What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“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 published … POOR 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.