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.