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.

March 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 1, 1771).

“Some of our Advertising Customers are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct.”

On March 1, 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again informed delinquent subscribers that if they did not settle accounts they would find themselves facing legal action.  Newspaper printers regularly made such threats, but the Fowles did so more often than most.  Were they more aggressive in addressing overdue accounts?  Were their customers more recalcitrant than others?  Either way, they proclaimed that “Customers for this Paper, whose Accounts are of so long standing, but not sufficient for Court Writs, may depend on being sued before some Justice in Portsmouth, unless immediately paid.”  The Fowles seemed especially exasperated with “those at the Eastward indebted for many Years Papers,” vowing to bring them “to a proper Sense of their Duty” when the court at York met in April “unless this last Hint Rouses them.”

In the same issue, the Fowles also inserted a brief note to current and prospective advertisers.  “Some of our Advertising Customers,” the printers declared, “are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct, or an Interpreter with them.”  Once again, the Fowles took an exasperated tone.  That they published the only newspaper in New Hampshire may have afforded them greater latitude in doing so than their counterparts in places with multiple newspapers.  They did not reveal what they found lacking in the copy advertisers submitted, only that they experienced difficulty in making sense of some of the notices they received from those who sent them by post or messenger rather than visiting the printing office to make arrangements for their publication.  On occasion, newspaper printers advised prospective advertisers that they would assist with writing copy.  Many other printers also may have lent an editorial eye to copy they received, helping to explain the standardized language in many advertisements.  Doing so required understanding the purpose of an advertisement and clarifying the details.  The Fowles suggested that some copy they received lacked a clear purpose, unambiguous details, or both.

Although printers sometimes offered assistance, advertisers possessed primary responsibility for generating copy for paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  The Fowles apparently expected their advertisers to refer to notices that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette as models when composing their own advertisements.  They may have performed some editorial work upon receiving copy, but the Fowles expected that advertisers would submit notices that needed little revision before publication.

February 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 28, 1771).

”All Persons … who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette … are requested to send the Money with them.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for early American printers … when advertisers opted to pay for the notices they inserted in newspapers.  Printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  In most instances, they addressed subscribers, advertisers, and others, but on occasion they singled out advertisers.  Such was the case when David Hall and William Sellers directed a missive to prospective advertisers in the February 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

“NOTICE is hereby given,” Hall and Sellers proclaimed, “to all Persons, living at a Distance from this City, who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, that they are requested to send the Money with them.”  Apparently, the printers experienced particular frustration with advertisers who lived far from Philadelphia. In the era of the American Revolution, newspapers served entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities in which they were printed.  The same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette that included this notice from the printers also carried real estate notices from other parts of the colony and advertisements offering rewards for apprentice and convict servants who ran away from masters in Maryland and Virginia.  In their efforts to convince customers to pay their bills, Hall and Sellers had more difficulty contacting faraway advertisers than their local counterparts.  Another issue exacerbated the situation.  The printers asked advertisers “also to pay the Postage of Letters in which they may be contained,” warning that “otherwise they will not be inserted.”  Colonists often sent letters with the expectation that the recipients would pay for postage upon receiving them.  That cut into the revenues gained by printing advertisements.  Hall and Sellers lamented that they had “already been great Sufferers in that Respect.”

This notice ran among the other advertisements in the February 28 edition.  The printers placed it at the top of a column, perhaps to give it greater visibility.  Beyond the stories told in ledgers and account books, this notice and others inserted by printers in newspapers from New England to Georgia reveal eighteenth-century business practices and some of the challenges of running printing offices.

November 14

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

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

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.

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

November 5

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (November 5, 1770).

“The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”

Readers of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s would have been familiar with shopkeeper Frederick William Geyer thanks to his frequent advertising.  On November 5, 1770, he placed a brief advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but its length was not of his choosing.  Instead, the printers truncated the notice that Geyer submitted for publication.  The advertisement indicated that Geyer sold “a fine Assortment of Englishand India GOODS” at his shop on Union Street.  It included a short list of textiles that extended only three lines that preceded a note from the printers that “The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”  Indeed, the following week a more extensive advertisement did appear in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  It opened with identical copy, but then devoted forty-four lines, rather than just three, to enumerating the inventory available at Geyer’s shop.

