What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
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.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“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.
Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” reprinted 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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“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.