January 15

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

Boston Chronicle (January 12, 1769).

The sittings of the superior and inferior courts … may be depended on as correct.”

In January 1769, printers and booksellers throughout the colonies advertised almanacs for the new year, attempting to sell excess inventory rather than take a loss on surplus copies. In his efforts to incite demand for a second edition of “BICKERSTAFFs BOSTON ALMANACK,” John Mein emphasized the accuracy of its contents, especially the dates of the “sittings of the superior and inferior courts” in Massachusetts. In so doing, Mein implicitly referenced a dispute between other printers in Boston, William McAlpine on one side and T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Richard Draper on the other. After McAlpine issued Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 in the fall of 1768, a cabal of rival printers published a counterfeit edition of the popular almanac. To add insult to injury, they promoted the pirated copy by running advertisements that claimed “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy” and implied that it contained “above Twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts.”

Mein did not weigh in on that controversy, but as one of the printers of the Boston Chronicle he almost certainly would have been aware of it. With so many competing titles, he took advantage of an opportunity to distinguish the almanac that he printed and sold at his bookstore on King Street. His advertisement in the January 12 edition of the Boston Chronicle did not comment on any of the contents except to declare the accuracy of the court dates. Mein did not highlight any of the entertaining features. He did not promote other useful information included in the almanac. Instead, he assured prospective customers that “The sittings of the superior and inferior courts of this province, inserted in this Almanack, may be depended on as correct; being obtained from a Gentlemen, one of the Clerks of the court.” Mein had done his due diligence in confirming the dates with a reputable source before taking the almanac to press. Furthermore, “The same care has been taken with the courts of the other provinces.” Prospective customers who might have business in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island could depend the accuracy of the dates in Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack.

That Mein issued a second edition testified to the popularity of the almanac, yet he presented readers an additional reason for choosing it over others. Amidst the uncertainty of which edition of Ames’s Almanack contained accurate information, consumers could sidestep the confusion by purchasing Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack instead. Its contents had been carefully compiled after consultation with officials who possessed the most accurate information about when the courts would conduct business in 1769.

January 2

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

“Received many intimations and advices, from numbers of our Subscribers.”

Boston Chronicle (January 2, 1769).

When the Boston Chronicle concluded its first year of publication, printers John Mein and John Fleeming inserted a lengthy notice that listed several proposed “Amendments and Additions.” These included “enlarg[ing] the size of our Paper one half more,” starting on the first Monday of January 1769. When that day arrived, however, Mein and Fleeming published a new address “To the PUBLIC” to explain that they had further revised their proposals in response to requests received “from numbers of our Subscribers.” Rather than a larger newspaper delivered once a week on Mondays, those subscribers stated a preference for an “additional Paper on THURSDAY, or SATURDAY.”

While certainly informal compared to modern standards, this feedback amounted to market research for the printers. Mein and Fleeming weighed the evidence before making their final determination about the new plan for their publication. In choosing between Thursday and Saturday for a second edition, they opted for Thursday due to “the greatest number of our Subscribers inclining to have it on that day.” Yet they did not wish to disappoint those who desired a Saturday edition. To that end, they devised an alternative when circumstances permitted: “to oblige our friends, who wish for part of the paper on SATURDAY evening, whenever the southern post arrives before seven o’clock, we shall publish four pages that night.” Subscribers who lived in town could send for their newspapers two hours after the arrival of the post. Any who declined to do so could depend on the newspaper being delivered on Monday as usual.

Mein and Fleeming underscored that they made these changes in acknowledgment of the needs and desires expressed by their customers: “this alteration is made at the request of a great number of our Subscribers, and is designed for the better entertainment of the whole.” The printers made it their “first and principal study to give them satisfaction.” In other words, when presented with the results of rudimentary market research, Mein and Fleeming adjusted their business model accordingly in order to better serve their customers. In so doing, they commenced a new publication schedule unlike that of any other newspaper in the city. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette all continued as weeklies. The Boston Chronicle became a semiweekly in response to customer demand, at least according to the address “To the PUBLIC” the printers inserted in the first issue for 1769.

December 12

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

Boston Chronicle (December 12, 1768).

The peculiar advantage of having most of their Advertisements preserved and generally in view.”

The masthead of the December 12, 1768, Boston Chronicle proclaimed that it was “VOL. I. NO. 52.” John Mein and John Fleeming, the publishers acknowledged the milestone in a notice that they inserted immediately before the other advertisements at the end of the issue. “THE first year of the Publication of the BOSTON CHRONICLE being now concluded,” the publishers proclaimed, “we take this opportunity of returning our thanks to all the Gentlemen and Ladies, who have contributed to support it.” Partly out of appreciation and partly out of enthusiasm for commencing another year of publication, Mein and Fleeming then outlined several “Amendments and Additions” to the plan for their newspaper.

