What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the SPY are also taken in by Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker.”
Most newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s did not have extensive colophons. Consider, for example, those newspapers published at the time that Isaiah Thomas relaunched the Massachusetts Spy on March 7, 1771. The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. DRAPER.” Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post read, in its entirety, “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.” The Boston-Gazette also had a short colophon, “Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL.” Limited to “Printed by GREEN & RUSSELL,” the colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy did not even list the city. All of those colophons appeared at the end of the final column on the last page.
In contrast, Thomas adopted a style much more often (but not universally) deployed in newspapers published in other cities and towns. Extending across all four columns on the final page, it provided much more information about the Massachusetts Spy for readers, prospective subscribers and advertisers, and others who might have business with the printing office. He included his location, “UNION-STREET, near the Market,” and listed the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence” annually. He also noted that he sought advertising, but did not specify the rates. In addition, Thomas stated that “Articles of Intelligence … are thankfully received.” In other words, he solicited contributions to print or reprint in the Spy. Like other newspaper printers, he accepted job printing as a means of supplementing the revenues from subscriptions and advertising. Thomas proclaimed that he could produce “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.” He provided all of the services available in other printing offices.
Thomas included an additional enhancement in his colophon, one that not only did not appear in other newspapers published in Boston but also did not appear in other newspapers published throughout the colonies. He listed local agents who accepted subscriptions for the Spy in towns beyond Boston: “Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker, and Mr. W. Calder, painter, in Charlestown; Mr. J. Hillier, watch-maker, in Salem; Mr. B. Emerson, Bookseller, in Newbury-Port; and Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgewater.” That portion of the colophon reflected advertisements Thomas placed in other newspapers prior to relaunching the Spy. It testified to a network the printer established for gathering sufficient subscribers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise. The list also made it more convenient for prospective subscribers to order their copies of the Spy. Those who lived in any of the towns listed in the colophon could deal directly with the local agents rather than dispatch letters to the printing office in Boston.
When it came to publishing a newspaper in Boston, Thomas was a newcomer in the early 1770s. All of the other newspapers in circulation had been established for many years. Perhaps the printers believed that their newspapers and their printing offices were so familiar to readers that they did not need extensive colophons providing a lot of information. Thomas chose a different model, one much more common in newspapers published in other places. In the process, he added his own innovation, listing local agents, in order to gain greater advantage of the portion of each issue that he surrendered to the colophon.