November 7

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

Providence Gazette (November 7, 1772).

“Just PUBLISHED … The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

The advertising campaign for the 1773 edition of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY” continued in the November 7, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The author, Benjamin West, and the printer, John Carter, both sold copies, as did Thurber and Cahoon at the Bunch of Grapes on Constitution Street.

Marketing efforts in the public prints began two weeks earlier.  Carter, who also happened to be the printer of the Providence Gazette, included an announcement among the news to inform prospective customers that “WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.”  He nestled it between an update about the Gaspee incident, the burning of a British customs schooner near Warwick, Rhode Island, in June, and shipping news from the customs house.  Exercising his discretion as printer, Carter treated the impending publication of the almanac as news.  The following week, he placed an advertisement for the almanac first among the advertisements, increasing the chances that readers interested only in news would at least glimpse it even if they did not peruse other advertising.

Carter increased the likelihood that readers would see the advertisement when he moved it to the front page on November 7.  It appeared as the first item in the first column, immediately below the masthead.  Readers could not help but notice it.  Carter usually reserved advertising for the final pages of the Providence Gazette.  Except for his own notice about the almanac, he did so again.  All of the other advertisements in that issue ran on the last two pages.

Printing almanacs was often a very lucrative venture for colonial American printers.  Carter sought to generate as much revenue as possible for the New-England Almanack by placing advertisements in prime places in his newspaper.  The imprint on the title page indicated that Carter sold the almanac “wholesale and retail.”  He intended for his message to reach shopkeepers as well as consumers.  His newspaper notices facilitated distribution to retailers in Providence and the surrounding area as well as individual sales.  Thurber and Cahoon already included “WEST’s ALMANACK” in the list of merchandise available at their store.  Carter likely desired that others would acquire copies to sell at their own locations.

October 31

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

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).

“Just PUBLISHED … The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

In advance of having copies of the “The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773” available for sale, John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, inserted an announcement among the local news to inform prospective customers that the almanac “is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.”  The following week, he once again exercised his power as printer to give an advertisement for the almanac a privileged place in the newspaper.  It ran first among the advertisements in the October 31, 1772, edition.  Even if readers did not peruse all of the advertisements, they likely noticed the one about the almanac that immediately followed the news.  In subsequent issues, Carter placed the advertisement among the paid notices, but the first time it appeared it occupied a prime place on the page.

Prospective customers would have been familiar with the New-England Almanack, written by West.  The astronomer and mathematician had a decade of experience authoring the almanac and collaborating with the printers of the Providence Gazette in marketing and selling it.  As the newspaper changed hands over the years, the new printers continued publishing both the Providence Gazette and the New-England Almanack, augmenting their revenue by doing so.  For the 1773 edition of the almanac, Carter and West declared that it included “Some valuable Improvements” and “is a Quarter Part larger than usual, but the Price is not advanced.”  For the same price they paid the previous year, customers could acquire an almanac that contained thirty-two pages rather than twenty-four, certainly a bargain.

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).

In addition to the notice placed “by the Printer hereof, and by the Author,” the New-England Almanack received attention in another advertisement the first week it was available for sale.  Thurber and Cahoon ran a lengthy advertisement that listed scores of items available at their shop at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They included “WEST’s ALMANACKS” among the books in the final paragraph.  That item appeared in all capitals, distinguishing it from the rest of the merchandise mentioned in the advertisement.  Did Thurber and Cahoon arrange to have the almanac highlighted in their advertisement in hopes of benefitting from retail sales?  Or did Carter make the intervention in their advertisement, recognizing any sales of the almanac as beneficial to his bottom line?  Either way, the advertisement suggests that Carter and West quickly distributed the almanac to retailers to increase sales.  As soon as it came off the press, consumers could purchase the almanac at several locations in Providence.

October 24

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

Providence Gazette (October 24, 1772).

“WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press.”

Where advertisements appeared in colonial newspapers varied from publication.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, placing news items on the front and interior pages.  Others placed advertisements on the first and last pages since those were the first pages printed when producing a standard four-page edition.  Advertisements, which often repeated for multiple weeks, could be set in type and printed first, saving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office.  In some instances, printers distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing paid notices in the rightmost column on each page.

