February 16

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

New-York Journal (February 13, 1772).

“Subscribers in the distant Provinces will be supplied as soon as possible.”

Robert Bell invested a lot of effort in promoting an “American Edition of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND” in the early 1770s.  He inserted subscription notices in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, encouraging colonizers to support the development of a distinctly American market for literature.  He inserted an update in the February 13, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, alerting the public that the second volume “will be ready for Delivery to the Subscribers of Philadelphia and New-York, on the 28th of February.”  In addition, “Subscribers in the distant Provinces shall be supplied as soon as possible.”

Bell’s notice in the February 13 edition of the New-York Journal ran on a Thursday, the only day that John Holt, the printer, distributed that newspaper.  Most American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution were weeklies, though a few printers did experiment with producing and disseminating two or three issues per week.  Daily newspapers did not emerge until after the Revolution.  That meant that printers strategically chose which days to publish their newspapers.  Most selected Mondays and Thursdays.  Holt’s competitor, Hugh Gaine, published the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on Mondays, thus allowing readers in New York two opportunities to peruse “the freshest ADVICES, both FOREIGN and DOMESTIC” throughout the week.  Some newspapers published in smaller towns in New England appeared on Tuesdays or Fridays or Wednesdays or Saturdays, one or two days after newspapers in Boston and New York.  That allowed printers to acquire the newest editions and reprint items of interest.

Sundays were the only day that printers did not distribute their latest issues anywhere in the colonies.  In the twentieth century, the Sunday newspaper became the most coveted edition, the one that contained the most sections of specialized content as well as advertising supplements.  Today, the Sunday edition remains a distinct entity, the only issue that many readers acquire and read.  That represents an evolution in publication and reading habits.  Once a week, the Adverts 250 Project examines a newspaper advertisement published 250 years ago that week instead of 250 years ago that day because printers did not produce Sunday editions in the eighteenth century.  That remained the case even for the dailies published in the largest cities after the Revolution.

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