What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years this week?
“PROPOSALS For Re-Printing by Subscription … Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Spirit of Laws”
On October 22, 1772, Richard Draper distributed a two-page supplement to accompany the standard issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. That supplement consisted almost entirely of advertising, though it did include brief news items from London and Quebec. A subscription proposal for an “American Edition of … Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Spirit of Laws” filled most of the second page of the supplement. That subscription proposal would have looked familiar to colonizers who also read the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy since it appeared in that newspaper three days earlier. It may have also looked familiar to those who had not perused the other publication. As I argued when examining the first appearance of the subscription proposal in Boston’s newspapers, it likely circulated separately as a handbill or broadside.
Draper adopted the same method of making the subscription proposal fit on the page that John Green and Joseph Russell used in their newspaper. Since it was wider than two standard columns, he created a narrower third column by rotating the type to run perpendicular to the rest of the page. Draper also added a colophon, centered at the bottom of the subscription proposal. This method of making the broadside fit on a newspaper page was not the only similarity between its appearance in two newspapers. It looks as though the printing offices shared the type. If that was the case, who produced the broadside? Draper or Green and Russell? Even if the subscription proposal did not circulate separately as a broadside or handbill, the printers almost certainly shared type between their offices. That was not the first time in 1772 that Draper collaborated with other printers in that manner. In May, Jolley Allen’s advertisements in the Boston-Gazetteand the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had identical copy and format. At the same time, Andrew Dexter’s advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter also featured identical copy and format. At various times, Draper apparently shared type already set with three other printing offices. Yet he was not always involved in instances of sharing type. Advertisements for a “Variety of Goods” that ran in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on October 12, for instance, appear identical, with the exception of the last two lines either added to the notice in the Boston-Gazette or removed from the one in the Boston Evening-Post to make it fit the page. Examining advertisements reveals several other examples of printers in Boston seemingly sharing type in the early 1770s.
As I have noted on other occasions that I have identified what appears to be type transferred from one printing office to another, these observations are drawn from digitized copies of eighteenth-century newspapers. Examining the original editions, including taking measurements, may yield additional details that either demonstrate that Boston’s printers did not share type for newspaper advertisements or that further suggest that they did indeed do so. This question merits further investigation to learn more about business practices in printing offices that competed for both newspaper subscribers and advertisers.