What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Ames’s Almanack, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST, 1769.”
Among the many options available to colonists in New England, An Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769 by Nathaniel Ames was quite popular. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised several almanacs in the December 23, 1768, edition. One advertisement briefly announced “WEST’s ALMANACK, for 1769, containing many useful Things, sold by the Printers hereof. ALSO, BICKERSTAFF’s famous Boston Almanac, for 1769.” A much longer advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack,” however, listed many of the contents, including “Courts in Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” and “Public Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at.”
The position of the advertisements on the page also differentiated them. The advertisement for Ames’s Almanack was the first item in the first column of the final page, but the shorter notice for West’s Almanack and Bickerstaff’s Almanack was the last item inserted in the final column. If a reader held aloft that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette while perusing the contents of the center pages, the advertisement for Ames’s Almanack would have been the first item observers noticed on the other side of the page. The advertisement for the other two almanacs, in contrast, did not have the same privileged place. Appearing last, it may have been filler that rounded out the last column on the final page.
The Fowles also commented on the volume of Ames’s Almanack that they anticipated selling to readers and retailers. They offered that title “by the Groce, Dozen or Single,” but did not indicate that they sold West’s Almanack or Bickerstaff’s Almanack in large quantities. If advertisements in other newspapers published the same day are any indication, there was indeed a vast market for the 1769 edition of Ames’s Almanack in New England. An advertisement in the New-London Gazette simply announced, “Ames’s Almanack, TO BE SOLD, At the Printing-Office.” An equally sparse advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy stated, “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1769, To be sold at the Printing-Office in N. Haven.” William Carter and Company’s advertisement immediately above concluded with a nota bene that informed prospective customers that “A few of AMES’s Almanacks, for 1769, to be sold at said Store.” Carter and Company apparently purchased by the gross or dozen from a printer or bookseller in order to integrate this popular almanac into their inventory of imported goods, rum, sugar, and beaver hats. The Fowles sold legitimate copies printed by William McAlpine in Boston, but the others may have peddled pirated copies produced by a cabal of rival printers who wished to claim a share of the market.
As the new year approached, printers, booksellers, and retailers promoted various almanacs to prospective customers in late December 1768. Among the many choices, Ames’s Almanack was especially popular among readers throughout New England, so much so that it appeared in advertisements printed in multiple newspapers published in several colonies. The details provided in some of those advertisements sometimes eclipsed the amount of information in notices for other almanacs. Its popularity may have resulted in more extensive advertising. In turn, that more extensive advertising likely further augmented demand for the popular almanac.