What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772. Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”
Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.” He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions. On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both. In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers. He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition. A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772. Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”
Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers. That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition. He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.” Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition. Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.
It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack. In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769. The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor. Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.
As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices. In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.