October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).

“SUPPLEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL OR GENERAL ADVERTISER.”

John Holt’s newspaper lived up to the full name that appeared in the masthead: “THE NEW-YORK JOURNAL; OR, THE GENERAL ADVERTISER.” In many instances, Holt’s newspaper might better have been called an advertiser because it carried significantly more paid notices than news content.

Consider, for example, the October 27, 1768, edition. It consisted of the standard four-page issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page featured three columns. In addition, Holt distributed a four-page “SUPPLEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL OR GENERAL ADVERTISER.” Printed on a smaller sheet, each page had two columns of text the same width as those in the regular issue as well as a third column of text rotated such that it appeared perpendicular to the rest. The sheet was not wide enough to accommodate three columns, so the compositor devised a creative means of inserting advertisements using type already set for previous issues.

In the regular issue, advertising filled a significant amount of space: five of the twelve columns. News and other content, such as a table of the tides and a poet’s corner, accounted for the remaining columns. Advertising comprised an even greater proportion of the supplement. Only two columns of news appeared in it.

Those advertisements helped to sustain the New-York Journal. Like most eighteenth-century newspapers, its viability depended in large part on the revenues generated from advertising. Unlike most newspapers of the era, it listed the fees for advertisement in the colophon. “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth,” Holt specified, “are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” A great many advertisements happened to be longer than they were wide. In such instances, Holt charged “in the same Proportion” for “larger Advertisements.” Peter T. Curtenius’s advertisement, twice as long as it was wide, would have cost ten shillings to set the type and run for four weeks and an additional two shillings for each additional insertion.

Not all colonial newspapers contained as many advertisements as the New-York Journal, but most did devote at least one-quarter of their space – and often much, much more – to paid notices. In that regard, newspapers were delivery mechanisms for advertising as much as for news, even in an era predating the rise of Madison Avenue and the modern advertising industry.

May 1

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

May 1 - 4:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 28, 1768).

THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.”

Richard Draper inserted a short notice at the bottom of the middle column on the third page of the April 28, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, the printer informed the public that “THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.” Like the abbreviated colophon (“Printed by R. DRAPER”) that appeared at the same place on the final page, it looked like the printer barely had enough space to squeeze this announcement into an issue that quite literally overflowed with news, editorials, and, especially, advertising. Unlike other printers in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies, Draper did not issue a supplement. Perhaps he did not have sufficient time or resources to do so. Perhaps he did not have sufficient content to fill an additional two pages, even though he had not been able to run all of the advertisements he had received.

Proportionally, Draper did publish a significant quantity of advertisements compared to other content in the April 28 edition. More than thirty advertisements of various lengths accounted for nearly two-thirds of the space, filling seven of the twelve columns and extending well into an eighth. Although the Massachusetts Gazette was alternately known as the Boston News-Letter, it also functioned as a delivery mechanism for advertising of all sorts in addition to news. In this particular issue, for instance, merchants and shopkeepers promoted vast assortments of consumer goods and services. Vendue masters highlighted which goods would be presented for bids at upcoming auctions. Local officials inserted legal notices. Executors called on debtors and creditors to settle accounts. Two schoolmistresses declared their intentions to open a boarding school for young ladies. Timothy Force warned others not to allow his wife to contract any debts in his name because she “has eloped and keeps away, and refuses to live with me.” All the way from Antigua, Edward Gamble announced an estate sale that included a plantation and 151 enslaved men, women, and children.

Although more than half of the paid notices in that issue featured consumer goods and services, “subscribers” placed advertisements with various purposes and goals in mind. Each expected some sort of results or return on their investment. In his own notice concerning “Advertisements which are omitted,” Draper primarily addressed advertisers rather than readers, though his announcement may have also incited anticipation about what else might appear in the pages of the next issue among some readers. The printer offered a consolation to advertisers, promising “a very good Place in our next.” That promise suggested that the printer put more consideration into the order of advertisements than their haphazard arrangement on the page otherwise indicated. That he could not include all of them in the issue also testified to the popularity of his publication, implying that prospective advertisers should follow the lead established by their peers and place their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette. After all, demand for space in that newspaper was so high, presumably because advertisers believed the publication placed their advertisements before as many eyes as possible, that Draper could not include all of them. Though he did not state it so bluntly, the printer transformed his inability to disseminate all the advertisements submitted for the April 28 edition into a rationale for others to advertise in his newspaper when choosing among the several published in Boston at the time.

March 20

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

Mar 20 - 3:17:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (March 17, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted in it for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.”

