December 26

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

Dec 26 - 12:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 26, 1769).

“Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770.”

During the final week of 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, continued to advertise that he sold several different almanacs for the coming year. The final issue of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs, a longer one for “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770: Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM” and a shorter one for two other almanacs. That one announced “Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Hall had been advertising An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 by Nathanael Low for a month, but had not previously advertised the popular Astronomical Diary: or Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1770 by Nathaniel Ames. John Kneeland and Seth Adams in Boston printed Low’s Almanack, but Hall may have acquired Ames’s Almanack from any of several different printers. Thomas Green and Samuel Green in New Haven issued an edition, as did Timothy Green in New London and Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson in Hartford. Beyond Connecticut, Daniel and Robert Fowle printed their own edition of the popular almanac in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Several printers and booksellers in Boston collaborated in printing and advertising an edition there. Hall most likely carried either the Boston or the Portsmouth edition of Ames’s Almanack. Like Low’s Almanack, it received little fanfare in the advertisement in the Essex Gazette. Although Hall made an additional option available to his customers just in time for the new year, he continued to focus his marketing efforts on Philo’s Essex Almanack, which had been “Just published and to be Sold” by Hall himself according to the lengthy advertisement he inserted in the Essex Gazette for several weeks. He struck a careful balance between offering several choices to customers, including the popular Ames’s Almanack and Low’s Almanack, and attempting to funnel interest toward his own venture, the new and less familiar Philo’s Essex Almanack.

December 12

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

Dec 12 - 12:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 12, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack … Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, also published “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.” Just days before it went to press, he inserted a notice in the Essex Gazette to inform readers of the almanac’s impending publication. A week later, he ran another advertisement that proclaimed he had “Just published” the almanac and now sold it “Wholesale and Retail.” That advertisement demonstrated an evolution in Hall’s marketing efforts.

The first advertisement filled a “square,” the unit some eighteenth-century newspaper printers used to describe the amount of space with length approximately matching column width. It provided a brief overview of the contents of the almanac to entice prospective customers.   Upon publication, Hall dramatically increased the size of the advertisement to include a much more extensive list of the almanac’s contents. He previously promised that in addition to the “usual astronomical Calculations” the almanac contained “Thirty Pieces” for reference and entertainment, offering general categories for the various items (“religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial, satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical”). The new advertisement did not list any of those categories; instead, Hall named almost all of the “Thirty Pieces” that accompanied the astronomical calculations. Those who purchased the Philo’s Essex Almanack would be amused or instructed by “The Sausage-Maker raised to be a Prime Minister,” “Rules for preserving Health in Eating and Drinking,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Husband,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Wife,” and “Some Lines written extempore on the Sea-Shore, by a Lady.” Despite the length of the advertisement, Hall did not have sufficient space to include all the contents of the almanac. He concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that customers would discover even more when they acquired their own copies of Philo’s Essex Almanack.

This was the first time Hall published an almanac “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.” Although he printed and advertised it fairly late compared to counterparts who had more experience publishing almanacs in other towns, he did adopt some of the standard marketing practices for almanacs in eighteenth-century America. He promoted Philo’s Essex Almanack with a preview before going to press and later published an extensive list of its contents when the almanac was available for sale. Hall did not publish an almanac the following year, suggesting that sales of “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” were not successful enough to merit investing time, labor, and other resources in the enterprise a second time. Although his advertising matched others in terms of copy, the timing may have played a role in hampering sales. Residents of Salem were accustomed to obtaining almanacs printed in Boston and Portsmouth. Some may have acquired their favorite titles before Hall even advertised that he planned to publish an almanac in Essex. The same advertising campaign launched a month or more earlier may have had different results.

December 5

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

Dec 5 - 12:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 5, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.”

The December 5, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs. A brief notice announcing that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof” ran once again on the final page. A more extensive notice about “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” appeared on the third page. It stated that the almanac would be published on the following Friday and sold by Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette. The advertisement also offered an overview of the almanac’s contents: “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, about Thirty Pieces, religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical,— interspersed with a Variety of instructive Sentences, excellent Cautions, and profitable Sayings.” In previewing the contents, Hall deployed a common marketing strategy intended to incite interest in almanacs. Printers, authors, booksellers, and other retailers did so in hopes of distinguishing their almanacs from the many others available in the colonial marketplace.