Each of the six enumerated “Amendments and Additions” marketed the Boston Chronicle in one way or another. The first, for instance, stated that they would enlarge the size of the newspaper by half “without any additional expence to the Subscribers.” The change would commence with the first issue of 1769. This change would make space for the third, fourth, and fifth improvements to the newspaper: reviews of “every New Book of Note, published in Great-Britain,” more comprehensive reporting of “Religious Disputes,” and, most ambitiously, “Every piece of history, politics, entertainment, agriculture, or poetry, &c. &c. that shall be judged worthy of inserting.” Space constraints and “the length of the historical and political articles” had previously prevented Mein and Fleeming from including all the content they considered valuable to subscribers, but enlarged editions would remedy that. If all of this was not enough, the publishers also offered a premium to subscribers: “an elegant copper-plate [map], the size of a folio page.” The second of the “Amendments and Additions” stated that subscribers would receive this gift gratis sometime within the coming year. Mein and Fleeming envisioned it as an annual tradition.

The sixth and final improvement addressed advertising: “Advertisements will be inserted at a very reasonable price.—The Advertisers will enjoy the peculiar advantage of having most of their Advertisements preserved and generally in view, as the Papers are calculated to be bound up at the conclusion of the year.” Mein and Fleeming imagined that subscribers collected every issue of the Boston Chronicle throughout the year, with the intention of taking them to bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. Subscribers could then consult the “historical and political articles” later, but that was not the only content they would peruse. They would also encounter advertisements as they once again consulted the pages of the Boston Chronicle. According to Mein and Fleeming, the newspaper was not disposable. The advertisements were not ephemeral. Instead, both would continue to inform, educate, and influence people long after first published.

When they announced their “Amendments and Additions” to mark the first complete year of publishing he Boston Chronicle, Mein and Fleeming focused primarily on the benefits to subscribers, but not exclusively. They also promoted their newspaper as a mechanism for distributing advertisements, aiming to increase the number of paid notices as well as the number of subscribers.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1768 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (November 28, 1768).

“Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.”

As November came to an end and a new year drew even closer, printers and booksellers in Boston and throughout the colonies placed advertisements for almanacs for the year 1769. Almanacs were big business for eighteenth-century printers. From the most humble to the most elite households, customers of assorted backgrounds purchased these slender and inexpensive volumes, creating a broad market. As a result, printers and booksellers considered almanacs an important revenue stream, one that justified extensive advertising.

Compared to many other advertisements for almanacs, William McAlpine’s notice in the November 28, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle was short and simple. In its entirety, it announced, “Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.” Other printers and booksellers sold other titles by other authors, but some also sold “Ames’s Almanack.” Indeed, more than one version of that popular almanac circulated in the fall of 1768.

The same day that McAlpine advertised in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette ran identical notices that warned readers that “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy.” That notice implied that the counterfeit contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts,” making that important reference information included among the contents of many almanacs useless to anyone who purchased the counterfeit. The notice also advised prospective buyers how to recognize the counterfeit: “the Name of William MAlpine” appeared in the imprint at the bottom of the title page. Anyone wishing to acquire “the true genuine correct Ames’s ALMANACKS” needed to “take Notice” of the imprint and select only those “that at the Bottom of the Outside Title, is ‘BOSTON, Printed and sold by the Printers,’ &c. and no particular Name thereto.”

Rather than a public service, this notice was actually an act of sabotage. A cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of McAlpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almakack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 and, adding insult to injury, accused McAlpine of introducing multiple errors into a counterfeit that he printed and distributed. Charles Nichols estimates that printers annually sold 50,000 copies of Ames’s almanac by the time of the Revolution, making it quite tempting for printers to seek their own share of that market. Not coincidentally, the notice warning against McAlpine’s supposed counterfeit ran in newspapers published by printers responsible for the pirated edition. T. & J. Fleet printed the Boston Evening-Post and Edes and Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. Richard Draper, printer of the Boston Weekly News-Letter, operated the third printing office involved in the conspiracy. His newspaper ran the same notice that week, but it also included an advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack for 1769” that bore the imprint “Sold by the Printers and Booksellers in Town, and Traders in the Country.”

Quite simple in appearance, McAlpine’s advertisement for Ames’s almanac provides a window for a much more complicated story of competition, piracy, and sabotage committed by printers in eighteenth-century Boston. The notice about a counterfeit inserted in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette had the appearance of a news item. In each instance it appeared at the end of news content and the start of advertising, blurring the distinction. The marketing strategy deployed by the printers of the pirated edition went far beyond fair dealing.

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).