What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”
In the fall of 1771, Benjamin West, an astronomer and mathematician, and John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, collaborated in producing, marketing, and selling the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772.” It was West’s tenth almanac. Over a decade he worked with a succession of printers of the Providence Gazette, including William Goddard (almanacs for 1763, 1764, and 1765), William Goddard and Sarah Goddard (1766), Sarah Goddard and Company (1767), Sarah Goddard and John Carter (1768), and John Carter (1769, 1770, 1771, and 1772). West not only provided the “usual Astronomical Calculations” but also assisted in selling copies to both readers and retailers. Advertisements for the New-England Almanack consistently informed buyers that it was “Sold by the Printer hereof, and by the Author.”
West and Carter also collaborated in developing more than one format to suit the needs of their customers. In late September, they announced the imminent publication of the standard edition, a pamphlet containing twenty-four pages. In early November, they marketed an additional product, “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.” Colonists who purchased that broadside as an alternative to the standard edition could post it for easy reference throughout the year. The broadside cost a little less than the standard edition, four coppers compared to six. In addition, West and Carter offered discounts for purchasing a quantity. For the standard edition, buyers paid a lower rate “per single Dozen” and an even lower rate “per Dozen by the Quantity.” The pricing structure for the broadside edition, however, was less complicated; buyers received a discount “per Dozen” regardless of how many dozens they purchased.
Rather than combine the marketing into a single advertisement, West and Carter promoted the two editions separately. Doing so may have allowed them to gain greater notice through repetition since the advertisements ran on different pages of the Providence Gazette. As printer of the newspaper, Carter exercised control over where notices appeared, an advantage not available to other advertisers. In their efforts to sell the New-England Almanack, West and Carter brought together several strategies, including multiple formats, discounts for retailers and others who bought a quantity, and privileged placement on the page within the newspaper.