In Massachusetts alone, colonists could chose from among at least eight different almanacs for 1770 published by local printers, according to Milton Drake’s bibliography of early American almanacs.[1] (Reprints and variant titles brought the total to ten.) With the exception of Philo’s Essex Almanack printed in Salem by Samuel Hall, all were printed in Boston. Hall also printed the Essex Gazette, the colony’s only newspaper not published in Boston. This may help to explain the different treatment Philo’s Essex Almanack and Low’s Astronomical Diary, or Almanack for 1770 received in the advertisements in the Essex Gazette. When it came to selling the latter, Hall served as a retailer and local agent for Kneeland and Adams. He likely had less interest in giving over space in his newspaper to promoting that almanac, especially when he had his own publication soon to come off the press. He exercised his prerogative as printer to give the advertisement for his own almanac a privileged place in the Essex Gazette, placing it immediately after the shipping news from the customs house in the December 5 edition. It was thus the first advertisement of any sort that readers encountered if they began on the first page and skimmed through the contents in order.

Like most of the other advertisements that ran in the Essex Gazette, this one was relatively streamlined compared to some that appeared in other newspapers. The title page of Philo’s Essex Almanack indicated that it had been “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM, in NEW-ENGLAND, Lat. 42 D. 35 M. North,” making it the only almanac specific to that location … yet Hall did not acknowledge this in his advertisement as a means of capturing the local market.[2] Hall intended to sell the almanac “wholesale and Retail,” according to the advertisement, but he listed the prices on the title page rather than in the newspaper. While he certainly put more effort into marketing his own almanac over others, Hall still neglected to adopt strategies that other printers, authors, and booksellers sometimes included in their advertisements. Given that many other almanacs were well established in a crowded marketplace, this may help to explain why Philo’s Essex Almanack did not appear in a new edition the following year.

**********

[1] Milton Drake, Almanacs of the United States (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962), 306-307.

[2] Philo’s Essex Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1770 (Salem, Massachusetts: Samuel Hall, 1769).

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 28, 1770).

“Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

With a little over a month until the new year arrived, the number of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers increased in late November 1769. Some printers and booksellers published elaborate notices, including a full-page advertisement for the New-England Almanack in the Providence Gazette, but others opted instead for brief notices. Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, chose the second method. The final advertisement in the November 28, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette announced that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

By “Low’s Almanack” Hall meant An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 … Calculated for the Meridian of Boston, in New-England … but May Indifferently Serve Any Part of New-England, written by Nathanael Low, a “Student in Physic.” Hall did not produce the almanac in his printing office. The imprint indicated that it was “Printed and sold by Kneeland & Adams, in Milk-Street” in Boston, yet “Sold also by the printers and booksellers.” Hall served as a local agent and retailer for “Low’s Almanack, for 1770.”

Kneeland and Adams pursued their own advertising campaign, inserting a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 26 to inform prospective customers that the almanac would soon be available. “TO-MORROW will be Published,” they proclaimed, “An ASTRONOMICAL DIARY; Or, ALMANACK … By NATHANIEL LOW.” Their advertisement provided a preview of the contents as a means of enticing consumers to choose this almanac rather than the any of the others published in Boston. It contained the usual astronomical information, such as “Sun and Moon’s rising and setting” and “Moon’s Place,” as well as guides to “Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” and “Courts in the four New-England Governments” and other useful reference information for the region. Other items were calculated to be both “very entertaining and instructive,” such as a “Dialogue between Heraclitus and Democritus, suited as near as possible to the Complexion of the Times” and a “brief Essay on Comets.” Yet Kneeland and Adams promised even more, concluding their list with a promise of “many other Things useful and entertaining” in the almanac.

