What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”
John Crosby, who sold citrus fruits “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons,” and George Spriggs, “Gardner to JOHN HANCOCK,” were fortunate. Their advertisements were the last two that appeared in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. At the bottom of the third column on the final page, Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a brief notice that “The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.” Unlike Crosby and Spriggs, some advertisers did not see their notices in print in that issue.
Draper had too much content to include in the standard four-page edition that week. He may have considered producing a two-page supplement, as eighteenth-century printers often did in such situations, but perhaps he did not have sufficient advertisements to fill the space. Alternately, lack of time or other resources may have prevented him from distributing a supplement that week. Compared to other issues, the May 24 edition contained relatively few advertisements. They comprised just over two columns, less than an entire page in a publication that often delivered just as much advertising as news.
Like other newspaper printers, Draper had to strike a balance between news and advertising. Subscribers expected to receive the news, not just advertising, but advertisers contributed significant revenue to the operation of colonial newspapers. Advertisers expected to put their notices before the eyes of readers. They wished to reach as many readers as possible, which meant that printers could not alienate subscribers by skimping on the news or else risk their newspapers becoming less attractive venues for placing advertisements because subscription numbers decreased. This was especially true in the larger port cities where printers published competing newspapers. When it came to attracting both subscribers and advertisers, Draper contended with the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in 1770. Delaying advertisements by a week on occasion was unlikely to convince his advertisers to post their notices in other newspapers, but it was not something that Draper could do on a regular basis and expect to maintain his clientele of advertisers and attract new ones.