March 21

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 18, 1773).

“PROPOSES to publish a Weekly NEWS-PAPER.”

James Rivington continued to expand his marketing campaign to gain subscribers for his new newspaper, “RIVINGTON’s NEW-YORK GAZETTEER; OR THE CONNECTICUT, NEW-JERSEY, HUDSON’s-RIVER, AND QUEBEC WEEKLY ADVERTISER,” with an advertisement in the March 18, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury.  Nearly a month earlier, he commenced advertising in newspapers with a brief notice in the Newport Mercury on February 22.  That same day, he placed a longer notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  That version became the standard that Rivington published, with minor variations, in other newspapers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on February 24, the Connecticut Journal on February 26, and the Pennsylvania Packet on March 1.  On March 8, he informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that the “first Number” of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “shall make its Appearance in the month of April” and requested that “Gentlemen who may be inclined to promote the Establishment of this Undertaking” send their names “as soon as convenient, which will determine the Number he shall print of the first Paper.”

For prospective subscribers in Massachusetts, Rivington provided directions for contacting local agents.  “Subscriptions taken,” he declared, “by Messrs. Cox and Berry and Dr. M.B. Goldthwait, at Boston.”  Otherwise, the proposal in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury replicated those that ran in the newspapers published in Philadelphia.  For some reason, that initial notice in the Newport Mercury differed significantly from those that ran in half a dozen other newspapers in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  The overall consistency of those subscription proposals amounted to a regional advertising campaign that delivered the same content to prospective subscribers in several colonies.  Members of the book trade – printers, booksellers, and publishers – devised the vast majority of advertising campaigns that extended beyond a single town in the eighteenth century.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements in multiple newspapers published in their town; the purveyors of goods, rather than the products they sold, defined the geographic scope of their markets since most producers did not advertise the items they made.  Even when merchants and shopkeepers in several towns sold the same items, such as patent medicines, they did not participate in centralized advertising campaigns coordinated by the producers of those items.  Markets confined to colonial cities and their hinterlands, however, often could not support printed items, such as books and pamphlets, so printers, booksellers, and publishers developed advertising campaigns that placed the same notices in newspapers throughout a region or even throughout the colonies.  Rivington adopted that model in marketing a newspaper that he also intended would serve readers far beyond his printing office in New York.

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