May 13

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 11, 1772).

“Oils…  Paints…  Varnishes… GUMS.”

When it appeared in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette on May 11, 1772, John Gore and Son’s advertisement for paint and supplies may have looked familiar to readers who regularly perused that newspaper.  After all, it ran two weeks earlier in the April 27 edition.  By the time the notice appeared in the Boston-Gazette a second time, it had also appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter twice, first on April 23 and then on May 7.  The format made it memorable, an extensive list of oils, paints, varnishes, and gums arranged as a table.  That table had sections for various shades of whites, reds, browns, yellows, blues, greens, and blacks, suggesting the many choices available to customers.  No other advertisement in any of the newspapers published in Boston at the time incorporated that distinctive design.

It was not uncommon for advertisers to place notices in multiple newspapers in order to reach more consumers and increase their share of the market.  When they did so, they usually submitted copy to the printing offices and then compositors made decisions about the design of each advertisement when they set the type.  That meant that advertisements with identical copy had variations in line breaks, font sizes, italics, and capitalization from newspaper to newspaper, depending on the decisions made by compositors.  In some instances, advertisers made requests or included instructions.  For example, some merchants and shopkeepers preferred for their merchandise to appear in two columns with only one item on each line rather than in a dense block of text.  In such cases, compositors still introduced variations in graphic design, even when working with identical copy.

That did not happen with Gore and Son’s advertisement.  Instead, the same advertisement ran in both the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Boston-Gazette.  Workers in the two offices transferred type already set back and forth multiple times.  When the time the advertisement appeared in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette, three transfers had taken place, first from Richard Draper’s printing office to the Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office, then a return to Draper’s office, and once again to Edes and Gill’s office.  Early American printers frequently reprinted content from one newspaper to another.  That was standard practice for disseminating news, but it did not involve the coordination and cooperation required for sharing type.  Gore and Son’s advertisement suggests even greater collaboration among printers in Boston, a relationship that merits further investigation to understand how they ran their businesses.

May 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 7, 1772.)

“Oils…  Paints… Varnishes… GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement for an “Assortment of Painters Oil and Colours” available “At the Painters-Arms in Queen-Street” ran once again in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  It featured a table of “Oils… Paints… Varnishes… [and] GUMS” of various colors, making it distinct from other advertisements and easy to recognize.  Among the various paints, the table offered choices that ranged from “Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, [and] Spruce Yellow” to “India Red, Venetian Red, [and] Vermilion.”  The format both delineated the many choices available to consumers and challenged them to imagine the possibilities.

Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury had seen this advertisement before.  It ran two weeks earlier in the April 23 edition.  Unlike other advertisements that ran for consecutive weeks, however, Gore and Son’s advertisement did not appear in the subsequent issue on April 30.  Instead, it ran in the Boston-Gazette on April 27.  That was not merely a case of an advertiser submitting the same copy to two newspapers.  Careful examination reveals that the notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Boston-Gazette featured identical format, indicating that someone transferred the type from one printing office to another.  That made publishing Gore and Son’s advertisement a collaborative effort among competitors.  It was not the only paid notice that originated in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and then ran in identical format in another newspaper in the spring of 1772.  The type for Gore and Son’s advertisement eventually found its way back to Richard Draper’s printing office, where the compositor added a final line about “A few Casks of NEW RICE” but otherwise did not make any adjustments to the format.

This raised all kinds of questions about the business of printing in early America.  What kinds of bookkeeping practices did this entail?  How did Draper and other printers keep track of which type belonged to them or to competitors?  How did they go about charging advertisers for notices that ran in multiple newspapers?  Did advertisers receive a discount from those printing offices that did not have to set the type?  Or did the work involved in transferring type from one office to another balance the labor required to set type?  Printers in Boston sometimes collaborated in publishing almanacs and pamphlets.  To what extent did they collaborate in publishing the advertisements that generated significant revenue for their newspapers?

April 29

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

Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

“Oils … Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette raises all sorts of interesting questions.  An identical advertisement appeared in the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This does not seem to have been just a case of an advertiser inserting the same notice in multiple newspapers.  That was quite common in the 1770s, especially in Boston.  Yet this was not simply an instance of an advertiser writing out the copy more than once and then submitting it to more than one printing office.  Yes, the copy was identical … but so was the format and every aspect of typography, from the design of the table listing different kinds of paints to the line breaks to font sizes to capitalization of certain words.  Rather than a compositor copying an advertisement as it appeared in another newspaper, this looks like Richard Draper’s printing office outright transferred type already set for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office for publication in the Boston-Gazette.

That was not the only instance of such a transfer in the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  John Barrett and Sons ran an extensive advertisement that previously appeared in Draper’s newspaper on April 23.  So did Joseph Peirce.  To further complicate matters, both of these advertisements also ran in the April 27 edition of the Boston Evening-Post. Once again, this does not seem to have been merely an instance of a compositor consulting an advertisement in another newspaper when setting type.  Instead, the type from one printing office found its way to another printing office.

