What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Advertisements … are inserted for Five Shillings.”
Advertising represented an important revenue stream for eighteenth-century printers, prompting many to regularly solicit advertisements in the colophons of their newspapers. In 1769, for example, the colophon for the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy stated that James Parker printed it “at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE … where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Similarly, William Goddard used the colophon of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to proclaim that “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this Paper” at his printing office. While printers regularly encouraged colonists to submit advertisements, they much less frequently indicated how much it cost to advertise in their publications.
Those that did list their advertising rates most often did so in the colophon, again utilizing it for conducting business on behalf of the newspaper rather than merely listing the particulars about who published it. A systematic examination of the colophons of eighteenth-century newspapers would produce a much better accounting of eighteenth-century advertising rates than has yet been compiled by historians of early American print culture. Such a project would include the New-York Chronicle.
When Alexander Robertson and James Robertson launched this newspaper in May 1769, they included their advertising rates in the colophon: “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.” Their pricing schedule reflected common practices among printers who listed the fees for inserting notices in newspapers. Advertisers commonly purchased a “square” of advertising as the basic unit, paying an initial fee that covered both setting the type and running the advertisement for several weeks, usually three or four. Most printers also indicated additional costs for continuing an advertisement after its initial run, as well as proportional pricing for those that exceeded the standard square. In this case, the five shillings that the Robertsons charged to insert an advertisement for four weeks consisted of one shilling for setting the type and one shilling for each week it appeared in the New-York Chronicle. Each additional week cost one shilling. In this case, the colophon revealed valuable information about the business of printing in early America.