October 14

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 14, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A WEEKLY NEWS-PAPER.”

Philadelphia was the most populous city among Britain’s mainland colonies in the early 1770s, large enough that John Dunlap determined that the market could support an additional newspaper in the fall of 1771.  Local readers already had access to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, but in early October Dunlap began distributing subscription notices for another weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, to commence on November 25.

Like subscription notices for other publications, whether books, magazines, or newspapers, Dunlap’s notice included both an overview of the purpose and a list of conditions.  Those conditions specified subscription prices and advertising fees that many printers rarely published after launching their newspapers, though some regularly incorporated one or both into their colophon alongside other details of publication.  “The Price to Subscribers,” Dunlap informed readers, “will be Ten Shillings per year.”  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  In that regard, Dunlap deviated from the standard pricing structure; most printers set the base price to include inserting advertisements for either three or four weeks before charging for “each continuance.”    Dunlap did adopt the familiar practice of charging more for longer advertisements, stating that “those of greater length” would appear “at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”

As was the case for other newspapers, advertisements for the Pennsylvania Packet were relatively expensive compared to subscriptions.  Three advertisements running for just one week cost nearly as much as a single subscription.  Paid notices represented significant revenue for most colonial printers who published newspapers.  That may have influenced Dunlap to list advertising fees ahead of subscription prices in the conditions in his subscription notice.  Although the advertisement ended with a list of local agents who accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf in several towns, he sought advertisers for his new endeavor as well as subscribers.  He needed both kinds of support for the Pennsylvania Packet to become a successful enterprise.

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:13:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1767).

“Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green launched a new newspaper, the Connecticut Journal; and New-Haven Post-Boy, on October 23, 1767. Like many other colonial printers, they used the colophon not only to provide the particulars concerning publication but also as an advertisement for the newspaper itself: “All Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Six-Shillings a Year.”

Yet colonial newspapers rarely had sufficient subscribers to make them sustainable business ventures. In addition to subscriptions, advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream. To that end, the Greens also issued a call for advertisers in the colophon. In the process, they provided a relatively rare indication of the costs of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.

How much did it cost Michael Todd to place an advertisement for the “GOOD Assortment of Winter Goods” at “his Store in New-Haven” in the November 13 issue? According to the colophon, “Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, and Six-Pence each Week afterwards; and long Ones in Proportion.” Todd’s advertisement was approximately half again as long as it was wide. He would have paid four shillings and six pence to run it for the first three weeks and then another nine pence for each week thereafter. (Todd and other advertisers received a discount for subsequent insertions because the labor of setting the type had already been completed.) If Todd ran his advertisement for only three weeks the cost would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a yearly subscription. Running it for a fourth week would have raised the shopkeeper’s cost (and the printers’ revenue) to the same as a subscription.

Advertisements were indeed good for business, especially the printing business. The amount of space devoted to advertising in the Connecticut Journal gradually expanded during its first month of publication, a development the Greens welcomed and sought to further cultivate in order to improve the prospects for their new publication. They met with some success. The Connecticut Journal continued publication for more than fifty years, issuing its final edition in December 1820. Advertising filled one-third of the space in that issue.