Hall did not go to nearly the same lengths to promote “Low’s Almanack, for 1770” in his newspaper. Given the networks of exchange among newspaper printers, he would have seen advertisements for other almanacs, even if he did not happen to notice Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement for this particular almanac. In general, advertisements in the Essex Gazette, whether inserted by the printer or placed by others, tended to be streamlined compared to many that appeared in other newspapers. This may have made them easier for readers to navigate, but it limited the amount of information available to consumers.

November 14

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

Nov 14 - 11:14:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 14, 1769).

The Last Solemn Scene, will be ready to be delivered to the Subscribers To-Morrow Noon.”

Compared to many other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the Essex Gazette contained relatively little advertising. Compare the November 14, 1769, edition to the South-Carolina and American General Gazette published on the same day. Only six advertisements, filling only a portion of a column, ran in the Essex Gazette. In contrast, more than fifty advertisements filled nearly six of the sixteen columns in the standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. That still was not enough space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing office. A two-page supplement comprised exclusively of advertisements accompanied the November 13 edition; nearly fifty more advertisements filled six columns. Admittedly, Charleston was a larger and busier port than Salem, where Samuel Hall published the Essex Gazette, but the difference in the contents of the two newspapers was stark all the same.

Of the six advertisements that appeared in the Essex Gazette on November 14, two promoted Hall’s own business interests. He divided the advertisements into two sections; three ran at the bottom of the last column on the third page and the other three ran at the bottom of the last column on the final page. In both instances, Hall exercised his prerogative as the printer to place his advertisements first. As readers transitioned from perusing the news to advertisements, Hall increased the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisements, even if they switched to skimming the remainder of the column in search of more news.

Both of Hall’s advertisements concerned books. One informed readers of a book “Just Publish’d, and sold at the Printing-Office.” The other announced the successful outcome of a proposed book published by subscription. Hall had called on interested readers to reserve a copy of “The Rev. Mr. Murray’s Sermon, entitled, The Last Solemn Scene,” in advance. As with other printers who published by subscription, he gauged the market and did not commit the book to press until he knew sufficient demand existed to make it a viable enterprise. His advertisement in the November 14 edition of the Essex Gazette informed subscribers that the book would be ready “To-Morrow Noon.”

Printers frequently inserted advertisements for their own goods and services in the newspapers they published. In Hall’s case, doing so was important not only to generate more business for his other ventures but also to encourage additional advertising from members of the community. He did not have the advantage of pages overflowing with advertising that Robert Wells experienced with the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. As a result, his own advertisements had to serve as a model for prospective advertisers, implicitly encouraging them to submit their own notices for dissemination in the public prints.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 24, 1769).

All of the above BLANKS are … suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.”

Colonial printers often used the pages of their own newspapers to advertise other goods they sold at their printing offices. Advertisements for blanks (what we would call forms today) regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia, suggesting that supplying blanks for various purposes to colonists engaged in commercial transactions and legal agreements comprised an important source of revenue for printers. Most advertisements for blanks were fairly short, extending only a few lines. In addition to informing colonists that printers had blanks on hand, those shorter advertisements also allowed compositors to complete columns of text that fell just shy of having enough content. Yet not all advertisements for blanks were mere announcements. Some were rather lengthy, listing the many different kinds of blanks that printers had on hand.

Such was the case for Samuel Hall’s advertisements for blanks that ran in the Essex Gazette on several occasions in the fall of 1769. After its initial publication, Hall even expanded his advertisement to provide a more comprehensive list of blanks as well as describe them in greater detail. He added “Bills of Cost, and Complaints” to the list (with “Complains” inexplicably in a much larger font than anything else in the advertisement). Most advertisements for blanks simply listed the various kinds available, such as “Bills of Lading,” “Apprentices Indentures,” and “Short Powers of Attorney.” Hall, however, supplemented his list with a note that “All of the above BLANKS are neatly printed, on good Paper, and most of them suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.” He did not elaborate on that “particular Manner,” but this note did suggest to prospective customers that he had not produced generic forms drawn from templates produced by other printers in other towns. Instead, he adapted his blanks to suit the legal and commercial landscape of his community. He likely intended to make his blanks more attractive to local customers than any they could have purchased from other printers, including the many printers in nearby Boston whose own blanks may have been “suited, in a particular Manner” for use in that city. The Essex Gazette offered an alternative source of news to the several newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s. Its printer offered an alternative source for other printed items produced in the printing offices in Boston.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 5, 1769).