Alexander Purdie and John Dixon published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1768. William Rind also published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1768, though it was not the same newspaper despite bearing the same name. The printers competed for subscribers, readers, and advertisers as well as customers for job printing. Most eighteenth-century printers did not regularly list their rates for subscriptions or advertisements in their newspapers, but Purdie and Dixon did so in the colophon of their Virginia Gazette, as did Rind in the colophon of his Virginia Gazette.

Not surprisingly, the competitors set the same rates. An annual subscription cost 12 shillings and 6 pence. Advertisements were much more lucrative for printers. Purdie and Dixon specified that colonists could have “ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted … for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.” Rind named the same prices, though he also offered a further clarification: “long ones in Proportion.” Among eighteenth-century printers who did publish their advertising rates that was a standard practice. Purdie and Dixon most likely adopted the same practice even if they did not underscore it in the colophon of their Virginia Gazette. What qualified as an advertisement “of a moderate Length” likely depended on negotiations between printer and advertiser. Neither Purdie and Dixon nor Rind indicated whether they defined length by the number of words or the amount of space on the page or both. Although the two would have been roughly proportional, inserting woodcuts or deploying several lines of type set in larger font did occupy more space.

These rates reveal that advertising could generate significant revenues that contributed to making it possible for printers to publish their newspapers and disseminate news and other content, including editorial pieces like the tenth missive in the “LETTERS From a FARMER in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British colonies” that appeared in both Virginia Gazettes on March 17, 1768. In “Letter X,” John Dickinson warned about the progression of tyranny that colonists could expect if the current abuses by Parliament were not challenged but instead became precedent for future governance from the other side of the Atlantic.

At 12 pence per shilling, a subscription to either Virginia Gazette cost 150 pence total, just under 3 pence per issue. An advertisement, however, cost twelve times as much, three shillings, just for its first insertion. This model, advertising funding the distribution of other content, continued into the nineteenth century and beyond with the introduction of new media made possible by advancing technologies. Although we take this system for granted today and even lament the intrusion of advertising into practically every aspect of daily life, colonists depended on advertising for its role in delivering the news at a crucial point in American history. Advertising provided an important alternate revenue stream for printers, helping them to spread news and editorial content during the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in the American Revolution.

February 8

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

Feb 8 - 2:8:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (February 8, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

In addition to the masthead on the first page, most eighteenth-century newspapers also included a colophon that listed publication information on the final page. At the very least the colophon usually indicated the name of the printer and the place of publication, but many printers inserted much more extensive information in their colophons, often transforming them into advertisements for the goods and services they provided. For instance, in the colophon for the February 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy James Parker announced that he accepted “Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper” at his printing office on Beaver Street. On the same day, Peter Timothy similarly invited readers of the South Carolina Gazette to submit subscriptions and advertisements, but his colophon also stated that “all Kinds of useful Blanks sold, and all Sorts of Printing-Work is done with Accuracy and Dispatch” in his shop.

Like Parker and Timothy, many printers frequently solicited advertisements in their colophons. After all, advertising generated greater revenues than subscriptions. Far fewer printers, however, indicated how much they charged advertisers to have their notices inserted in the newspaper. In the colophon of the Newport Mercury Samuel Hall did publish such rates: “ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, lawful Money, and Six Pence for each Week after.” This schedule indicates how much advertisers paid for both space in the newspaper and the time and labor involved in setting the type. Each advertisement required a minimum payment of three shillings (or thirty-six pence). Hall determined that the space taken up by an advertisement was worth six pence per week. Since the original order had to cover three weeks, that meant that eighteen pence went toward the space the advertisement occupied on the page. The remaining eighteen pence then covered the time and labor involved in setting the type. This sort of payment structure was common among printers who revealed advertising rates in their colophons. Once an advertiser made it worth their time to set the type (usually three weeks, but occasionally four), they continued to publish an advertisement for just the cost of the space. Running an advertisement for even a short time often exceeded the cost of a subscription to the newspaper, making paid notices lucrative for printers.

February 4

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

Feb 4 - 2:4:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy Extraordinary
New-York Gazette Extraordinary [New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy] (February 4, 1768).

“HENDRICK OUDERNAARDE, BROKER, HAS to sell all Sorts of European and West-India Goods.”

