What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”
In addition to the masthead on the first page, most eighteenth-century newspapers also included a colophon that listed publication information on the final page. At the very least the colophon usually indicated the name of the printer and the place of publication, but many printers inserted much more extensive information in their colophons, often transforming them into advertisements for the goods and services they provided. For instance, in the colophon for the February 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy James Parker announced that he accepted “Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper” at his printing office on Beaver Street. On the same day, Peter Timothy similarly invited readers of the South Carolina Gazette to submit subscriptions and advertisements, but his colophon also stated that “all Kinds of useful Blanks sold, and all Sorts of Printing-Work is done with Accuracy and Dispatch” in his shop.
Like Parker and Timothy, many printers frequently solicited advertisements in their colophons. After all, advertising generated greater revenues than subscriptions. Far fewer printers, however, indicated how much they charged advertisers to have their notices inserted in the newspaper. In the colophon of the Newport Mercury Samuel Hall did publish such rates: “ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, lawful Money, and Six Pence for each Week after.” This schedule indicates how much advertisers paid for both space in the newspaper and the time and labor involved in setting the type. Each advertisement required a minimum payment of three shillings (or thirty-six pence). Hall determined that the space taken up by an advertisement was worth six pence per week. Since the original order had to cover three weeks, that meant that eighteen pence went toward the space the advertisement occupied on the page. The remaining eighteen pence then covered the time and labor involved in setting the type. This sort of payment structure was common among printers who revealed advertising rates in their colophons. Once an advertiser made it worth their time to set the type (usually three weeks, but occasionally four), they continued to publish an advertisement for just the cost of the space. Running an advertisement for even a short time often exceeded the cost of a subscription to the newspaper, making paid notices lucrative for printers.