September 9

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 9, 1772).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1773.”

When Isaac Collins published the Burlington Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord, 1773, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement in the September 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet may have been the first extensive notice about an almanac for 1773 to appear anywhere in the colonies.  Collins, however, did not long remain the only printer occupying a considerable amount of space in the public prints to promote an almanac for the coming year.  When the same advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Packet two days later, it appeared with a notice for another almanac, a much more familiar title with a significantly longer publication history.

David Hall and William Sellers, printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and successors to Benjamin Franklin, announced that they “Just publishedPOOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1773.” That advertisement followed a brief notice, just three lines, from the previous issue. Like Collins, they deployed a longer advertisement that listed a variety of contents “besides the usual astronomical Observations,” hoping that useful and entertaining material would attract buyers.  Poor Richard’s Almanack included, for instance, schedules for “Friends Yearly Meetings, Courts, [and] Fairs,” an essay on a “Way of preventing Wheat Crops, sowed on dunged Land, from being over-run with Weeds,” “Tables of Interest, at six and seven per Cent,” “An Antidote against mispending Time,” and “Wife Sayings.”

Hall and Sellers exercised their prerogative as printers to place their advertisement for Poor Richard’s Almanack at the top of the center column on the first page of the September 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, making it one of the first items readers encountered.  Collins’s advertisement for the Burlington Almanack appeared immediately below it.  Hall and Sellers could have instead opted to place the notice about the Burlington Almanack among other advertisements on another page rather than giving it such visibility on the first page.  Positioning the two advertisements one after the other, however, allowed for easy comparison.  It also eliminated the possibility that, if separated, prospective customers might notice only the advertisement for the Burlington Almanack and overlook the one for Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Hall and Sellers realized that the Burlington Almanack served a market in New Jersey, but they also knew that the many and varied contents of almanacs had value far beyond their places of publication.  Colonizers in and near Burlington had experience purchasing and consulting Poor Richard’s Almanack and other almanacs published in Philadelphia, especially prior to Collins launching the Burlington Almanack in 1771.  Similarly, some readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, especially those in towns beyond Philadelphia, may have considered the Burlington Almanack just as useful as Poor Richard’s Almanack.  In placing their advertisement for Poor Richard’s Almanack immediately above Collins’s advertisement for the Burlington Almanack, Hall and Sellers increased the chances that consumers were aware of the available options.  Some may have considered the contents complementary, convincing them to purchase both.

September 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 12, 1771).

“Just Published … POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772.”

It was a familiar sign of the changing seasons when advertisements for almanacs first appeared in colonial newspapers in the fall.  Two such advertisements ran in the September 12, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers of that newspaper, David Hall and William Sellers, hawked “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772,” the popular almanac they published.  Isaac Collins advertised the “BURLINGTON ALMANACK” available at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.

Neither advertisement provided much additional information, the printers likely not considering it necessary at the time.  After all, prospective customers had more than four months to purchase copies before the new year began.  The brief advertisements drew attention to these almanacs before competitors began marketing their own publications.  John Fleeming adopted a similar strategy for “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772” when he placed an advertisement in the August 15, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to announce that the almanac “Will be published in September next.”  As fall progressed, more advertisements for almanacs would appear in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  Each year, printers placed increasing elaborate advertisements in October, November, and December as competition for customers intensified.

For the moment, however, Hall and Sellers simply announced that they “Just publishedPoor Richard’s Almanackat theNew Printing-Office, in Market-street, Philadelphia.”  Collins offered a little more information, stating that his almanac contained “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, a Variety of useful and entertaining Matter, both in Prose and Verse.”  Collins also declared that he sold the Burlington Almanac “Wholesale and Retail,” encouraging booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to acquire copies to retail in their own shops.  Although Hall and Sellers did not mention wholesale transactions, alerting customers that they could add Poor Richard’s Almanack to their inventory may have been one of the primary purposes of publishing the almanac and advertising its availability so early.

Daylight hours diminished in September compared to the summer months.  Temperatures became colder.  Yet the natural world did not offer the only evidence that fall would soon arrive.  Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers began encountering advertisements for almanacs for the coming year, another sure sign that summer was in its final days.

September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1771.”

With the arrival of fall in 1770 came the season for advertising almanacs for 1771.  A few advertisements for almanacs appeared in various newspapers during the summer months, but they had not yet become regular features.  In late September, those advertisements began appearing in greater numbers.  Newspaper readers would have been accustomed to the seasonal pattern, expecting to encounter more and more advertisements for almanacs in October, November, and December and then a gradual tapering off in the new year as printers attempted to rid themselves of surplus stock before the contents became obsolete.  Almanacs were big business for printers, both those who published newspapers and those who did not.  These inexpensive pamphlets found their way into households from the most grand to the most humble.  Readers could select among a variety of titles, likely choosing favorites and developing customer loyalty over the years.

The compositor of the Pennsylvania Gazette conveniently placed four advertisements for six almanacs together in the September 20, 1770, edition.  The first announced that Hall and Sellers had just published the popular Poor Richard’s Almanack as well as the Pocket Almanack.  That advertisement, the longest of the four, appeared first, not coincidentally considering that Hall and Sellers printed the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers accepted advertisements from competitors, but that did not prevent them from giving their own advertisement a privileged place.  In the other three advertisements, local printers hawked other almanacs.  John Dunlap published and sold Father Abraham’s Almanack.  From Joseph Crukshank, readers could acquire Poor Will’s Almanack.  William Evitt supplied both the Universal Almanack and Poor Robin’s Almanack.  Hall and Sellers took advantage of their ability to insert advertisements gratis in their own newspaper by composing a notice twice the length of the others.  They listed far more of the contents as a means of inciting demand among prospective customers.

This was the first concentration of advertisements for almanacs in the fall of 1770, but others would soon follow in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  If the advertising campaigns launched in previous years were any indication, readers could expect to see even more elaborate notices than the one published by Hall and Sellers as well as many others that simply made short announcements that almanacs were available from printers and booksellers.  Such advertisements were a sign of the season in eighteenth-century America.