What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The CHARTER of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.”
The first page of the November 14, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazettefeatured both news and advertising. Advertisements comprised the first of the three columns. Extracts from the London Chronicleand the London Evening Postfilled the second and overflowed into the third. News from Charleston, South Carolina, and New London, Connecticut, nearly completed the third column. The compositor inserted a short advertisement – just three lines – in the remaining space.
Although the placement of that advertisement was a practical matter, the position of the first advertisement was strategic. It proclaimed, “THIS DAY PUBLISHED, (And Sold byEDES & GILL in Queen-Street.)… EDES & GILL’S NORTH-AMERICAN ALMANACK For the Year of our Lord1769.” Edes and Gill happened to be the printers of the Boston-Gazette. While most advertisements did not appear in any particular order, this advertisement for an almanac that they published and sold occupied a privileged place on the first page. After the masthead, it was the first item that readers glimpsed, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would notice it.
As part of their marketing effort, Edes and Gill inflected their advertisement with news. They provided a general overview of the contents of the almanac, a standard practice in such advertisements, but made special note that it included “The CHARTER of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay; granted by King WILLIAM and Queen MARY.—Together with the Explanatory Charter, granted by His Majesty King GEORGE the First.” The printers then added an editorial note: “[ThisCHARTER, tho’ not more esteem’d bysimple ones than anOLD ALMANACK, has always been highly esteem’d by wise, sensible & honest Men. It is the Basis of the civil Constitution of the Province, and should be often readAT THIS TIME, when the Rights and Liberties declared in it, are said to beinvaded.]” Edes and Gill harnessed the current political situation as they attempted to sell their almanac. They knew that many prospective customers resented the Townshend Act and the quartering of troops in Boston. In turn, they offered a resource that allowed them simultaneously to become better informed of their rights and express their own views through the act of purchasing Edes and Gill’s almanac over any of the many alternatives.
The placement of their advertisement as the first item on the first page was only part of Edes and Gill’s strategy. In addition to the usual strategies for promoting almanacs, they incorporated content and commentary that addressed the unfolding imperial crisis. By linking politics to the consumption of their almanac, they aimed to increase sales as well a produce a better informed populace.