The placement of these advertisements on the page in each newspaper contributes to some confusion about the sequence of events.  Take into consideration that a standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Printers often printed the front and back pages first, filling them with the masthead, colophon, and advertisements.  They saved the second and third pages for the latest news.  Peirce’s advertisement ran on the fourth page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, suggesting that the compositor received the type from the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury fairly quickly.  That also allowed sufficient time to pass along the type to the Boston-Evening Post for inclusion in a two-page supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  That timing makes sense.

The timing for inserting Barrett and Sons’ advertisement in each newspaper, however, does not seem as clear.  It ran on the first page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, printed at the same time that Peirce’s advertisement was printed on the fourth page.  It did not, however, run in the supplement to the Boston Evening-Post or even on the second or third pages among the last items inserted in the standard issue.  Instead, it appeared on the fourth page, presumably making it one of the first items printed for that issue.  The compositor did eliminate the final eight lines listing several imported goods in order to make the advertisement fit among the other content on the page, but did not make other alterations.  That someone transferred the type from one printing office to another so quickly for it to appear in the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post on the same day suggests a very efficient operation.

This raises questions about the organization and collaboration between printing offices.  Who assumed the responsibility for transferring the type for these advertisements from one printing office to another?  Did they make sure that the type was returned to its original printing office?  Did any of the printing offices adjust the prices they charged for running these advertisements based on whether they invested time and labor in setting type?  How extensive were these practices of transferring type from one printing office to another?  These are all questions that merit further investigation.

Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Right: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

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Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Center: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772). Right: Boston Evening-Post (April 27, 1772).

April 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 16, 1772).

“Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods.”

Joseph Peirce’s advertisement occupied half a column in the April 16, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, listing dozens of items for sale and fulfilling a promise made the previous week.  In the previous issue, an abbreviated version of the advertisement informed readers that “Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods, which he will sell, at his Shop at the North Side of the Town House, Boston, at such Rates as shall give full Satisfaction to the Purchaser.”  A short note also clarified that “The Particulars must be deferred till our next.”

The shipping news from the customs house confirmed that several vessels from London, including one commanded by Capt. Scott, recently arrived “Enter’d in” the bustling port.  In some instances, advertisers placed preliminary notices to alert prospective customers that they had new merchandise before they had time to unpack it or include all the “Particulars.”  In a competitive commercial landscape, they considered it imperative to advertise as quickly as other merchants and shopkeepers.  That does not seem to have been the case with Peirce’s advertisement, however.  Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a note at the bottom of the page, stating that “A Number of New and Old Advertisements, we are obliged to omit for want of Room.”  The decision to delay some of the content of Peirce’s advertisement therefore seems to have been made by the printer rather than by the advertiser.  Even the half sheet that accompanied the standard issue did not provide sufficient space for the remaining advertisements.  Draper declared that “The LONDON NEWS by the last Vessels are in the Gazette Extraordinary.”  That the masthead of the additional half sheet named it the Massachusetts-Gazette Extraordinary rather than the usual Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette distributed by Draper signaled that it contained news that readers would not want “deferred till our next.”  He prioritized news for subscribers over paid notices by advertisers, carefully balancing his obligations as printer.  After all, the newspaper depended on the patronage of both kinds of customers.

Peirce’s complete advertisement appeared in the next issue, the original notice serving as an introduction to an extensive catalog of imported goods.  The delay might not have mattered for some readers and prospective customers.  A note from the printer in the April 16 edition indicated that delivery had been postponed because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road” so those subscribers received the April 9 and the April 16 editions (and the abbreviated version and the full version of Peirce’s advertisement) at the same time.  Both the advertiser and the printer experienced delays in circulating Peirce’s notice to colonizers in and beyond Boston.

April 16

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 16, 1772).

Last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Advertisements accounted for important revenue for colonial printers.  That was certainly the case for Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  So many colonizers submitted advertisements for inclusion in the April 16, 1772, edition, that he resorted to distributing a half sheet supplement devoted almost exclusively to paid notices.  That helped, but still did not provide enough space for all of the advertisements that he should have published that week.  That prompted him to insert a brief note to address the situation.  “A Number of Advertisements,” Draper stated, “are omitted for want of Room.”  He then tried to convince advertisers that they did not need to be concerned because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road, (where we have a great many Customers)” so that meant that “last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Would that mollify advertisers who expected to see their notices in print?  Draper did the best he could to give a favorable impression of the situation, assuring advertisers that readers would indeed see their notices that week even if they did not happen to appear in the most recent edition or its supplement.  He did not, however, attempt to explain why they should not be concerned that delivery of the previous edition had been delayed by a week, perhaps because everyone understood he had less control over the post than his press.  He simply expected advertisers to accept that their notices had not been distributed as widely as they anticipated as soon as they intended.  What truly mattered, he sought to convince them, was that their advertisements were now before the eyes of readers.  Interestingly, Draper’s note explicitly addressed advertisers, not subscribers.  He made no apology to subscribers outside of Boston that they had to wait a week to receive either news or notices.  Through that omission, he once again positioned delivery as further beyond his control than the contents of his newspaper.  In this instance, maintaining good relationships with customers and safeguarding an important revenue stream meant focusing on the concerns of advertisers.

