What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Blanks and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”
Some colonial printers used the colophon at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers merely to give publication information. Such was the case in several newspapers during the first week of 1773. The colophon for the New-Hampshire Gazette succinctly stated, “PORTSMOUTH, Printed by Daniel and Robert Fowle.” Similarly, the colophon for the Boston-Gazette simply read, “Boston: Printed by EDES & GILL, in Queen-Street, 1773.” Beyond New England, the colophon for the Pennsylvania Gazette gave similar information: “PHILADELPHIA: Printed by HALL and SELLERS, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE, near the Market.”
In contrast, many printers treated their colophons as perpetual advertisements for the goods and services they provided at their printing offices. In many instances, those colophons included the most readily accessible information about subscription prices, advertising fees, or both. Consider the colophon for the Pennsylvania Chronicle. It opened with the same information that appeared in concise versions in other newspapers: “PHILADELPHIA: Printed by WILLIAM GODDARD, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Front-Street, near Market-Street, on the Bank Side, and almost opposite to the London Coffee-House.” In a bustling city where printers published four other newspapers, Goddard wanted to make sure that subscribers, advertisers, and other customers could find his printing office.
From there, the printer noted that “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this paper.” In addition to generating revenue through subscriptions and advertising, Goddard encouraged an eighteenth-century version of crowdsourcing for content that he might choose to include in his publication. In addition to publishing the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Goddard also accepted orders for job printing. In the final lines of the colophon, he asserted that “all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care, Fidelity and Expedition,” adding that “Blanks [or printed forms] and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.” That Goddard and other printers so often mentioned handbills in their colophons suggests that many more of those ephemeral advertisements came off of colonial presses than the relatively few that survived might suggest.
Eighteenth-century printers introduced a variety of variations into their colophons. Some included only brief publication information, while others consistently used their colophons as advertisements to promote their businesses. Those who took that approach were the most consistent advertisers of the period, disseminating at least one advertisement in each issue they printed. Even the most prolific advertisers among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who placed paid notices did not advertise at that rate.