What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“We here offer them a Specimen.”
Subscribers and others who regularly read the Connecticut Courant immediately notices something different about the November 13, 1770, edition. Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson printed it on a larger sheet than usual. They acknowledged that they had done so in a message from “The PRINTERS to the PUBLIC” that filled the entire first column on the first page, making it difficult for readers to overlook. Published in Hartford since 1764, the Connecticut Courant had not been as extensive a newspaper as its counterparts published in bustling urban ports like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Many of those newspapers commenced publication decades earlier and evolved over time. Green and Watson desired for their newspaper to experience a similar evolution, acknowledging that they “have often been obliged, for Want of Room, either wholly to omit, or else give the Public but a very partial Account of many very interesting and important Articles of News which in larger Papers, are more fully and largely set forth.”
The printers intended to “remedy and redress” that “Inconvenience” by enlarging the Connecticut Courant. In addition to the lengthy message from Green and Watson on the first page, the entire November 13 edition served as an advertisement of sorts, “a Specimen” printed on larger sheets for the public to examine. The printers proclaimed that they were “determined to enlarge the Connecticut COURANT to a Size no less than that of the Boston or York Papers.” Such an upgrade would aid them in their efforts “of furnishing out the Paper with such Collections of News as will render it as entertaining, useful and profitable as lies in our Power.” Green and Watson further explained that the posts from Boston and New York both arrived in Hartford on Sundays, giving them sufficient time to review newspapers they received from those cities and reprint “the Whole of the most material and important Advices” in the Connecticut Courant on Tuesdays.
Access to more extensive coverage of news from other colonies and beyond came at a price. The “Enlargement will necessarily subject us to an additional Expence,” the printers explained as they informed readers that subscription rates would increase only modestly by one shilling per year. The new price, they assured the public, was no more expensive than printers of other newspapers of similar size charged their subscribers. Those who already subscribed had five weeks to decide if they wished to continue their subscriptions before Green and Watson transitioned to larger sheets and increased the rates for the Connecticut Courant. The printers also invited those who did not yet subscribe to consider doing so in order to receive the more extensive news coverage they would soon provide. At the same time, they called on “our good Customers who are in Arrears for the Paper, Advertisements, or any other Account” to make payment before the enlargement took place. Green and Watson needed the “Ready Cash” to purchase paper and pursue their goals for enhancing the newspaper. Furthermore, they would not publish any new advertisements without receiving payment in advance.
Green and Watson devoted a significant portion of the November 13 edition of the Connecticut Courant to promoting the newspaper itself. They outlined improvements in the works that would soon be implemented, while also demonstrating those enhancements to current and prospective subscribers. The entire issue was “a Specimen” intended to showcase the features of the new Connecticut Courant and convince readers that an extra shilling each year for a subscription would be money well spent.