February 1

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

Providence Gazette (February 1, 1772).

“He does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”

It was a familiar refrain.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, called on subscribers to pay their bills, echoing notices that printers throughout the colonies regularly inserted in their own newspapers.  He appealed to reason, but also threatened legal action.  In the process, he provided an overview of his persistent attempts to convince subscribers to settle their accounts.

Carter reported that the “Ninth of November closed the Year with most of the Subscribers to this Gazette.”  That milestone made it a good time to make payments, but nearly three months later “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”  Carter had already attempted to collect, noting that he “repeatedly called on” subscribers “by Advertisements,” but they “still neglect settling their Accounts, to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.”  He suggested that continuing to publish the Providence Gazette depended on subscribers paying what they owed.  So many of them were so delinquent that Carter claimed that he “does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”  Subscriptions, however, were not the only source of revenue for Carter or any other printer.  Advertising also generated revenues, often making newspapers profitable (or at least viable) ventures.

The printer hoped that subscribers would feel some sympathy about the costs he incurred, but he also determined, “reluctantly … and with the utmost Pain,” to sue those who still refused to pay.  Carter lamented that “he finds himself compelled to acquaint ALL such, that their Accounts must and will be put in Suit, if not very speedily discharged.” Despite his exasperation and emphasizing that he felt “compelled” to pursue such a course, Carter likely never initiated any suits.  Printers frequently made such threats, but rarely alienated subscribers by following through on them.  After all, selling advertising depended in part on circulation numbers.  Printers realized they had the potential to come out ahead on advertisements even if they took a loss on subscriptions.

July 2

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

Essex Gazette (July 2, 1771).

“To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, frequently supplemented the news accounts, letters, and paid notices in his newspaper with advertisements of his own.  In doing so, he simultaneously promoted various enterprises undertaken at his printing office in Salem and generated content to fill otherwise empty space.  Throughout the colonies, printers adopted similar strategies in their newspapers.

Consider the July 2, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Hall interspersed three of his own notices among the paid advertisements.  The first announced, “A good Assortment of PAPER, by the Ream or Quire, as cheap as at any Shop or Store in Boston; together with most other Sorts of Stationary, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  Extending only four lines, this notice appeared near the bottom of the second column on the third page.  Another of Hall’s notice ran at the top of the final column on that page.  That one advised prospective customers that Hall sold copies of “the Rev. Dr. Pemberton’s Sermon in the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Story of Marblehead.”  It also listed related items “annexed” to the sermon in the pamphlet.  Like many other printers, Hall pursued multiple revenue streams at his printing office, selling books and stationery to supplement the proceeds from newspaper subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing.

Essex Gazette (July 2, 1771).

In his third notice, Hall declared, “CASH given for RAGS, at the Printing Office in Salem.”  Printers frequently collected rags, a necessary resource for the production of the paper they needed to pursue their occupation.  Even more than his other notices in the July 2 issue, the placement of Hall’s call for rags suggests that it also served as filler to complete the page.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column.  The compositor also inserted decorative type to fill the remaining space, furthering testifying to the utility of running that particular notice.  Access to the press meant that printers could run advertisements promoting their own endeavors whenever they wished, but that was not the only reason they inserted notices into their publications.  Sometimes they sought to quickly and efficiently fill remaining space with short notices already on hand.  The type remained set for easy insertion whenever necessary, a strategy for streamlining the production of newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

June 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 20, 1771).

Those who advertise in this Paper … are requested to send them … on Wednesdays.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, made a last-minute addition to the June 20, 1771, edition before taking it to press.  In a brief note, he declared, “Those who advertise in this Paper which circulates so extensively, are requested to send them in Season on Wednesdays:  whereby the Paper may be published earlier on Thursdays.  See SUPPLEMENT.”  The supplement that accompanied that issue did not include additional instructions for submitting advertisements.  It did contain several notices that did not appear in the standard issue as well as news items from New York, Hartford, Newport, and Providence.

