What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A Variety of Books and Stationary.”
Like many other colonial American printers, John Holt inserted his own advertisements into the newspaper he published. The two-page supplement to the New-York Journal from December 27, 1766, for instance, included three advertisements for “the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” None of them included Holt’s name, but that may have been less important than providing sufficient direction for current and prospective customers to make their way to Holt’s printing shop. Besides, many readers likely would have already known Holt as “the Printer at the Exchange.” For those who did not, the masthead of regular issues of the New-York Journal proclaimed that it was “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, NEAR THE EXCHANGE.”
Each of Holt’s advertisements in the December 27 issue addressed a different aspect of his business. One attempted to drum up new business, succinctly announcing “A Variety of Books and Stationary, to be sold at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Between subscriptions and advertisements, publishing the New-York Journal generated revenue, but Holt, like many others in his occupation, also acted as bookseller. This yielded an additional flow of income to keep the entire operation running.
Another advertisement solicited supplies necessary for the New-York Journal to continue publication. “READY MONEY,” it announced, “given for clean Linen RAGS, of any Kind, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Printers throughout the colonies frequently placed such notices. They printed their newspapers on paper made of linen. Rags were essential to their business; they were recycled and reused as paper. Holt placed this particular advertisement in the upper right corner of the second page. Except for the masthead, it included the largest font in that issue, increasing the likelihood that readers would see and take note of it.
Holt’s third advertisement addressed prior operations of his business as well as its future. In the final issue of the New-York Journal for 1766, he called on former customers to settle accounts: “ALL PERSONS who are a Year or more indebted for this Paper, and all who are on any other Account indebted to the Printer at the Exchange, are earnestly requested immediately to discharge their Accounts.” Once again, similar notices appeared in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Subscribers notoriously fell behind in paying for their newspapers. Printers extended credit for subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing of various sorts as well as the books and stationery they sold. In designing the layout for this supplemental issue, the crafty Holt placed this advertisement second, immediately after a notice listing the winning numbers for a recent lottery. He may have hoped to capture readers’ attention as they eagerly examined nearly two columns of winning tickets and moved directly to the next item.
The December 27 supplement of the New-York Journal included relatively little news. Of its six columns, only the third and fourth were given over to news items. Holt devoted the remainder of the supplement to advertising, including three advertisements that either promoted his own printing shop or saw to its general maintenance.