December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.

November 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 19, 1770).

“Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days.”

Was it news or advertising or both?  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, noted that “Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days” in the November 19, 1770, edition.  This note was one of several items collected together as news from Boston.  The various items from the city amounted to more than a column, but a short section included brief reports about local deaths, ships in port, and Ames’s almanac.  The Fleets informed readers of the death of Elizabeth Langdon, widow of Deacon Josiah Langdon, and advised that the funeral and procession would take place the next day “if the Weather be fair.”  The printers also made note of the death of Mary Collson, the wife of leather dresser Adam Collson and daughter of Solomon Kneeland.  They reported that the “Glasgow Man of War arrived her from the same Place” and the “Mermaid Man of War was to Winter at Halifax.”  The Fleets concluded this list of brief updates with the note about Ames’s almanac, adorning it with a manicule to enhance its visibility.

That was the end of the news in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Paid notices comprised the remainder of the contents.  The Fleets did not present the notice about the almanac as a freestanding advertisement, but they did treat is as a transition from news items they selected for publication and advertisements submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, auctioneers, and others.  The strategic placement may have allowed them to capture the attention of readers who perused the issue for news without intending to examine the advertisements, position it as a final news items before the advertisements commenced.  This served their own interests as entrepreneurs.  Several variations of the popular Ames’s Astronomical Diary or Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1771 hit the market in the fall of 1770, but this was probably the version with an imprint that stated it was “Printed and Sold by the Printers and Booksellers” of Boston.  Within the next several weeks, Richard Draper would advertise it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Edes and Gill would advertise it in the Boston-Gazette, and the Fleets would advertise it in the Boston-Evening Post.  At that time, the Fleets devised a freestanding advertisement that ran among other advertisements rather than placing a notice within or adjacent to the news.

In advance of the almanac’s publication, the Fleets alerted prospective customers that an edition of Ames’s almanac would soon be available for sale at their printing office.  They used their access to the press to craft an announcement that appeared to be news even as it promoted a product that the printers had an interest in supplying to the public.  The placement of the notice as a transition between news and advertising was strategic.