April 5

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

Apr 5 - 4:5:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 5, 1768).

“BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768, to be sold by the Printer.”

Published in the lower right corner of the first page of the April 5 issue, this advertisement for “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768” made an unseasonably late appearance in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Readers throughout the colonies were accustomed to a certain rhythm when it came to printers advertising almanacs in newspapers. Some commenced as early as September, seeking to gain an advantage over competitors by announcing that their almanacs would soon go to press.  They peddled the promise of a product that did not yet exist, but primed consumers to contemplate the version they offered before encountering any others.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall as the new year approached.  The advertisements usually continued for the first few weeks of January but then tapered off by the time February arrived. After all, more and more of the contents became outdated every week.  Yet Charles Crouch still opted to publish an advertisement for almanacs in his newspaper in early April 1768.  More than a quarter of the year had passed, but Crouch tested whether he could create a market for leftover copies that he had not managed to sell.

Many eighteenth-century printers sought to generate revenues beyond job printing, newspaper subscriptions, and advertising fees by publishing and selling almanacs.  Doing so was a savvy investment of their time and resources since colonists from the most humble households to the most grand acquired these popular periodicals each year … but only if printers accurately estimated the market for almanacs.  Not printing a sufficient number meant turning customers away. Even worse, it could mean losing their business in future years if they purchased another almanac and developed loyalty toward its contents, author, or printer.  On the other hand, printing too many almanacs could undermine any profits if a printer ended up with a significant surplus.  That Crouch was still advertising “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768” in April suggests that he did indeed have an unacceptable surplus crowding the shelves or storage space at his printing shop.  Indirectly, it also testifies to the utility of almanacs in the eighteenth century.  Prospective customers may not have dismissed the almanacs simply because a portion of the calendar and astronomical calculations had already passed. Instead, some may have instead focused on the other information contained within the pages of almanacs, information that remained useful throughout the year.  Among their many contents, almanacs typically contained lists of colonial officials, dates for holding courts ands fairs, cures and remedies for various maladies, and amusing anecdotes.  That being the case, Crouch took a chance that he might find buyers for some of his remaining almanacs even if readers did not expect to see them advertised at that time of the year.

February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:25:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (February 25, 1768).

“Lucerne and Burnett seed, warranted to be of last year’s growth.”

Spring was coming. In late February 1768 colonists in Boston could tell that spring was on its way by looking for certain signs. While watching for changes in the weather and landscape provided clues about the passage of the seasons, colonists also witnessed other indications. The appearance of Susanna Renken’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette testified that spring was indeed on its way. It was the first to promote a variety of seeds that colonists would need to purchase soon so they could plant their gardens.

Renken participated in an annual ritual, one that transformed the pages of newspapers printed in Boston for a few months. She had previously advertised seeds in 1766 and 1767, but she had not been alone. Other women had placed their own advertisements, presenting local customers with many choices for obtaining the seeds they needed. Readers of the newspapers published in Boston knew that in the coming weeks several other female shopkeepers would join Renken, each inserting their own advertisements for seeds. If the past was any indication, they could expect to see these advertisements printed one after the other, sometimes filling entire columns in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette. Renken and her competitors usually inserted their notices in multiple publications.

For now, however, Renken advertised alone. She was the first seed seller to take to the pages of the public prints in 1768, heralding the proliferation of advertisements that would soon appear, bloom for a couple of months, and recede until the next year. Colonists in Boston and its hinterlands observed this annual cycle unfold in their newspapers in the late winter and early spring, just as they saw advertisements for almanacs make their first appearances in the fall, intensify in number and frequency over several months, and taper off after the new year.

Susanna Renken was the first to advertise seeds in 1768, but soon she would not be alone. At the same time colonists noticed certain birds returning to New England as part of their seasonal migration, they also saw advertisements for seeds once again in the pages of their newspapers. The print culture of marketing had its own rhythms that colonists could associate with the changing seasons.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (September 24, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles suitable for this Market, and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.”

As spring turned to fall and colonists anticipated the arrival of winter in 1767, Philip Livingston inserted an advertisement for “A Very neat Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Season” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. In placing this notice, Livingston did not seek the patronage of end-use consumers; instead, he acted as a wholesaler in distributing imported textiles to retailers to sell to customers in their own shops throughout the colony. After listing a variety of fabrics (most of them in an array of colors), he described them as “suitable for this Market and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.” The merchant wanted potential customers to know that if they acquired his woolens and “other Articles” that the merchandise would not just sit on the shelves.

Livingston’s advertisement also demonstrates the wide distribution of newspapers in the late colonial period. He inserted his notice in a newspaper printed in New York City, confident that “Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony” would see it. At the time, printers in the busy port published four newspapers: the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on Mondays and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal on Thursdays. Livingston placed the same advertisement in all four publications, realizing that was the most efficient way to communicate with shopkeepers in towns beyond the city. After all, the four newspapers printed in New York City were the only newspapers published in the colony in 1767. Livingston did not have the option of buying advertising space in hometown publications because the four newspapers emanating from New York City were the local newspapers for residents throughout the entire colony! Subscribers beyond the city received copies delivered by post riders. After delivery, issues passed from hand to hand. Individual retailers “in the Northern Parts of the Colony” might not have access to each of New York’s newspapers during any given week, but Livingston knew that they likely would see at least one.

