August 5

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

Newport Mercury (August 5, 1771).

“Where may be gad all kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

Colonial printers often used the colophons on the final pages of their newspapers for more than merely providing the name of the printer and the place of publication.  Many printers treated colophons as spaces for promoting various aspects of their businesses, transforming them into ancillary advertisements.

In a relatively brief example, Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, informed readers that he supplied “all Kinds of BLANKS” (or printed forms for commercial and legal transactions) “commonly used in this Colony.”  Anne Catherine Green included a much more extensive colophon in Maryland Gazette.  Like many other printers, she hawked subscriptions and advertisements, but she also promoted other goods and services available at her printing office in Annapolis.  “At same Place may be had, ready Printed,” she declared, “most kinds of BLANKS, viz. COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of several Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; BILLS of EXCHANGE; [and] SHIPPING BILLS.”  In addition to blanks, “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK performed in the neatest and most expeditious Manner.”

Isaiah Thomas also used the colophon of his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, to solicit job printing in addition to subscriptions and advertisements.  “PRINTING, in its various Branches,” he proclaimed, “performed in a neat Manner, with the greatest Care and Dispatch, on the most reasonable Terms.”  In particular, Thomas produced “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  According to the colophon for the New-York Journal, John Holt did “all Sorts of Printing Work … in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition.”  Alexander Purdie and John Dixon deployed similar language in the colophon for the Virginia Gazette: “All sorts of PRINTING WORK done at this Office in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition.”

Not every newspaper printer transfigured the colophon into an advertisement.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter, for instance, simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. Draper.”  A substantial number of printers, however, did seize the opportunity to do more than merely list their name and location at the bottom of the final page.  Their colophons became advertisements that perpetually appeared in their newspapers, promoting goods and services in a different format than other commercial notices.

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