November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 18, 1769).

“Containing, an accurate Ephemeris … Containing likewise, a beautiful Poem …”

In the fall of 1769, John Carter launched his marketing campaign for “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” with a full-page advertisement in the Providence Gazette. He likely posted a broadside around town as well. In subsequent weeks, Carter followed up the full-page advertisement with additional notices in the Providence Gazette; these included all of the same copy, but compressed to fit in a single column. Almanacs generated sufficient revenue for colonial printers to merit allocating considerable space in their newspapers to advertising them.

The contents of almanacs included reference items for information and other items for entertainment. Carter adopted a similar approach in his advertisements, publishing a poem for the enjoyment of prospective customers while also listing the contents of the almanac. Those contents included the usual astronomical data, such as the “Sun, Moon, and Seven Stars Rising and Setting; for every Day on the Year” and “Eclipses of the Luminaries,” as well as the tides. Other useful reference material included dates for the “Courts in the New-England Government,” “Times of the Stage-Coaches and Passage-Boats going and returning,” “a Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected.” Items intended for entertainment included “a beautiful Poem on Creation,” “a List of portentous Eclipses, with the remarkable Events that followed them,” and “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last.” Carter attempted to leverage potential ongoing interest in a recent event to spur sales of the almanac.

When it comes to retailing books, one modern marketing strategy harkens back to a method already in use by Carter and other printers in the eighteenth century. New technologies allow consumers to examine the table of contents online when considering whether to purchase a book, but publishing a table of contents as a means of bolstering interest in a book does not itself qualify as innovative. Modern marketers merely use new technologies to replicate a technique already in use for centuries. Certainly the strategy has been adopted more widely, given that the internet allows retailers more space than their counterparts could purchase in eighteenth-century newspapers, but the basic idea remains the same. Show consumers what a book contains and let the contents aid in selling the book. Carter and printers throughout the colonies regularly used that strategy for almanacs, books, and pamphlets in the eighteenth century.

November 4

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

Nov 4 - 11:4:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 4, 1769).

“To be Sold … by the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.”

John Carter continued to advertise the New-England Almanack for 1770 in the November 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. A week earlier he launched his advertising campaign with a full-page advertisement, but he did not continue to give over as much space in subsequent issues of his newspaper. Instead, he condensed the advertisement, filling approximately three-quarters of a column. This made room for other content, especially paid notices that accounted for an important source of revenue for any newspaper printer.

Although the new version of the advertisement filled less space in the Providence Gazette, Carter still managed to insert almost everything than ran in the original. The new version left out only a note to retailers that had appeared at the end: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” It also featured a slight revision to the list of sellers, which originally stated that the almanac was sold “At SHAKESPEAR’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE, and by the AUTHOR.” The new advertisement made a nod to the popularity of the almanac and the distribution network that Carter devised. Prospective customers could purchase it at the printing office, from the author, of from any of “several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” Otherwise, the text of the advertisement did not change from one version to the next.

The addition of merchants and shopkeepers in Newport reveals two important aspects of early American print culture. First, it speaks to the distribution of the Providence Gazette beyond the city where it was printed. Carter expected that colonists who resided in Newport as well as those who lived closer to Newport than Providence would see the advertisement in the Providence Gazette and then obtain copies of the almanac from retailers in Newport.

Second, this strengthens the case that the original full-page advertisement also doubled as a broadside (or poster) that Carter displayed in his shop and posted around town. Business ledgers from eighteenth-century printing offices include records of apprentices hanging posters. (See, for instance, Robert Aitken’s ledger at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Carter could have had boys from his shop post broadsides around Providence without incurring additional expenses or having to give complicated instructions. Making arrangements to have posters hung in Newport, on the other hand, would have been much more complicated and expensive. Thus the Newport merchants and shopkeepers were absent from the full-page advertisement that probably doubled as a broadside but did appear in a subsequent iteration that occupied less space in the newspaper and did not circulate separately. Carter altered the advertisement slightly, likely out of consideration that the two formats had different methods of distribution to prospective customers.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 28, 1769).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

John Carter wanted prospective customers to know that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, FOR THE Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” and that it was ready for sale “At SHAKESPEARS’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE.” To make certain that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware of this publication, Carter exercised his privilege as printer of the newspaper to devote the entire final page of the October 28, 1769, edition to promoting the New-England Almanack. Full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century American newspapers, but they were quite rare. In the late 1760s, the printers of the Providence Gazette played with this format more than any of their counterparts in other cities and towns. Still, they did not resort to it often.

