April 12

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 12, 1773).

“He intreats those who are so obliging as to intend advertising in the first Number of the New-York Gazetteer, to favour him with their Advertisements as soon as convenient.”

As he prepared to launch his New-York Gazetteer, James Rivington placed a notice in the April 12, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he published and distributed “AN ADDRESS TO THE SUBSCRIBERS” for his newspaper.  He worried, however, that not every subscriber actually received their copy.  He arranged for each of them to “have the Address left at their Houses,” but discovered that “thro’ Inadvertency, [some] may have been hitherto neglected.”  To remedy the situation, he offered that they “may be furnished sans Expence with as many Copies of it as may be required for themselves or for their Friends” upon sending a request to the printing office.

Why might subscribers have been interested in obtaining multiple free copies of this address and sharing them with others?  It was not an extended subscription proposal.  Instead, Rivington explained that it “contains the Speeches in Parliament, subsequent to that from the Throne at the opening of the present Session,” made by nearly twenty politicians and other dignitaries, including “the truly eloquent Mr. Edmund Burke, Agent for our Colony.”  Those speeches elaborated on “the most important Subjects, in which the Inhabitants of this Continent are very materially interested.”  Rivington devised a premium or gift that he gave to subscribers before the first issue of his newspaper went to press.  He likely hoped that any of the additional copies that subscribers ordered to share with their friends might also induce others to subscribe as well.

The printer had another purpose, however, in placing this notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Between his offer to distribute additional copies of the “ADDRESS TO THE SUBSCRIBERS” and his explanation of the contents, he made a pitch to prospective advertisers.  Rivington “intreats those who are so obliging as to intend advertising in the first Number of the New-York Gazetteer, to favour him with their Advertisements as soon as convenient.”  He explained that advertisements “will be inserted on the usual terms,” though he did not specify the rates, and promised that the newspaper “will have a very extensive Circulation.”  Colonizers familiar with the full name of the newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, already anticipated that would be the case.  Furthermore, Rivington previously disseminated subscription proposals in New York, Pennsylvania, and New England.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others could depend on prospective customers near and far glimpsing their advertisements as they perused Rivington’s newspaper.

This notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury ten days before Rivington published the first issue of his new newspaper on April 22, 1773.  He presented a gift to his subscribers and offered additional free copies of speeches delivered in Parliament in hopes of inciting more interest among prospective subscribers.  At the same time, he positioned a call for advertisers in the middle of his description of the premium his subscribers and their friends received.  When the first issue went to press, advertising filled five of the twelve columns.  Through his various efforts, Rivington convinced advertisers to take a chance on placing notices in his new publication.

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