February 19

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

New-York Journal (February 16, 1769).

“We have therefore reprinted a few Hundreds.”

Throughout January and February each year the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements for almanacs tended to taper off, though some printers and booksellers did continue their efforts to sell surplus copies and turn expenses into revenues. Each day that passed meant that more of the contents, especially the astronomical calculations, became obsolete. Based on their advertisements, retailers expected that most colonists would purchase their almanacs before a new year commenced or very shortly after.

That made an advertisement in the February 16, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal rather unusual. Instead of announcing that he still had copies of “FREEMAN’s ALMANACK” for sale, John Holt announced that he planned to print more copies in order to meet the ongoing demand. “Having been much called for since the first Edition has been all sold off, And many People being not yet supplied,” Holt explained, “We have therefore reprinted a few Hundreds, which will be ready for delivery To-Morrow, at the usual Prices.” This raises several questions about the production and distribution of Freeman’s New-York Almanack. When did it sell out? How long did it take Holt to decide to issue a second edition? How many prospective customers, especially retailers who indicated they would purchase copies by the dozens, approached Holt about printing a second edition?

The entire enterprise seems suspicious. Even though the almanac included contents that retained their value throughout the year – such as “Times of the Courts in New-York, New-Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” – seven weeks of 1769 had elapsed. It seems strange that consumers voiced so much demand for this almanac at the same time that printers and booksellers ceased advertising almanacs and further attempts to sell any remainders. Did Holt actually issue a second edition? Or did he devise this announcement to make Freeman’s New-York Almanack seem like it had achieved extraordinary popularity in hopes of bamboozling readers into purchasing his surplus stock? Or could this notice have been his first attempt at marketing almanacs for the following year, planting the idea that Freeman’s New-York Almanack for 1769 was still in such high demand that prospective customers needed to acquire Freeman’s New-York Almanac for 1770 as soon as they saw it advertised in the fall? Holt’s advertisement deviates so significantly from others that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies that it merits skepticism.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:17:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 17, 1768).

“SECOND EDITION … New-England TOWN and COUNTRY Almanack.”

Sarah Goddard and John Carter began advertising the New-England Town and Country Almanack … for the Year of our Lord 1769 in the Providence Gazette in late August 1768, allowing readers a little more than three months to acquire a copy before the new year commenced. Just three weeks later they inserted a substantially revised advertisement to announce that they had “Just PUBLISHED” a “SECOND EDITION.” Either the initial notice had been quite effective and the printers decided they needed to issue a second edition to continue to meet popular demand or they calculated that an advertisement about a second edition would incite demand that had not yet manifested.

In addition to selling the almanac both “Wholesale and Retail” at their printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, Goddard and Carter had several agents who peddled it on their behalf, including “the several Gentlemen Merchants of Providence and Newport, and Mr. SOLOMON SOUTHWICK, Printer in Newport.” Goddard and Carter may have sold enough copies and received indications of the almanac’s success from their agents that they quickly decided to issue a second edition. The original advertisement extended three-quarters of a column and advanced several appeals, including one that addressed the current political and economic climate in Rhode Island in particular and the colonies more generally. The advertisement stressed that both the contents and the paper qualified as “domestic manufactures,” drawing on public discourse about the surplus of imported goods that created a trade imbalance with Britain.

That advertisement may have yielded substantial sales of the almanac, especially if Goddard and Carter had been conservative in the number they printed for the first edition. On the other hand, they may have planned from the start to advertise a second edition shortly after promoting the first edition. Doing so would have made the New-England Town and Country Almanack appear especially popular, prompting prospective customers to obtain their own copies now that they were aware of the approval it had received from other consumers.

The new advertisement occupied approximately two-thirds of a column, but it attempted to stimulate demand with new copy. In particular, the advertisement for the second edition focused on the contents other than the astronomical calculations. Like the previous advertisement, it emphasized politics, leading with a description of “a beautiful poetical Essay on Public Spirit, wrote by an American Patriot” and concluding with a description of “a Portrait of the celebrated Mr. WILKES, engraved from an original Painting; to which is prefixed, some Anecdotes of that most extraordinary personage.” The advertisement also included two rhyming couplets devoted to John Wilkes, a radical journalist and politician in England who inspired the colonists in their own acts of resistance in the face of abuses by Parliament. Goddard and Carter devoted nearly half of the page to reprinting a letter by Wilkes. The advertisement for the almanac immediately followed that news item. The printers apparently expected readers to make connections between the two.

The middle of September may have seemed exceptionally early to advertise a second edition of an almanac for the coming year, especially considering that the printers in many American towns and cities had not yet even begun to advertise almanacs. Given that Goddard and Carter faced particularly stiff competition from printers in the Boston, they may have devised a scheme intended to establish their position in the marketplace before other almanacs became available.