March 21

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

The Censor (March 21, 1772).

“This Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”

The colophon for The Censor, a political newspaper-magazine published in Boston by Ezekiel Russell for a few months in late 1771 and early 1772, appeared immediately below the masthead on the front page rather than on the final page. While the placement was unusual, it was not unique.  Both newspapers printed in New York at the time adopted the same format, drawing attention to the printers as soon as readers glanced at the front page.  Starting with the March 7 issue, Russell did include more information in the colophon for The Censor than the New York printers listed in the colophons for their newspapers.  The colophon for the New-York Journal simply stated, “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, ON HUNTER’S-QUAY, ROTTON-ROW.”  The colophon for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was only slightly more elaborate: “Printed by HUGH GAINE, Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in HANOVER-SQUARE.”

Russell initially included the same information, printer and location, in a short colophon that declared “Published by E. RUSSELL, at his Printing-Office, in Marlborough-Street.”  He eventually added, “Where this Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”  Even though he recently began accepting advertising to publish in a supplement, the Postscript to the Censor, Russell did not indicate how much he charged to publish advertisements.  Although some printers mentioned subscription prices or advertising fees or both in their colophons, most did not regularly provide that information in their weekly publications.  The information that Russell incorporated into the colophon for The Censor indicated that he adopted a different business model than other printers.  Others charged annual subscription rates rather than by the issue or “per Number.”  Why did Russell choose a different method for his weekly publication?  Perhaps he wished to make The Censor seem less expensive to prospective subscribers.  After all, “Two Pence per Number” amounted to eight shillings and eight pence over a year.  None of the newspapers printed in Boston at the time published their subscription rates, but the colophon for the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, listed the price at “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.”  If printers in Boston charged similar amounts for their newspapers, that made an annual subscription to The Censor more expensive than any of the local newspapers.  The Censor quickly folded, largely because it rehearsed unpopular political opinions, but the cost “per Number” may have been a factor in the publication’s demise as well.

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