Based on the placement of Geyer’s advertisement in the November 5 edition, it appears that the printers cut short his notice in order to make room for news items.  Like most other newspapers of the era, an issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The first and fourth pages were often printed first.  Printers held the second and third pages in reserve for news that arrived by messenger, post, or ship.  Geyer’s notice ran in the final column on the third page, suggesting that it and other advertisements in that column filled out the issue once the printers inserted the news for the week.  The news on that page included more than a column of content dated “Boston, November 5” that the printers apparently considered more pressing than Geyer’s advertisement.

This raises questions about the relationship between printers and advertisers.  Did Geyer have to pay to have the truncated advertisement inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  Printers usually charged by the amount of space an advertisement occupied, so Geyer might have paid a smaller amount for the brief version than he paid for the full version a week later.  Alternately, recognizing that Geyer was a regular customer whose advertisements generated revenues for their newspaper, the printers could have inserted a short version gratis as a courtesy, giving Geyer and his goods at least some exposure in the public prints.  The length of the truncated advertisement implies that the printers may have valued it as filler to complete the column.  The note about the remainder of his merchandise appearing in the next edition was likely intended just as much for the advertiser as for prospective customers who would be interested in perusing the list.  Questions about these printing practices and business decisions cannot be answered by examining the newspapers alone, but ledgers and correspondence that provide more detail may no longer exist.

October 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 26, 1770).

“A Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper.”

In the eighteenth century, newspaper printers often inserted notices into their own publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their bills.  They were not alone in resorting to such measures.  Entrepreneurs of all sorts as well as executors of estates enlisted the aid of the public prints in instructing customers and associates to settle accounts.  Given their access to the press, however, some printers more regularly ran such notices than other colonists.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, were among the printers who most frequently made the collection of debts in the interests of continuing publication a feature of their newspaper.

The Fowles found it necessary to do so on October 26, 1770, expressing some exasperation.  “THOSE Persons who are still delinquent in discharging their Arrears for this Paper, and for Advertisements,” the printers declared, “and have been repeatedly call’d upon from Time to Time, are desir’d to comply with so reasonable a Request.”  Others who placed such notices usually threatened legal action against those who did not heed their warning.  The Fowles had done so in the past.  On one occasion they also threatened to publish a list of subscribers, advertisers, and others who did not pay their bills, though they did not follow through on that ultimatum.  In this instance, they did not deliver any threats against those in arrears but instead explained the effect that such delinquency would have on their business and, by extension, their ability to serve the community by disseminating news and other information.  The Fowles insisted that they needed to collect on debts owed to them because “a Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper, to carry on the Business.”  Without paper, they could not continue to print and distribute the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Although the Fowles regularly inserted notices to encourage subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts, they did not merely adopt the formulaic language that often appeared in such advertisements.  Over the years, they experimented with a variety of messages and tones, sometimes threatening and sometimes cajoling, in their efforts to attract the attention of clients in arrears and convince them to pay their debts.

September 28

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 205 years ago today?

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 28, 1770).

This Paper compleats the 14th Year since its first Publication.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, made the usual updates to the masthead for the September 28, 1770, edition.  It included the full title, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.”  A woodcut depicting a lion and unicorn, symbols of the United Kingdom, appeared in the center, along with the initials G.R. for George Rex, the king.  Despite tensions with Parliament due to the Townshend Acts and other abuses, colonists continued to identify as members of the British Empire loyal to George III.  Like most other newspapers printed in the colonies, the volume and issue number also adorned the masthead.  The September 28 edition was part of “VOL. XIV.”  The Fowles listed the issue as “NUM. 728” and, unlike most other printers, explained that number indicated how many “Weeks since this Paper was first Publish’d.”  They added one additional item to the masthead to mark a milestone in the history of the newspaper’s publication.  “This PAPER compleats the fourteenth Year of” the New-Hampshire Gazette, that notation informed readers.

