What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Enquire of the Printer.”
In the late fall of 1767, an anonymous colonist placed a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette announcing that he “WANTED 6 very good Saddle Horses.” Anyone who could provide pacers who met the specifications in the advertisement was requested to “Enquire of the Printer.”
In the November 26 edition, a “Servant Man that will do any Sort of laborious Business in a Family” informed readers that he “WANTS Employ.” He did not provide any additional information about his background or previous experience, but instead stated that “He may be heard of by enquiring at Draper’s Printing Office.”
In the same issue, a slaveholder offered a short description of “A Likely healthy Negro Fellow” who was “TO BE SOLD.” The enslaved man had previously labored as a domestic servant and had cared for a horse, but he was “very capable of learning any other Business.” Anyone interested in acquiring the slave needed to “Enquire ay Draper’s Printing-Office.”
Another colonist sought tenants for “a handsome Dwelling-House … near LIBERTY TREE” in the south end of Boston. The advertisement did not include any other particulars, except for instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” if interested.
Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements frequently advised readers to “Enquire of the Printer.” As a result, printing offices became places where colonists converged to exchange information, not just locations where printers compiled “the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestick” (as some mastheads asserted) in newspapers before distributing them to readers near and far. Even as coffeehouses became increasingly popular places to conduct business, printing offices provided an alternate venue. In some instances printers may have done little more than make introductions between advertisers and readers (a service likely provided free of charge to those who purchased advertising space), but that still placed them at the center of networks for exchanging information. Printers served as gatekeepers of information, exercising their own prerogatives in choosing which news, letters, and other items to publish in newspapers as well as withholding certain details relevant to paid notices at the request of advertisers. Their fellow colonists, just like the news, flowed into as well as out of their printing offices.