What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Subscriptions are taken in by I. Thomas, Printer and Publisher … M.J. Hiller, Watch-maker in Salem.”
As Isaiah Thomas prepared to relaunch the Massachusetts Spy after a brief hiatus, he placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston. On February 18, 1771, he inserted a notice in all three newspapers published that day, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. In that notice, he revised the plan of publication he previously outlined. Instead of publishing the Spy on Tuesdays, the day after new editions of the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Gazette and Post-Boy, he moved the day to Thursdays in order to take advantage of the post arriving from Hartford with newspapers and letters on Wednesdays. That would allow him to disseminate whatever news arrived from the west.
With his original plan, he would have been the only printer in Boston who circulated a newspaper in Boston on Tuesdays. The revised plan, however, put him in direct competition with the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Despite that fact, the Gazette and News-Letter carried Thomas’s advertisement for the Spy on February 21. That notice featured copy identical to the advertisements in the other three newspapers except for the additions of a headline that labeled it “ANOTHER THURDAY’S PAPER” and “Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgwater” as a local agent who collected subscriptions on Thomas’s behalf.
Thomas did not confine his marketing of the revamped Spy to Boston’s newspapers. The day after it first appeared, the printer inserted the advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem. The notice about the Spy ran for several weeks in each newspaper that carried it, a strategy likely intended to create momentum in acquiring subscribers leading up to the relaunch on March 7. Thomas carefully coordinated that advertising campaign. Notices usually ran for three weeks for a set fee, with an additional charge for each subsequent insertion. Thomas planned the appearance of his advertisements to occur in the three weeks prior to commencing publication of the improved Spy. Those advertisements did not appear in other newspapers again on or after March 7. Instead, new issues of the Spy did the work of advertising the newspaper as they circulated in Boston and beyond.