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, consistently placed advertising at the end of the newspaper.  Paid notices usually filled the final page, though sometimes news items ran in the upper left corner.  The third page often had advertising that appeared to the right of the news.  In general, Carter printed news and editorials in the first two pages.

That made the placement of an announcement about “WEST’s ALMANACK, for the Year of our Lord 1773, with some valuable Improvements and Additions” all the more noteworthy for its placement in the October 24, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Rather than appearing among the advertisements or even as the first of the advertisements, the notice ran on the third page, immediately below local news from Providence and above shipping news from the customs house, a regular news feature.  The first advertisements in the issue appeared lower in the column.  The notice about the almanac, authored by Benjamin West in an annual collaboration with the printer of the Providence Gazette, declared that it was “now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.”  The notice appeared in larger type than the news above and below it, helping to draw attention to it.

Given his interest in the success of the almanac, Carter treated the notice about its publication as a news item.  In so doing, he exercised his prerogative as the printer of the newspaper to give the notice a privileged place, separate from other advertisements.  The following week, Carter inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that he “Just PUBLISHED” the almanac, placing it first among the advertisement in that issue.  In both his initial effort to incite interest and his subsequent attempt to market the almanac, Carter took advantage of his access to the press to increase the likelihood that consumers saw his notices.

December 21

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

Providence Gazette (December 21, 1771).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1772.”

As the first day of winter arrived and the new year approached, John Carter and Benjamin West continued marketing the almanacs that West wrote and Carter printed.  In the December 21, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, they inserted an advertisement that advised prospective customers that they could purchase “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” from either the printer of the author.  The contents included “the usual Astronomical Calculations,” undertaken by West, an astronomer, mathematician, and professor at Rhode Island College (now Brown University), as well as “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining.”  In addition, the printer and the astronomer also sold “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year 1772,” giving consumers a choice of formats.  The pamphlet version was more portable, but the broadsheet better for hanging on a wall for easy reference.

Carter and West had been marketing these products for several months.  On September 21, they advised prospective customers that the New-England Almanack would be published just days later.  To generate demand, especially among retailers, they listed prices that included a discount for purchasing a dozen and an even more significant discount for purchasing at least two dozen.  A little over a month later, they advertised the sheet almanac, once again offering a discount for purchasing a dozen.  For a while, they ran separate advertisements for the two formats, but by the end of the year incorporated parts of each advertisement into a single notice.  Perhaps they determined that they had already achieved any additional visibility garnered from multiple advertisements.  Alternately, Carter, who also printed the Providence Gazette, may have streamlined the advertisements to create more space for paid notices, news, and other items in the newspaper.  After several months of promoting the almanacs, Carter and West may have decided that additional advertisements, even though they proclaimed “JUST PUBLISHED,” operated as reminders for most readers, making multiple or elaborate notices ineffective or unnecessary.  Having worked together on publishing almanacs for several years, they very well may have calibrated their advertising with the same attention that West gave to performing the astronomical calculations.

November 2

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

Providence Gazette (November 2, 1771).

West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”

In the fall of 1771, Benjamin West, an astronomer and mathematician, and John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, collaborated in producing, marketing, and selling the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”  It was West’s tenth almanac.  Over a decade he worked with a succession of printers of the Providence Gazette, including William Goddard (almanacs for 1763, 1764, and 1765), William Goddard and Sarah Goddard (1766), Sarah Goddard and Company (1767), Sarah Goddard and John Carter (1768), and John Carter (1769, 1770, 1771, and 1772).  West not only provided the “usual Astronomical Calculations” but also assisted in selling copies to both readers and retailers.  Advertisements for the New-England Almanack consistently informed buyers that it was “Sold by the Printer hereof, and by the Author.”