The printer’s note to advertisers ran in the right margin of the third page of the June 20 edition, marking it as something inserted only after preparation of the rest of the issue had been completed.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The printer began with the first and fourth pages, placing news and advertisements received in advance on those pages.  That left space for recent news and other advertisements on the second and third pages, printed only after the ink on the first and fourth pages dried.  For instance, the second and third pages of the June 20 edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter included multiple items from Boston and Cambridge dated that day.  Draper’s note to advertisers in the margin almost certainly was the last type set for the standard issue, perhaps in exasperation that some advertisers submitted their notices so late as to delay distribution of the newest edition while Draper and others who worked in the printing office produced the supplement to accompany it.

Draper tended to the interests of his subscribers and other readers in his note.  He aimed to make the newspaper available as early in the day as possible.  This also served his own interests since Isaiah Thomas published the Massachusetts Spy, a competing newspaper, on the same day.  He also angled for additional advertising, even as he clarified the right time to submit advertisements.  In asserting that the Boston Weekly News-Lettercirculates so extensively,” he not only testified to the time required for printing each edition but also assured prospective advertisers that significant numbers of readers would see their notices.  The success of his newspaper depended on attracting sufficient subscribers and advertisers.  Draper attempted to cultivate positive relationships with both constituencies, in the process offering instructions intended to facilitate the production of the newspaper while simultaneously attracting more business.

March 10

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 7, 1771).

Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”

On March 7, 1771, John Stavers and Benjamin Hart inserted an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform thew public that the “POST-STAGE from and to Portsmouth in New-Hampshire” had a new location in Boston.  Formerly at the Sign of the Admiral Vernon on King Street, the stage now operated from “Mrs. Bean’s at the Sign of the Ship on Launch” on the same street.  It arrived on Wednesdays and departed on Fridays, carrying passengers, packages, and newspapers between the two towns.

Stavers and Hart’s advertisement included two notes that Richard Draper, printer of the Weekly News-Letter, likely added, perhaps after consulting with the stage operators.  Both appeared in italics, distinguishing them from the rest of the contents of the advertisement.  One note called on “Customers to this Paper, on the Eastern Road and at Portsmouth, that are indebted more than one Year … to send the Pay by the Carriers.”  In other words, Draper asked any subscribers who lived along the circuit traversed by Stavers and Hart to submit payment to them for delivery to his printing office in Boston.  The other note proclaimed that “Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”  Colonial newspapers depended on revenues generated by advertising.  In this note, Draper sought to assure prospective advertisements that placing their notices in his newspaper would be a good investment because the Weekly News-Letter reached audiences well beyond Boston.  He also encouraged prospective advertisers who lived outside the city, both to the north and the west, to place notices in the Weekly News-Letter in order to reach readers in their own communities.

Draper seems to have piggybacked messages concerning his own business on an advertisement placed by clients who operated a stage between Boston and Portsmouth.  He likely figured that a notice about transporting passengers and packages between the two towns would attract the attention of current subscribers in arrears with their accounts.  He also seized the opportunity to tout the circulation of the newspaper in order to promote it as a vehicle for disseminating advertising.  An advertisement for the “POST-STAGE” ended up doing a lot of work in the interests of the printer.

March 6

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

Newport Mercury (March 6, 1771).

“Advertisements, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines … will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9.”

Colonial printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, did so in the March 6, 1771, edition, enclosing his notice in a decorative border to draw attention.  He advised that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for this Paper, Advertisements, or otherwise, are earnestly requested to make immediate Payment.”  Unlike some of his counterparts who published newspapers in other towns, he did not threaten legal action against those who ignored his notice.

Southwick did take the opportunity to invite others to become subscribers or place advertisements.  Some printers listed their subscription rates, advertising fees, or both in the colophon on the final page, but otherwise most rarely mentioned how much they charged.  Southwick’s notice listed the prices for both subscriptions and advertisements.  He specified that “Any Person may be supplied with this Paper at 6s9 Lawful Money per Year.”  That six shillings and nine pence did not include postage.  Southwick expected subscribers to pay “One Half on subscribing, and the other at the End of the Year.”  Extending credit for a portion of the subscription was standard practice among printers.

Southwick charged advertisers by the amount of space their notices occupied, not the number of words.  “Advertisement, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines,” he declared, “will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9, and be continued, if required, at 1s per week.”  Once again adhering to standard practices in the printing trade, Southwick charged proportionally more for longer advertisements, contingent on their length.  If inserting an advertisement for an additional week cost one shilling, then the initial cost of running an advertisement for three weeks amounted to three shillings for the space in the newspaper and nine pence for setting type, bookkeeping, and other labor undertaken in the printing office.

Running an advertisement for only three weeks cost more than half as much as an annual subscription, demonstrating the significance of advertising revenue for early American printers.  Perhaps because that revenue helped to make publishing the Newport Mercury a viable enterprise, Southwick stated that advertisements should be “accompanied with the Pay” when delivered to his printing office.  He apparently extended credit for advertisements prior to March 1771, but then discouraged that practice in his notice that simultaneously requested that current customers submit payment and outlined the subscription and advertising fees for new customers.