November 6

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

Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1771).

“If any wholesale dealers have any of the Universal or Poor Robin’s Almanacks for 1771 on hand … they shall have new ones.”

When it came to publishing and advertising almanacs for 1772, William Evitt was late to the game.  He inserted an advertisement in the November 4, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to inform readers that he had “Just Published … THE UNIVERSAL AMERICAN ALMANACK, OR YEARLY MAGAZINE, For the YEAR of our LORD, 1772” as well as “POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACK for 1772.”  To entice prospective customers, he listed the various contents of each.  In addition, he declared that the “Gentleman and Citizen’s POCKET ALMANACK for 1772, will be published soon.”  He was still in the process of gathering “the many curious and useful lists, tables, &c. &c.”

Evitt offered an apology for his tardiness in taking these almanacs to press and advertising them for sale.  He regretted that “he could not get them published as soon as some others, which was owing to several unexpected disappointments.”  He hoped, however, that since they contained “what is really useful, instructing and entertaining” that it would “make amends for a few weeks delay in publication, which he could not possibly avoid.”

In addition to those apologies, Evitt offered a deal to retailers who took a chance on acquiring these almanacs for resale at such a late date.  After all, many consumers, even those who favored the titles published by Evitt, likely already purchased other almanacs that had been on the market for weeks.  Realizing that retailers did not want to get stuck with surplus inventory that would never sell, the printer instructed “Country store-keepers, and others who purchase these Almanacks from his office” that they could “have them exchanged, in case any should lay on hand till this time twelve-month.”  In other words, Evitt offered a guarantee of sorts to retailers who took a chance on stocking his almanacs even though so much of the season for purchasing them already passed.  If the almanacs did not sell by early November 1772, retailers could exchange them for new almanacs for 1773.

Evitt also informed “wholesale dealers” who had “any of the Universal or Poor Robin’s Almanacks for 1771 on hand” that they could exchange them for “new ones” for 1772.  He retroactively applied the promise he made about almanacs for 1772 to those for 1771 that had not yet sold (and were extremely unlikely to sell with less than two months remaining in the year).  Other printers may have made similar arrangements with “Country store-keepers” and other retailers, but they did not promote such exchanges in their advertisements.  Alternately, Evitt may have improvised that deal out of necessity when “unexpected disappointments” prevented him from making his almanacs available in a busy marketplace at the same time as his competitors.  In general, printers marketed their almanacs to both consumers and retailers.  They depended on the latter purchasing in volume and distributing their product.

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.