Appreciating the magnitude of such an advertisement requires considering it in the context of the entire issue. Like most other newspapers of the era, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages printed and distributed once a week. Each issue usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a single broadsheet and then folding it in half. That being the case, Carter gave over a significant portion of the October 28 edition to marketing the New-England Almanack, devoting one-quarter of the contents to the endeavor. By placing it on the final page, the printer also made the advertisement visible to anyone who happened to observe someone reading that issue of the Providence Gazette. Readers who kept the issue closed while perusing the front page put the back page on display. Those who kept the issue open while reading the second and third pages also exhibited the full-page advertisement to anyone who saw them reading the newspaper. Given the size of the advertisement and its placement, prospective customers did not have to read the Providence Gazette to be exposed to Carter’s marketing for the New-England Almanack.

Carter also eliminated the colophon that usually ran at the bottom of the final page. In addition to providing the usual publication information (the name of the printer and the city), the colophon doubled as an advertisement for services provided at Carter’s printing office. Why eliminate it rather than adjust the size of the advertisement for the New-England Almanack? Carter very well likely could have printed the full-page advertisement separately on half sheets that he then distributed and displayed as posters, augmenting his newspaper advertisements with another popular medium for advertising. Broadsides (or posters) were even more ephemeral than newspapers; far fewer have survived. Yet the format of Carter’s full-page advertisement suggests that he had an additional purpose in mind.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:17:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 17, 1768).

“SECOND EDITION … New-England TOWN and COUNTRY Almanack.”

Sarah Goddard and John Carter began advertising the New-England Town and Country Almanack … for the Year of our Lord 1769 in the Providence Gazette in late August 1768, allowing readers a little more than three months to acquire a copy before the new year commenced. Just three weeks later they inserted a substantially revised advertisement to announce that they had “Just PUBLISHED” a “SECOND EDITION.” Either the initial notice had been quite effective and the printers decided they needed to issue a second edition to continue to meet popular demand or they calculated that an advertisement about a second edition would incite demand that had not yet manifested.

In addition to selling the almanac both “Wholesale and Retail” at their printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, Goddard and Carter had several agents who peddled it on their behalf, including “the several Gentlemen Merchants of Providence and Newport, and Mr. SOLOMON SOUTHWICK, Printer in Newport.” Goddard and Carter may have sold enough copies and received indications of the almanac’s success from their agents that they quickly decided to issue a second edition. The original advertisement extended three-quarters of a column and advanced several appeals, including one that addressed the current political and economic climate in Rhode Island in particular and the colonies more generally. The advertisement stressed that both the contents and the paper qualified as “domestic manufactures,” drawing on public discourse about the surplus of imported goods that created a trade imbalance with Britain.

That advertisement may have yielded substantial sales of the almanac, especially if Goddard and Carter had been conservative in the number they printed for the first edition. On the other hand, they may have planned from the start to advertise a second edition shortly after promoting the first edition. Doing so would have made the New-England Town and Country Almanack appear especially popular, prompting prospective customers to obtain their own copies now that they were aware of the approval it had received from other consumers.

The new advertisement occupied approximately two-thirds of a column, but it attempted to stimulate demand with new copy. In particular, the advertisement for the second edition focused on the contents other than the astronomical calculations. Like the previous advertisement, it emphasized politics, leading with a description of “a beautiful poetical Essay on Public Spirit, wrote by an American Patriot” and concluding with a description of “a Portrait of the celebrated Mr. WILKES, engraved from an original Painting; to which is prefixed, some Anecdotes of that most extraordinary personage.” The advertisement also included two rhyming couplets devoted to John Wilkes, a radical journalist and politician in England who inspired the colonists in their own acts of resistance in the face of abuses by Parliament. Goddard and Carter devoted nearly half of the page to reprinting a letter by Wilkes. The advertisement for the almanac immediately followed that news item. The printers apparently expected readers to make connections between the two.

