What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“On Wednesday next will be Published … Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”
Advertisements for almanacs were ubiquitous in American newspapers in late December during the era of the American Revolution. They began appearing in late summer or early fall, usually just brief announcements that printers planned to publish and start selling them within the coming weeks. The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall and continued as winter officially arrived just before the end of the year. Printers continued to advertise almanacs in January, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that cut into their revenues. Advertisements tapered off in February and beyond, though some notices occasionally appeared well into the new year.
Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both that almanac and the Providence Gazette, were among the promoters of almanacs in the public prints in 1770. They offered “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity.” In other words, shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others received discounts for buying by volume, thus allowing them to charge competitive retail prices.
By the first day of winter, West and Carter had already been advertising the New-England Almanack for more than a month. The advertisement that ran in the December 22 edition of the Providence Gazette likely looked familiar to readers, but the conclusion announced a new product that would soon be available for customers. Within the next week, Carter planned to publish “Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.” This condensed version of the pamphlet organized the contents on a single broadsheet to hang on a wall in a home or office for easy reference. West and Carter realized that consumers might have use for an almanac in a different format instead of or, even better, in addition to the standard pamphlet version. Their decision to publish a sheet almanac presented customers with choices. Waiting to publish the sheet almanack until just a week before the new year may have been a savvy decision when it came to customers who preferred that format but who already purchased the pamphlet version. For printers of all sorts, including those who published newspapers, almanacs were an important source of revenue. For Carter, that made introducing a sheet almanac just a week before the new year worth the risk.