“BLANKS.”

Like printers in other towns and cities in the colonies, Samuel Hall sought to generate revenue by taking advantage of his access to the press to promote his own enterprises in the Essex Gazette. In addition to publishing a newspaper, Hall also produced “BLANKS” at his printing office in Salem. Colonists used blanks (or printed forms, as they would be described today) for a variety of common commercial and legal purposes. They saved significant time compared to writing out the same transaction repeatedly. In some instances, resorting to blanks allowed colonists to sidestep hiring a conveyancer or lawyer to draw up documents.

Most printers simply announced that they stocked blanks of all sorts at their printing offices. On occasion, however, some printers listed the different kinds of blanks, providing a better glimpse of how purchasing them could increase efficiency and streamline all variety of transactions. In his advertisement, Hall listed sixteen different blanks for purposes that ranged from “Apprentices Indentures” to “Bills of Lading” to “Short Powers of Attorney.”

Through his typographical choices, he made sure that readers of the Essex Gazette would notice his advertisement. Many eighteenth-century advertisements that listed goods for sale, especially those that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s, clustered the items together in dense paragraphs. Hall’s advertisement, on the other hand, listed only one type of blank per line, making it easier to read and identify forms of particular interest. Hall also selected a larger font for his advertisement than appeared throughout the rest of that edition of the Essex Gazette. His notice occupied nearly twice as much space as any other in the same issue. The combination of white space incorporated into Hall’s advertisement and the oversized type made it one of the most striking items on a page that included both news and paid notices. Another advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a ship at sea, but it appeared immediately above Hall’s advertisement for blanks, leading directly into it.

Hall promoted other aspects of his business in the Essex Gazette, hoping to generate revenue beyond subscriptions and advertising fees. In the process, he effectively used graphic design to draw attention to other products from his printing office, an array of blanks for commercial and legal purposes. His access to the press gave him opportunities to experiment with the format of his own advertisements to an extent not available to other colonists.

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 22 1769).

Such Kind of Pieces … ought to be accompanied with some Cash.”

The shipping news from the customs house in Salem usually preceded advertisements in the Essex Gazette. That was the case in the August 22, 1769, edition, but the printer also inserted a brief notice immediately before the shipping news. “Before the Printer hereof published the Piece from A Lover of Impartiality,” Samuel Hall stated, “he should be glad to speak with the Author.—Such Kind of Pieces, whether in Vindication of Clergy or Laity, ought to be accompanied with some Cash.” With this notice, Hall revealed an important aspect of his business model. Apparently subscriptions and advertisements were not the only means of generating revenue for the Essex Gazette. The printer apparently also accepted payment for certain editorials as well.

Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to shape the contents of newspapers, injecting their own views on politics and society into publications otherwise edited by printers. Advertisements that included news or opinion appeared among other paid notices, usually with the name of the advertiser appended. This made it clear to readers that advertisers paid to have such content circulate via the public prints. Editorials or letters, on the other hand, did not include devices indicating that they may have been placed only after authors made payment rather than as the result of printers selecting content they considered important or interesting for readers. Any such items reprinted from one newspaper to another almost certainly did not specify that someone had originally paid to see it in print. To what extent did colonial readers realize this was the case? Hall did not attempt to hide it, but neither did he nor other printers regularly indicate that some items (other than advertisements) ran in newspapers as a result of financial transactions in the printing office. Even if colonists did realize that some editorials appeared because authors paid for the space, how did they go about distinguishing which items fit that description? In an age of accusations about “fake news” shaping public discourse, Hall’s notice about authors paying to insert editorials in the Essex Gazette demonstrates that those who consume information – no matter which media deliver it – have been challenged to cultivate good practices for information literacy since the founding of the nation.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 15, 1769).

“Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office.”

Sometime during the week between publishing the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette and the August 15 edition, Samuel Hall altered the colophon. The new colophon simply stated: “SALEM: Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House.” Except for the period instead of a semicolon after “Town-House,” this read the same as the first line of the former colophon. However, Hall eliminated the second line: “where Subscriptions for this GAZETTE, at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, are taken in;–3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” Hall had been using the colophon as advertising space to promote subscriptions for the newspaper, hoping to attract new customers who read copies that passed from hand to hand. Not every colonial printer deployed the colophon as a final advertisement, but the practice was not uncommon either. Several used the space to solicit subscriptions or advertisements or to peddle handbills, stationery, printed blanks, or printing services.

This was not the first time that Hall altered the colophon for the Essex Gazette. Although he had been publishing the newspaper for only a little over a year (the August 15 edition was issue number 55), he had revised the colophon on several occasions, adding and removing a second line that served as advertising. In the first issue published in 1769, for instance, the second line informed readers of the price of subscriptions and announced that Hall sought advertisements. It read: “where SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper.” A couple of months later, Hall eliminated that second line and slightly altered the first, listing his name as “S. HALL” rather than “Samuel Hall.” That version eventually gave way to the one that appeared until August 8, the one in which Hall used the second line to encourage readers to become subscribers and specified that those who di so were expected to pay half of the subscription fee “at Entrance.”

Hall’s colophon for the Essex Gazette varied from issue to issue much more often than the colophons that appeared in other American newspapers in the 1760s. The publisher moved back and forth between using the colophon as space for advertising aspects of his own publication – subscriptions and advertisements – and a pared down notation limited to publisher and location. Why? What prompted Hall to make these changes? Does the elimination of the second line indicate that it had not achieved the purposes Hall intended? It took up so little space that Hall did not have to sacrifice other content when including it. Why did he choose to refrain from using the colophon to encourage subscriptions and advertising?

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 25, 1769).

“THIS Day’s Paper (No. 52) compleats the first Year of the ESSEX GAZETTE.”

Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, participated in a familiar ritual. In the July 25, 1769, edition, he inserted a notice that announced, “THIS Day’s Paper (No. 52) compleats the first Year of the ESSEX GAZETTE.” Colonial printers often marked such occasions in the pages of their newspapers. They marked the first year but also commemorated subsequent years as a means of demonstrating the importance of newspapers to the community and promoting them to new subscribers and advertisers. These notices usually occupied a privileged place on the page, serving as a bridge between news items and advertisements. Part news, part marketing, they served more than one purpose.

Hall expressed his “sincere Thanks to the Publick” for supporting the Essex Gazette. He also promised “his Customers,” subscribers and advertisers, that he would “make it his invariable Study and Endeavour to render his Publications as agreeable to his Customers in general as he possibly can.” Unlike some other printers, he did not take the opportunity to outline proposed improvements to the newspaper in the coming year.

Before thanking “the Publick” and “his Customers,” Hall first made a pitch to prospective subscribers. It commenced with a report that some readers already experienced disappointment in their attempts to acquire “a compleat Sett” of issues of the Essex Gazette “from the Commencement of the first Volume.” A new year and a second volume of the Essex Gazette presented an opportunity for prospective subscribers, but only if they acted quickly. Hall requested that they “speedily … send in their Names to the Printer.” For the moment, he intended to print a few additional copies, starting with the “Beginning of Vol. II.” the following week. He did not mention the cost of subscribing in this notice, but the colophon running across the bottom of the following page stated that subscriber paid six shillings and eight pence, half “at Entrance.”

When the Essex Gazette survived its first year and continued into a second, the printer commemorated the occasion with a notice that informed the public of this significant milestone. Yet he did not confine his message to relaying this news and thanking those who had supported his endeavor. Instead, Hall also used the occasion to drum up more business for his newspaper, warning prospective subscribers not to repeat the mistakes of others who hesitated to subscribe during the newspaper’s first year of publication.