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