November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1768 Page 183 Boston Chronicle Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Chronicle (May 2, 1768).

LONDON BOOK-STORE, North-side of KING-STREET, Boston.”

Like many other printers in eighteenth-century America, John Mein and John Fleeming took advantage of publishing a newspaper to insert advertisements for their own goods and services. In addition to a note in the colophon advising prospective clients that “All Manner of Printing-work performed at the most reasonable Rates” at their printing office in Newbury Street, the partners included two advertisements for books they sold in the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle. One appeared in the standard issue and the other in the supplement that accompanied it.

The first did not deviate significantly from the length of most other advertisements in their newspaper. It promoted their pamphlet that collected together John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” proclaiming that each was “Printed exactly from the Philadelphia papers, in which these Letters were first published.”

The second occupied significantly more space. In it, Mein published a book catalog that listed many of the titles from the “very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the BEST BOOKS in every branch of POLITE LITERATURE, ARTS, and SCIENCES” in stock at the London Book-Store on King Street. This advertisement filled an entire page as well as the first column of the next page, four of the twelve columns in the supplement.

Full-page advertisements were rare but not unknown in the 1760s. Still, scholars of advertising and printing history must be careful when distinguishing among such advertisements, especially when working primarily with digitized sources. No matter the actual size of an original, databases of digitized newspapers standardize it to the size of the screen. When scholars print those sources they are once again standardized when remediated, this time to an 8.5×11 sheet of office paper. Thus a page from the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle appears to be the same size as a page from the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.

Yet that was not the case. The production process created material texts of two different sizes. The Boston Evening-Post, like most other newspapers printed in the colonies at the time, was a folio newspaper. In other words, each issue consisted of four pages created by printing two per side and folding a broadsheet in half. The Boston Chronicle, on the other hand, was a quarto newspaper. It had been folded once again, yielding eight pages from a single broadsheet rather than just four. The pages were smaller, changing the experience of carrying and reading the newspaper.

This also changed the proportion of space constituted by a single page in quarto-sized newspapers. In standard issues, each page accounted for one-eighth rather than one-quarter of the content. In supplements, each page accounted for one-quarter rather than one-half. This does not diminish the significance of Mein and Fleeming devoting so much space in the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle to their own advertisements, especially since the full-page advertisement in the supplement flowed through an entire column on a subsequent page. At the same time, however, the magnitude of this innovation must be measured against the size of the actual page rather than the deceptive size of the remediated image. The publishers created a spectacle, but since a full-page advertisement required less space in their newspaper than in most others they also left room for news items and paid notices.

May 2 - 5:2:1768 Page 184 Boston Chronicle Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Chronicle (May 2, 1768).

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:22:1767 Page 1 Boston Chronicle
Subscription Notice for the Boston Chronicle (October 22, 1767).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING a NEW WEEKLY PAPER.”

Two months before it commenced publication, John Mein and John Fleeming distributed a subscription notice for “PRINTING a NEW WEEKLY PAPER, called The Boston Chronicle.” Their proposals advertised the newspaper in advance in an effort to gain as many subscribers as possible before the first issue even went to press. Although they did not say so explicitly in their subscription notice, they stood to sell more advertising if they could demonstrate that they attracted sufficient subscribers.

Mein and Fleeming’s broadsheet subscription notice had three parts. One side outlined the “CONDITIONS” of publication, a standard aspect of any eighteenth-century subscription notice, whether it appeared as a newspaper advertisement, on a magazine wrapper, or as a separate broadside. The other side enumerated the types of news items to be included in the new publication and described the networks the printers had established for acquiring that content.

The “CONDITIONS” provided a general overview of the newspaper. Mein and Fleeming promoted the material aspects, including the paper and type, and asserted that the subscription notice itself was a “SPECIMEN” of the newspapers prospective subscribers could expect to receive. Rather than the standard four pages, the Boston Chronicle would be eight pages, yet Mein and Fleeming specified a low price. Although it was an “EXTRAORDINARY SIZE,” it was still affordable. The weekly paper would be distributed on Mondays, like most of its competitors in Boston, and the publishers welcomed “Subscriptions from the Country,” promising to deliver the newspaper to subscribers outside the city “with the utmost regularity.”

In terms of content, they promised “All the current news, foreign and domestic, ecclesiastical or military.” Of particular interest, they would publish “debates in the great assemblies,” “Remakrkable and interesting cases, civil or criminal,” and “Whatever may contribute to promote agriculture, population, trade and manufactures in America.” Not surprisingly, given that Mein and Fleeming were both booksellers, the Boston Chronicle would include “An account of the new books” to guide readers in making their own purchases.

To obtain the necessary content, the publishers reported that “A correspondence has been established, in several parts of Great-Britain, but particularly in LONDON, by which we will receive, by every vessel, all the news-papers of any note, and every Magazine, Review, and political pamphlet without exception.” In addition, their “friends have also promised to send private anecdotes” that might not appear in newspapers printed in England. To collect as much news as possible, Mein and Fleeming had also cultivated correspondents “along the whole continent and West Indies.” They were indeed committed to receiving “All the current news, foreign and domestic” so they could pass it along to their subscribers.

Mein and Fleeming distributed the first issue of the Boston Chronicle on December 21, 1767. They continued publication for two and half years, releasing the final issue in June 1770. Their subscription notice almost certainly helped them initially as they sought sufficient subscribers, but the Boston Chronicle, like many other eighteenth-century newspapers, had a short run in the face of competition and political turmoil.

Oct 22 - 10:22:1767 Page 2 Boston Chronicle
Subscription Notice for the Boston Chronicle (October 22, 1767).