What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“We are oblig’d to give a SUPPLEMENT.”
Edes and Gill placed their own announcement immediately before the “New Advertisements” in the October 19, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, they explained that within the last three days three ships had arrived in port from London. The captains brought with them the “Prints to the 19th of August,” which they passed along to the printers. In other words, Edes and Gill had just obtained recent (or as recent as could be expected given the time required to cross the Atlantic) newspapers. As was common practice in the eighteenth century, their method of reporting involved reprinting items directly from other publications.
Edes and Gill did not have much time to scan the London newspapers, choose which items to reprint, set the type, and operate the presses before distributing the Boston-Gazette on Monday, its usual publication day. They might have been able to include news that had arrived the previous Friday, if they were industrious, but it would have been impossible to insert anything delivered by the captain who arrived on Sunday night. Setting type and operating the press by hand required more time, even if they quickly identified which items to reprint in their own newspaper.
Still, they wanted to get recently arrived news in print and distributed to their subscribers as quickly as possible. To that end, they determined “to give a SUPPLEMENT at Three o’Clock this Afternoon” and instructed their customers “to call or send for them” at that time if they wished to know the “Articles of Intelligence” delivered on the recently arrived vessels. The Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy both also published supplements that day. None of the local newspapers usually published on Mondays allowed the others to scoop them.
Edes and Gill offered an additional explanation for their decision to limit the amount of news from London in the standard issue in favor of filling the supplement with those “Articles of Intelligence.” They reasoned that they needed “to give our Advertizing Customers a good Place.” They considered this a favor and a service to their advertisers, but it also suggested that they realized that even though readers might often be eager to peruse the advertisements that at the moment they prioritized the news, especially since the Townshend Acts were scheduled to go into effect in just a month. Subscribers might (or might not) call or send for a supplement filled with advertisements later in the day, but they would certainly retrieve a supplement that included the most recent political news from London. Edes and Gill implicitly acknowledged that they had a responsibility to place their advertisers’ notices in front of as many eyes as possible rather than consigning them to a separate supplement, distributed at a later time, that might not be read. This was good business that promoted loyalty among their advertisers and encouraged others to consider placing their advertisements in the Boston-Gazette.