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