What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Last Solemn Scene, will be ready to be delivered to the Subscribers To-Morrow Noon.”
Compared to many other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the Essex Gazette contained relatively little advertising. Compare the November 14, 1769, edition to the South-Carolina and American General Gazette published on the same day. Only six advertisements, filling only a portion of a column, ran in the Essex Gazette. In contrast, more than fifty advertisements filled nearly six of the sixteen columns in the standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. That still was not enough space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing office. A two-page supplement comprised exclusively of advertisements accompanied the November 13 edition; nearly fifty more advertisements filled six columns. Admittedly, Charleston was a larger and busier port than Salem, where Samuel Hall published the Essex Gazette, but the difference in the contents of the two newspapers was stark all the same.
Of the six advertisements that appeared in the Essex Gazette on November 14, two promoted Hall’s own business interests. He divided the advertisements into two sections; three ran at the bottom of the last column on the third page and the other three ran at the bottom of the last column on the final page. In both instances, Hall exercised his prerogative as the printer to place his advertisements first. As readers transitioned from perusing the news to advertisements, Hall increased the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisements, even if they switched to skimming the remainder of the column in search of more news.
Both of Hall’s advertisements concerned books. One informed readers of a book “Just Publish’d, and sold at the Printing-Office.” The other announced the successful outcome of a proposed book published by subscription. Hall had called on interested readers to reserve a copy of “The Rev. Mr. Murray’s Sermon, entitled, The Last Solemn Scene,” in advance. As with other printers who published by subscription, he gauged the market and did not commit the book to press until he knew sufficient demand existed to make it a viable enterprise. His advertisement in the November 14 edition of the Essex Gazette informed subscribers that the book would be ready “To-Morrow Noon.”
Printers frequently inserted advertisements for their own goods and services in the newspapers they published. In Hall’s case, doing so was important not only to generate more business for his other ventures but also to encourage additional advertising from members of the community. He did not have the advantage of pages overflowing with advertising that Robert Wells experienced with the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. As a result, his own advertisements had to serve as a model for prospective advertisers, implicitly encouraging them to submit their own notices for dissemination in the public prints.