What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING a NEW WEEKLY PAPER.”
Two months before it commenced publication, John Mein and John Fleeming distributed a subscription notice for “PRINTING a NEW WEEKLY PAPER, called The Boston Chronicle.” Their proposals advertised the newspaper in advance in an effort to gain as many subscribers as possible before the first issue even went to press. Although they did not say so explicitly in their subscription notice, they stood to sell more advertising if they could demonstrate that they attracted sufficient subscribers.
Mein and Fleeming’s broadsheet subscription notice had three parts. One side outlined the “CONDITIONS” of publication, a standard aspect of any eighteenth-century subscription notice, whether it appeared as a newspaper advertisement, on a magazine wrapper, or as a separate broadside. The other side enumerated the types of news items to be included in the new publication and described the networks the printers had established for acquiring that content.
The “CONDITIONS” provided a general overview of the newspaper. Mein and Fleeming promoted the material aspects, including the paper and type, and asserted that the subscription notice itself was a “SPECIMEN” of the newspapers prospective subscribers could expect to receive. Rather than the standard four pages, the Boston Chronicle would be eight pages, yet Mein and Fleeming specified a low price. Although it was an “EXTRAORDINARY SIZE,” it was still affordable. The weekly paper would be distributed on Mondays, like most of its competitors in Boston, and the publishers welcomed “Subscriptions from the Country,” promising to deliver the newspaper to subscribers outside the city “with the utmost regularity.”
In terms of content, they promised “All the current news, foreign and domestic, ecclesiastical or military.” Of particular interest, they would publish “debates in the great assemblies,” “Remakrkable and interesting cases, civil or criminal,” and “Whatever may contribute to promote agriculture, population, trade and manufactures in America.” Not surprisingly, given that Mein and Fleeming were both booksellers, the Boston Chronicle would include “An account of the new books” to guide readers in making their own purchases.
To obtain the necessary content, the publishers reported that “A correspondence has been established, in several parts of Great-Britain, but particularly in LONDON, by which we will receive, by every vessel, all the news-papers of any note, and every Magazine, Review, and political pamphlet without exception.” In addition, their “friends have also promised to send private anecdotes” that might not appear in newspapers printed in England. To collect as much news as possible, Mein and Fleeming had also cultivated correspondents “along the whole continent and West Indies.” They were indeed committed to receiving “All the current news, foreign and domestic” so they could pass it along to their subscribers.
Mein and Fleeming distributed the first issue of the Boston Chronicle on December 21, 1767. They continued publication for two and half years, releasing the final issue in June 1770. Their subscription notice almost certainly helped them initially as they sought sufficient subscribers, but the Boston Chronicle, like many other eighteenth-century newspapers, had a short run in the face of competition and political turmoil.