May 16

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 13, 1773).

“[The Avertisements that are omitted this Week, will have a good Place in out next.]”

Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, inserted notes to readers and subscribers at the bottom of the third page of the May 13, 1773, edition.  In those notes, he provided information about the contents of the current issue and the next issue, acknowledging that he did not have sufficient space for all the materials received in his printing office that week.  Placing the notes on the third page made sense considering how eighteenth-century printers produced each standard issue of a four-page newspaper.  They printed two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folded it in half, usually printing the first and fourth pages first and the second and third pages later.  That meant that they set the type of the third page last.

It was only when setting type for the third page that Draper or a compositor who worked in his printing office knew the layout of the entire issue.  In this instance, that meant that “A variety of domestic Articles are in the last Page, and London Articles in the SUPPLEMENT.”  That note ran across all three columns at the bottom of the third page, a thick line separating it from the rest of the content.  In another note, this one appearing at the bottom of the first column, Draper advised that “[The Avertisements that are omitted this Week, will have a good Place in out next.]”  Draper may not have yet realized that news from London would occupy only one page of the two-page supplement, leaving room for another entire page of advertisements … or he may have realized that even with the extra space he still would not have enough room for all the paid notices that customers expected to see in his newspaper.  After all, he resorted to a supplement again the following week in order to increase the content he disseminated from four pages to six pages.

Given that advertising represented such an important revenue stream for colonial printers, Draper erred on the side of caution in letting advertisers know that their notices might not appear in the current issue or its supplement and, as a consolation, promised “a good Place” in the next issue.  His advertisers had the option of giving their business to any of the four other newspapers printed in Boston at the time, prompting Draper to provide updates and reassurances about when they could expect to see their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

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