February 17

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (February 12, 1771).

All ADVERTISEMENTS … translated gratis.”

Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Muller) printed the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote from January 1762 through May 1779, serving the German-speaking community in Philadelphia and its hinterlands.  Reflecting the reach of the publication, Miller changed the name to the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote in January 1768.  The newspaper began as a weekly, like most others published in colonial America.  It temporarily became a semi-weekly from May 1775 through July 1776, but reverted to a weekly after that.

While intended primarily for German speakers, the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote also aided other colonists in disseminating information, including legal notices and advertisements for consumer goods and services, to broader audiences than they otherwise would have reached via the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Pennsylvania Gazette, Pennsylvania Journal, and other English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia.  Miller encouraged such submissions in the masthead with a nota bene in English, usually the only portion of the newspaper not in German.  “AllADVERTISEMENTS,” the printer proclaimed, “to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.” Placing the nota bene about translating advertisements in the masthead at the top of the first page made it much more visible than nestling it in the colophon at the bottom of the final page.  Miller wanted to increase the likelihood that prospective advertisers would become aware of this service.  To make it even more enticing, he did the translations for free rather than applying an additional charge.  Any advertisements “printed single,” such as broadsides, handbills, and trade cards, yielded even wider circulation of information among German-speaking colonists.

The Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote served a particular community, but not in an insulated fashion.  The printer offered a means for English-speaking colonists to share information and seek customers among the German-speaking community.  For purveyors of goods and services, this presented opportunities to enlarge the market for their wares.  This was good business for everyone involved, including German speakers who gained access to more information, English speakers who attracted customers to their businesses, and the printer who generated revenues from each advertisement he translated and published.

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