The middle of September may have seemed exceptionally early to advertise a second edition of an almanac for the coming year, especially considering that the printers in many American towns and cities had not yet even begun to advertise almanacs. Given that Goddard and Carter faced particularly stiff competition from printers in the Boston, they may have devised a scheme intended to establish their position in the marketplace before other almanacs became available.

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.

October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 17, 1767).

“NOW IN THE PRESS, … THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

As surely as leaves turned colors and then fell from trees in the fall, colonists had another reminder of the changing seasons and the approach of a new year: advertisements for almanacs published in newspapers throughout the colonies. Some printers and booksellers placed notices as early as September, prompting potential customers to anticipate the impending publication of the most accurate and most fashionable almanacs. Others began promoting their almanacs in October, but the advertisements became more frequent and more extensive in November and December. Although printers and booksellers attempted to gauge demand, some always ended up with surplus almanacs that they then advertised well into the new year.

Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, made an early start on printing and advertising the New-England Almanack, or, Lady’s and Gentleman’s Diary, for the Year of Our Lord 1768. Potential customers still had nearly eleven weeks to acquire their almanacs, but Goddard and Carter knew that their printing office would face competition from the many printers and booksellers in Boston who marketed competing volumes. Advertising early raised the visibility of their almanac, perhaps giving it a privileged place in the minds of potential customers who would eventually encounter other options. Using advertisements to make their almanac familiar to readers could have instilled a sense of loyalty even before they were available for purchase.

Goddard and Carter’s advertisement for the New-England Almanack, relatively sparse in terms of words and space, served as an initial announcement. Upon publication, the printers introduced more extensive advertisements that included the table of contents and listed the price (both by the dozen and singles). In that manner, some advertisements for almanacs offered yet another visual marker of the passing seasons. As the new year drew closer, advertisements for almanacs became lengthier. Just as modern Americans have grown accustomed to certain advertising practices timed to the holiday season, early American readers experienced annual rhythms of marketing for almanacs as the newspaper advertisements became more frequent and more prominent before fading after the new year.

January 24

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

jan-24-1241767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (January 24, 1767).

“JUST PUBLISHED …. The true and original NEW-ENGLAND Almanack.”

Despite the proclamation in the first line of this advertisement, the “true and original NEW-ENGLAND Almanack” had not been “JUST PUBLISHED” by Sarah Goddard and Company. Even if readers of the Providence Gazette had not seen the original advertisement, published seven weeks earlier, that announced the almanac was slated for publication just a few days later, they would have realized that no printers waited more than three weeks into the new year to print almanacs. Goddard and Company ran this advertisement – yet again – in an attempt to move surplus inventory that was quickly becoming outdated. With every day that passed, this almanac, like the “NEW-YORK Pocket Almanacks” advertised on the previous page, had less value to potential customers.

Printing and selling almanacs could be a lucrative business for members of the book trades in early America, but it could also be a tricky business. Starting as early as September, printers and booksellers advertised almanacs for the coming year, seeking to incite demand among potential customers. They aimed to print or stock just enough to meet that demand, not wishing to turn away customers (especially given that disappointed prospective customers might then patronize competitors who still had almanacs available), but also not producing so many that leftover copies diminished profits.

Goddard and Company apparently overestimated how many almanacs they needed to print for 1767. Perhaps their earlier complaints about dishonorable dealings by competitors in nearby Boston and corresponding appeals to customers’ sense of justice and fairness to convince them to purchase the “true and original” version of Benjamin West’s New-England Almanack had not gone over as successfully as they had anticipated or hoped. As a result, they found themselves in a position of devoting space in the Providence Gazette to advertisements intended to clear out their inventory, even as Joseph and William Russell continued to note, in their advertisement on the same page, that their assortment of imported goods was “too large” to print the sort of enumerated list that had been part of their marketing strategy over the past several months. Having too many almanacs on hand as the end of January approached may have prompted Goddard and Company to forego potential advertising revenue that they would have obtained from selling more space to the Russells.