What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.”
The May 26, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concluded with a notice quite familiar to readers: “Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.” The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, frequenlty inserted some sort of call for linen rags for use in making paper. The format of the May 26 issues suggests that the Fowles’ regular supply of paper had been disrupted, making it even more important that colonists turn over their rags. This was not the first time something of the sort had happened that year. The Fowles opened the first issue of 1769 with a notice explaining why they printed it “on so small a Paper.” They had not been able to acquire the usual size, but they were determined to print their newspaper “on Paper made in New-England … some of it out of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” The printers explicitly stated that they refused to purchase imported paper due to the duties leveled by the Townshend Acts and “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.”
In late May, they did not print on smaller sheets but instead on larger. A standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other newspapers published in the colonies in 1769, consisted of four pages of three columns each (created by folding in half a broadsheet with two pages printed on each side). The May 26 edition, as well as the next seven, had only two pages of four columns. Although the metadata for digital surrogates does not include the dimensions of the sheets, examining the masthead and colophon clearly reveals that the substituted paper was wider. The masthead ran across only three of the four columns on the front page. Other content ran the entire length of the page in the fourth column. Similarly, the colophon ran across three of the four columns on the other side of the broadsheet, with other content again extending the entire length of the fourth column. This format suggests that the Fowles made the masthead and colophon, used from week to week and from issue to issue, fit the available paper rather than setting new type to conform to a different size.
This significantly changed the appearance of the New-Hampshire Gazette for two months in 1769 as the Fowles and others collected rags to transform into paper of the usual size for the publication. This time around the Fowles did not offer an explanation about the change, perhaps assuming that since they had so recently undertaken another substitution that subscribers would readily recognize the cause this time. Even without additional comment in late May, their offer to exchange books “for clean white Linen RAGS” reverberated with political meaning.
[Note: After working exclusively with the digital surrogates, I had an opportunity to examine the originals at the American Antiquarian Society. As the visual evidence suggested, the Fowles did temporarily print the New-Hampshire Gazette on a paper of a different size. Usually a page measured 15 inches by 9.75 inches, with each column 2.75 inches across. The substitute paper measured 15 inches by 15.5 inches, allowing enough space for a fourth column also 2.75 inches across.]