What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST PUBLISH’D, (And TO BE SOLD by D. & R. FOWLE.)”
Colonial printers rarely listed their advertising fees in their newspapers. Those that did usually set rates that took into account a variety of factors, including the length of an advertisement, its duration, and the time and labor involved in setting type. Most printers specified that an advertisement would run for three or four weeks for an initial fee and then accrue additional fees with each subsequent insertion. The cost of those insertions made clear that the initial fee took into account that a compositor had to set the type for an advertisement’s first appearance but not afterward. Printers also stated that the basic fees were adjustable in that they were proportional to the length of each advertisement. Shorter advertisements cost less, but longer advertisements more. The basic fees provided a starting point for the calculations.
Other content in colonial newspapers – news, editorials, prices current, shipping news, and poetry and other entertainment pieces – changed from issue to issue. Type for each item had to be set with each new edition. Advertisements, however, continued from week to week without change. Their placement on the page often shifted as compositors eliminated notices that had expired, added others, and arranged the contents in an order that yielded columns of the same length, but that did not require (setting type for each advertisement. In that regard, reprinting advertisements for second and subsequent weeks reduced the time and labor required for producing a portion of the newspaper.
When preparing the final edition for 1768, reprinting advertisements that previously appeared in previous weeks saved the compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette considerable time and labor. The last page consisted entirely of advertisements and a colophon. That page exactly replicated the last page of the previous issue: all of the same advertisements in the same order, an extraordinary repetition even taking into account that individual advertisements ran for multiple weeks.
Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The page of advertising that did not change from one issue to the next represented one-quarter of the contents of the December 30 edition. Producing copies one-by-one on a hand-operated press still required the same amount of time and energy. When it came to content, however, reprinting advertisements streamlined the production process. The printing office at the New-Hampshire Gazette would have still been a bustling place, but the compositor experienced a brief respite when it came to preparing the last page for the final edition of 1768.