The Fowles noted this milestone elsewhere in the issue as well.  Those “Freshest ADVICES” included advertisements that delivered news and other information, among them notices from the printers.  The Fowles gave their advertisement a privileged place, positioning first among the advertisements and immediately following the shipping news from the customs house.  “As this Paper compleats the 14th Year since its first Publication,” the Fowles addressed readers, “it is desir’d, that those who are in Arrears, would pay off immediately, that it may be determin’d, whether it will be worth while to send any more to those who are so very delinquent.”  The Fowles simultaneously celebrated their accomplishment and an important milestone in the history of their newspaper while also warning subscribers who had not paid their bills to remedy the situation or they would not receive additional issues on credit.  The end of one year and the start of another was a good opportunity for the Fowles to settle accounts and make sure all was in order.

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 28, 1770).

September 21

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

New-London Gazette (September 21, 1770).

“The Paper will then be one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”

Newspaper printers collected two revenue streams: subscriptions and advertising.  Most did not, however, frequently note in print how much they charged for either subscriptions or advertising.  A few inserted such information in the colophon on the final page of each issue, but even those printers tended to list the prices for one or the other but not both.  Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, was among those printers who did not regularly publish his prices for either subscriptions or advertising.  In a notice in the September 21, 1770, edition, however, he informed readers that he was raising the price for subscriptions.

Following an “Enlargement” of the New-London Gazette to a larger sheet, Green determined that “the Labour and Expence of Paper is so greatly Augmented” that he could not continue to operate the newspaper at the current rates except at “a manifest Loss.”  Accordingly, he planned to raise the price by eight pence per year, bringing the total to six shillings and eight pence.  This represented an increase of eleven percent, yet Green presented it as “so small that it’s presumed no one will think much of allowing it.”  To further convince current subscribers and future customers that they should not think much of the new price, Green explained that the New-London Gazette would still be “one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”  Compared to other newspapers, the New-London Gazette was still a bargain at a total of eighty pence per year.  Still, Green realized that not all subscribers would be satisfied with this explanation.  He pledged that “Some further Improvements will shortly be made in the Paper,” though he did not offer any particulars.  He concluded by pledging “the greatest Care constantly taken to render” the New-London Gazette “beneficial to the Customers.”

Apparently Green did not consider it necessary to raise his rates for advertising to help defray the expenses of acquiring larger sheets and setting more type for the enlarged New-London Gazette.  Even if he at least listed his current rates, that would have revealed the relative prices for subscriptions and advertising.  Still, notices like this one help to reconstruct some of the expenses incurred by readers who subscribed to newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 17, 1770).

“To Ride as Carrier … in order to carry News Papers.”

The first two advertisements in the August 17, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concerned the operations of the newspaper.  Quite likely, the printers exercised their control of the press to give those notices a privileged place.  The first advertisement, repeated from the previous issue, acknowledged the upcoming fourteenth anniversary of the newspaper and contained Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle’s call on subscribers, advertisers, and others who owed debts to settle accounts or face legal action.

James Templeton addressed the residents of Amherst, Wilton, Temple, Petersborough, New Dublin, Marlborough, Keen, Walpole, Charlestown, Chesterfield, Westmoreland, Hinsdale, Winchester, Swansey, and other town in “the extreme Parts of the Province” to offer his services to “Ride as Carrier or Post … in order to carry News Papers.”  He promised to be “punctual and faithful” in his delivery even as he endeavored to get the newspapers to subscribers “as cheap as possible at that great Distance.”

While not overseen directly by the Fowles, Templeton’s enterprise stood to benefit them as proprietors of the New-Hampshire Gazette through maintaining or even increasing readership.  Templeton also revealed how quickly readers in “the extreme Parts of the Province” received their newspapers.  He proposed meeting the rider from Portsmouth who carried the newspapers as far as Amherst on Mondays.  The Fowles published the New-Hampshire Gazette on Fridays.  That meant that half a week elapsed before each new edition made it to the carrier who delivered the newspaper to the more remote towns in the colony.  Even more time passed as Templeton rode his circuit through the various towns.

Printers and their associates frequently commented on the production and distribution of the news in the advertisements they inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers.  It seems unlikely that it was a coincidence that Templeton’s advertisement immediately followed the Fowles’s advertisement.  The printers sought to facilitate distribution of their publication even as they also attempted to collect on debts owed to the printing office.