In distinguishing among the various components of colonial newspapers it might be tempting to view the news items as general interest for any reader but advertisements as limited to local markets. That, however, would not be an accurate assessment of many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Many advertisers – both wholesalers and retailers – sought to cultivate customers in towns beyond the cities where newspaper were published. The extensive distribution networks for colonial networks made that possible.

October 15

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-15-10151766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 15, 1766).

“Goods, suitable for the season.”

Cowper and Telfairs’ store had just received a large assortment of items imported from London. After the lengthy list of items that they sold, the partners added that “they shortly expect other articles from England and Scotland to make a complete assortment of goods for this country and season.” It was good to add that they would be receiving other items so customers would come back and purchase more from their store.

This advertisement was in the newspaper in October; colonists would soon need items for the winter that was coming, even if it would not be as cold as in New England or even Virginia. The advertisement states the supplies and clothing were “suitable for the season,” making potential buyers aware that this store had goods that would help them get through the winter. Throughout the colonies, settlers made preparations. According to David Robinson, “Mothers taught daughters how to card wool and coax soft fibers from the hard stems of flax; how to spin fibers into threads; how to stitch and mend the heavy coats and hooded cloaks that soon must ward off the biting winds.” Cowper and Telfairs’ store had “a variety of other ready-made cloaths” that colonists could purchase as well as an assortment of textiles they could use to make coats, cloaks, and warmer clothing that they would need for winter weather, even if winter in Georgia was not as extreme as in colonies further north.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Not long ago guest curator Nicholas Commesso examined an advertisement from the Massachusetts Gazette in which William Palfrey marketed “Articles suitable for the approaching Season.” He noted that colonists in Boston and its hinterland needed to take into account that fall had commenced and winter would arrive soon. Palfrey attempted to sell his goods by reminding colonists that it was time to start making preparations.

In my additional commentary I noted that “suitable to the season” was a stock phrase deployed in newspaper advertisements in Philadelphia and, more generally, in New England the Middle Atlantic colonies. I have not worked as extensively with advertisements from the Chesapeake or the Lower South, so I was uncertain if that was the case in those locales or if regional differences existed. I suggested that this merited further investigation.

Jordan turned her eye to that question today, identifying the same language in an advertisement from a newspaper printed in the Georgia Gazette. While one advertisement does not demonstrate a pattern or widespread usage of “suitable for the season,” it does indicate that the phrase was not unknown in the area. Cowper and Telfairs likely meant something a bit different – or had somewhat different merchandise in mind – than William Palfrey did when they described their wares as “suitable for the season.” Each advertiser would have taken into account local conditions.

As Jordan notes, the shopkeepers concluded by describing the items “from England and Scotland” they intended to have in stock soon as “goods for this country and season.” In addition to attempting to lure customers back to their store for subsequent visits, Cowper and Telfairs also signaled that they knew exactly what kind of merchandise would be arriving on ships expected in port soon. Most likely they had negotiated with their contacts on the other side of the Atlantic and placed orders for specific goods. London merchants sometimes tried to pawn off surplus inventory, expecting colonial retailers to accept and sell whatever was sent to them, but Cowper and Telfairs suggested that their customers would be pleased with the selection they offered because their wares had been chosen with Georgia and its climate in mind.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (September 1, 1766).

“THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767. Is in the Press at W. Weyman’s.”

When it came to the printers and booksellers in colonial America, almanacs were a staple among the merchandise they produced and sold. These inexpensive pamphlets were in great demand, finding their way into the hands of readers from all kinds of backgrounds, from the elite to the most humble. In the 1960s Milton Drake compiled a bibliography of hundreds of almanacs printed in America in the eighteenth-century. Printers met the high demand for these calendars that doubled as reference periodicals by delivering an extensive supply to colonial customers, competing with each other in the process.

Given the diversity of almanacs available for public consumption, printers (as well as the authors of the almanacs themselves) needed to direct potential customers to the volumes they produced. Among the most common appeals, they promoted the accuracy of their almanacs, sometimes underscoring the education or other qualifications of the author or compiler. Benjamin Franklin’s almanacs, authored under the pseudonym Richard Saunders or Poor Richard, gained popularity for the aphorisms the astute printer inserted. (Arguably, those aphorisms made Franklin’s almanacs the most famous of the eighteenth century. Poor Richard’s almanacs remain well known in popular culture today, not just among scholars of early American print culture, thanks not only to their connection to one of the founders but also because the aphorisms have become nuggets of wisdom passed down from one generation of Americans to the next.) The authors and compilers of almanacs, like “Poor Richard,” became brands in and of themselves, contributing to the popularity of certain almanacs and forging a loyalty that predisposed colonists to continue purchasing familiar publications.

William Weyman devised another strategy for placing his almanacs in the hands of readers. He advertised them early (indeed, very early!), which allowed him to bring his almanacs to the attention of potential customers before they even considered others printed by competitors. “THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767” was not yet ready for sale at the time that Weyman placed today’s advertisement. It was merely “in the Press … and will be published in due Time.” This advertisement appeared on September 1, a full four months ahead of the year covered in the almanac, but Weyman was priming customers to consider his almanac. They might not have needed it yet, but it was a product many of them knew that they would purchase eventually.

Modern retailers engage in similar practices. This year many stores started stocking Halloween items in August. Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise will be available soon, if it is not on shelves already. Today’s merchants did not invent promoting seasonal goods well before customers needed them. William Weyman and others were already doing that in the eighteenth century.