West and Carter also collaborated in developing more than one format to suit the needs of their customers.  In late September, they announced the imminent publication of the standard edition, a pamphlet containing twenty-four pages.  In early November, they marketed an additional product, “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”  Colonists who purchased that broadside as an alternative to the standard edition could post it for easy reference throughout the year.  The broadside cost a little less than the standard edition, four coppers compared to six.  In addition, West and Carter offered discounts for purchasing a quantity.  For the standard edition, buyers paid a lower rate “per single Dozen” and an even lower rate “per Dozen by the Quantity.”  The pricing structure for the broadside edition, however, was less complicated; buyers received a discount “per Dozen” regardless of how many dozens they purchased.

Rather than combine the marketing into a single advertisement, West and Carter promoted the two editions separately.  Doing so may have allowed them to gain greater notice through repetition since the advertisements ran on different pages of the Providence Gazette.  As printer of the newspaper, Carter exercised control over where notices appeared, an advantage not available to other advertisers.  In their efforts to sell the New-England Almanack, West and Carter brought together several strategies, including multiple formats, discounts for retailers and others who bought a quantity, and privileged placement on the page within the newspaper.

September 21

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

Providence Gazette (September 21, 1771).

“Price Three Shillings per single Dozen, Two Shillings and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”

As fall arrived in 1771 advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  On September 21, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement that he would publish “THENEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” by Benjamin West.  For several years West, an astronomer and mathematician, and Carter collaborated on almanacs, the former as author and the latter as printer.  As always, the newest edition included “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining” in addition to “the usual Astronomical Calculations.”

Like others who promoted almanacs, Carter and West offered the New-England Almanack wholesale and retail.  Consumers could purchase single copies for “Six Coppers” or six pence from the author or at the printing office.  Shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others who bought by the dozen, however, received discounts.  Carter and West charged “Three Shillings per single Dozen,” but offered an even better bargain to those who bought in even greater volume.  Those customers paid “TWO SHILLINGS and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”  In other words, a dozen almanacs cost thirty-six pence (or three pence each), but two dozen almanacs cost thirty pence per dozen (or two and a half pence each).

This pricing structure suggests just how much retailers could mark up prices for almanacs.  Those who bought only a dozen still acquired them for half the retail price that Carter and West charged.  Retailers who purchased two dozen or more could double the price they paid to five pence per almanac and still charge less than Carter and West did for single copies.  The printer and author probably did not worry too much about being undersold by retailers who assumed the risk for finding consumers for the almanacs, preferring the revenues guaranteed in bulk sales.  For their part, some readers may have decided to hold off on purchasing new almanacs for their homes, hoping to get better bargains from local shopkeepers and booksellers.

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.

January 6

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

Jan 6 1770 - 1:6:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 6, 1769).

NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … 1770.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in the new year, John Carter continued promoting “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” He once again ran an advertisement that had been continuously appearing in the pages of the Providence Gazette for the past two months. Such was the lot for printers throughout the colonies. Most who published almanacs began each new year with surplus copies that became less useful with each passing week. Many attempted for weeks or even months to rid themselves of those extras rather than have them count against potential profits.

To that end, lengthy advertisements listing the various contents of almanacs served Carter and other printers well. Printers emphasized that these reference volumes contained not just the astronomical calculations for each day but also reference items, informative essays, and entertaining anecdotes that readers could enjoy throughout the year. Carter, for instance, attempted to entice customers with a list of contents that included “Courts in the New-England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method,” “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last,” and “a beautiful Poem on Creation.” Even though the dates would pass for predictions about the weather and calculations for high tide, the other contents of the almanac retained their value and justified purchasing a copy days, weeks, or even months after the first of the year.

Carter’s first advertisement for 1770 included a modification that he made to the notice after it ran for a month. On December 2, 1769, he added a note at the end: “A considerable Allowance is made to those who take a Quantity.” In other words, the printer offered a discount for buying in volume to booksellers, shopkeepers, and others. He continued to offer this bargain in early January. Because such an investment became increasingly risky for retailers with each passing week, it became all the more imperative to underscore the many and varied features of the New-England Almanack. Carter aimed his advertisement at both consumers and retailers, perhaps even more eager to sell to “those who take a Quantity” than to customers who wished to acquire only a single copy.