What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Those who advertise in this Paper … are requested to send them … on Wednesdays.”
Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, made a last-minute addition to the June 20, 1771, edition before taking it to press. In a brief note, he declared, “Those who advertise in this Paper which circulates so extensively, are requested to send them in Season on Wednesdays: whereby the Paper may be published earlier on Thursdays. See SUPPLEMENT.” The supplement that accompanied that issue did not include additional instructions for submitting advertisements. It did contain several notices that did not appear in the standard issue as well as news items from New York, Hartford, Newport, and Providence.
The printer’s note to advertisers ran in the right margin of the third page of the June 20 edition, marking it as something inserted only after preparation of the rest of the issue had been completed. Like other colonial newspapers, the Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The printer began with the first and fourth pages, placing news and advertisements received in advance on those pages. That left space for recent news and other advertisements on the second and third pages, printed only after the ink on the first and fourth pages dried. For instance, the second and third pages of the June 20 edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter included multiple items from Boston and Cambridge dated that day. Draper’s note to advertisers in the margin almost certainly was the last type set for the standard issue, perhaps in exasperation that some advertisers submitted their notices so late as to delay distribution of the newest edition while Draper and others who worked in the printing office produced the supplement to accompany it.
Draper tended to the interests of his subscribers and other readers in his note. He aimed to make the newspaper available as early in the day as possible. This also served his own interests since Isaiah Thomas published the Massachusetts Spy, a competing newspaper, on the same day. He also angled for additional advertising, even as he clarified the right time to submit advertisements. In asserting that the Boston Weekly News-Letter “circulates so extensively,” he not only testified to the time required for printing each edition but also assured prospective advertisers that significant numbers of readers would see their notices. The success of his newspaper depended on attracting sufficient subscribers and advertisers. Draper attempted to cultivate positive relationships with both constituencies, in the process offering instructions intended to facilitate the production of the newspaper while simultaneously attracting more business.