Hendrick Oudenaaerde’s advertisement appeared in an Extraordinary issue that supplemented James Parker’s New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Parker published his Gazette (not to be confused with Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury) on Mondays, but explained that circumstances warranted distributing an Extraordinary on Thursday, February 4, 1768. “Letter IX” from the series of “Letters from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” filled nearly four of the six columns in the Extraordinary; news and advertising filled the remainder. According to Parker, “As the Farmer’s Letters came too late for our Paper on Monday last, in order to oblige our Customers, we have given this additional Gazette, and thereby prevent the room being encroached on, in next Monday’s Paper.” This decision resulted in disseminating a greater amount of advertising – for consumer goods, for runaway slaves, for real estate – to readers of Parker’s Gazette alongside “Letter IX.”

Like many other printers throughout the colonies, Parker reprinted a series of essays, twelve in total, written by John Dickinson in 1767 and 1768. Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator rather than a farmer, argued that Parliament did not have the authority to raise revenues by imposing taxes on the American colonies. He conceded that Parliament could regulate trade, yet stressed that the colonies retained sovereignty over their internal affairs, including taxation. In “Letter IX,” Dickinson addressed the necessity for local representation in established assemblies. Published far and wide, the “Letters” helped to unify colonists in opposition to the Townshend Acts.

Readers of Parker’s Gazette could not consume “Letter IX” without being exposed to the advertisements that accompanied it. Public discourse concerning the political ramifications of Parliament’s policies concerning commerce and other matters contributed to an even wider and more frequent distribution of advertising in the late colonial period. In general, the revenues generated by advertisements made it possible for printers to publish and disseminate the news and editorial items that informed debates and shaped sentiments in the colonies. Broadly speaking, that was the case here: the revenues from the advertisements that regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy allowed Parker to issue the extraordinary issue. However, the printer may not have generated additional revenues from the particular advertisements that appeared in the extraordinary. Advertisers usually paid to have their notices inserted for a certain numbers of weeks. The compositor may have chosen half a dozen advertisements that served as filler to complete the issue, but the printer may have run them gratis for the sake of filling the final page. Advertisers who paid to have their notices inserted for a specified number of weeks would have expected to see them in the regular issues of Parker’s Gazette for that many weeks.

In other words, the revenues from advertising generally supported the publication of news and editorials that shaped colonial discourse during the imperial crisis, yet the imperatives of distributing political content also bolstered an expanded dissemination of advertising.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette 3rd page
Third page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766).

Two weeks the Adverts 250 Project featured the entire first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to examine the extent of advertising that appeared in that newspaper when it commenced publication. Although Rind included a limited number of advertisements in that initial issue, he issued a call for prospective advertisers to submit announcements and commercial notices.

How did William Rind fare when it came to generating advertisements, an important source of revenue for those who printed newspapers in the colonial period? Unfortunately, no copies of the second issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette have survived, but the third issue (published two weeks after the first) suggests that advertising picked up relatively quickly. The entire final page was covered with advertising, as well as an entire column on the third page. While not as extensive as advertising in some long-established newspapers in urban ports, the amount of space devoted to advertising in the third issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette was on par with other newspapers in smaller towns in the 1760s. In other words, Rind seems to have attracted a critical mass of advertisers fairly quickly.

This issue carried a variety of different kinds of advertisements: some for consumer goods and services, some legal announcements, some lost and found (including stray livestock), a horse “to cover,” a runaway apprentice (but not yet any runaway slaves, unlike the those that dominated the advertising section in the competing Virginia Gazette), and some placed by the printer himself to promote his own enterprises. A least one advertisement previously appeared in the pages of the local competitor. It appears that John Mercer wanted to cover all his bases when it came to the beer, porter, and ale from his Marlborough Brewery.

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Final Page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766)

May 16

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

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”

Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Advert Extra 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinaryreprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.

May 16 - Lee 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”

May 16 - 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)

May 16 - Stray Horse 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Colophon 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.

Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.

January 10

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

Jan 10 - 1:10:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 10, 1766)

“ALL Persons … Indebted to the Printers hereof, for News-Papers, Advertisement, Books, &c. … Are ONCE MORE desired … to call at the Printing-Office.”

Historians of print culture have long contended that selling subscriptions did not make publishing newspapers profitable for colonial printers.  Instead, the real money was in charging for the advertisements!  I do not doubt the veracity of this claim, especially given how carefully so many other scholars have scrutinized the account books, ledgers, and other records of colonial printers.

However, I suspect that we sometimes overestimate the amount of revenue generated by newspaper advertising if we assume, when printers’ records are no longer extant to confirm that this was indeed the case, that each time an advertisement appeared in a new issue that the printer received payment.  In this instance, the printers of New-Hampshire Gazette placed their own advertisement to call on delinquent advertisers to pay for services rendered.  On many other occasions, some advertisements repeat for weeks or months, suggesting that printers sometimes used them for filler even without remuneration.