Parliament was not trying to regulate trade or the market. This meant that they were illegal and should not have been passed. This pamphlet was meant to collect all of the “Letters” to help spread Dickinson’s arguments, showing that there was already growing discontent in the colonies in the late 1760s.



Hall and Sellers did not merely make an announcement that they had “Just published” a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”  Not unlike modern publishers, their marketing efforts included a testimonial that described the significance of the title they offered for sale. Indeed, they devoted nearly half of the space in their advertisement to an endorsement reprinted from the Boston Chronicle.  In so doing, Hall and Sellers advised potential customers that “Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in thelawsof Great-Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.”  Colonists unfamiliar with the “Letters” were encouraged to purchase the pamphlet and read them.  Colonists who had already read them as they appeared in newspapers were encouraged to acquire the pamphlet and continue referring to the wisdom provided by “such an able adviser, and affectionate friend.”

The testimonial from the Boston Chronicle also indicated that the “Letters” “have been printed in every Colony, from Florida to Nova-Scotia.”  For several months in late 1767 and early 1768, printers up and down the Atlantic coast reprinted this series of twelve essays.  For some this meant an essay a week over the course of three months, but others published supplementary issues that sped up publication of the “Letters” as they simultaneously disseminated other news and advertising.  Not all newspapers had finished the project at the time Hall and Sellers published the pamphlet that collected all of the “Letters” together.  The day before their advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Johnston published “LETTER X” in the Georgia Gazette.  Once the pamphlet was ready for sale, printer-booksellers in several colonies began promoting it in their own newspapers.  A network of printers participated in distributing Dickinson’s “Letters” twice, first as editorial content in newspapers and then as pamphlets that conveniently collected the essays into a single volume.  As Zach notes, Dickinson’s reasoned arguments aided in uniting many colonists in opposition to abuses committed by Parliament, but the dissemination of his work depended on the active involvement of colonial printers.