March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 25, 1771).

“Said Gazette has an extensive Circulation.”

In the eighteenth century, some newspaper printers used the colophon on the final page to promote subscriptions and advertising, but not every printer did so.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, regularly updated his colophon.  In March 1771, the colophon informed readers of the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage),” and the advertising rates, “Three Shillings” for notices “not exceeding eight or ten Lines.”  Printers often inserted notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts or face legal action, but they rarely advertised their own newspapers to prospective subscribers or potential advertisers.

That made Hall an exception.  He began in his own newspaper, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, with a brief notice on March 12, 1771.  Hall informed “Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers” that Thomas Walley accepted subscriptions at his store on Dock Square.  Two weeks later, Hall placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, hoping to reach a greater number of readers.  He once again listed Walley as his local agent in Boston.  He also explained that he printed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays and instructed subscribers that they could “apply for their Papers” at Walley’s store “every Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Hall did not limit his advertisement to seeking subscribers this time around.  He devoted eight of the thirteen lines to soliciting advertising for the Essex Gazette.  Addressing “Those Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise,” Hall proclaimed that his newspaper had “an extensive Circulation, particularly in every Town in the County of Essex.”  Furthermore, he declared that the Essex Gazette was “universally read in the large Sea Port Towns of Salem, Marblehead, Glocester and Newbury-Port” as well as “many other considerable Towns in that County.”  That was not the extent of the newspaper’s dissemination, according to the printer.  He noted that it also “circulated in most of the Towns on the Eastern Road as far as Casco-Bay” (today part of Maine).

In his efforts to increase the number of advertisers (and enhance an important revenue stream) for the Essex Gazette, Hall focused on the circulation of his newspaper.  After all, prospective advertisers knew that placing notices in any newspaper was a good investment only if a significant number of readers actually saw their advertisements.  Hall carefully delineated the reach of the Essex Gazette to reassure “Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise” that his newspaper had established a significant readership in the region.

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.

December 30

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

Dec 30 - 12:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 30, 1769).

The Price of a Year’s paper is in itself trifling.”

As 1769 drew to a close, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, placed two timely advertisements in the final edition for the year. In one, he continued marketing the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” In the other, he called on “Subscribers to this GAZETTE” to settle accounts, noting that “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”

Although January 1 marked a new year on the calendar, Carter asserted that November 9 “closed the Year” for most of his subscribers. In the seven weeks that had elapsed since then, many neglected to pay what they owed, “to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.” Carter lamented that during the past year “he has not received of his Subscribers a Sufficiency barely to defray the Expence of Paper on which the GAZETTE has been printed.” Yet he had expenses other than paper, including the “Maintenance and Pay of Workmen.” Like other printers who issued similar notices to subscribers, Carter suggested that publishing a newspaper did not pay for itself, at least not readily. If subscribers wished for the Providence Gazette to continue circulation, they had a duty to pay for that service to the community. Otherwise, “the Publication of this GAZETTE must be discontinued.”

Doing so required little sacrifice on the part of any particular subscriber. “The Price of a Year’s Paper is in itself trifling,” Carter argued, “and ‘tis certainly in the Power of every Subscriber once in Twelve Months to pay Seven Shillings.” He hypothesized that because the annual subscription fee was so low that it made it easy for subscribers to overlook it or even dismiss its importance. What did seven shillings one way or another matter to Carter? They mattered quite a bit, the printer answered, noting “that a Thousand such Trifles, when collected, make a considerable sum.”

Carter very likely exaggerated the number of subscribers for the Providence Gazette. He did so to make a point, but it served another purpose as well. The success of colonial newspapers depended at least as much on advertising revenue as subscription fees. Prospective advertisers needed to know that inserting notices in the Providence Gazette would likely yield returns on their investments because the newspaper circulated to so many subscribers throughout the colony and beyond. Inflating his circulation helped Carter encourage more advertising. That did not mean, however, that it would solve his financial difficulties. Although most of the notice addressed subscribers, Carter concluded by requesting that “EVERY PERSON indebted to him, either for the GAZETTE, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, immediately … settle and discharge his respective Account.” Apparently some advertisers were just as delinquent as subscribers when it came to paying their bills.

November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 30, 1769).

“WHEREAS by an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers …”

Did colonists read all of those advertisements that appeared in the pages of early American newspapers? Occasionally some of the advertisements help to answer that question. Consider an advertisement that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and, later that week, in the November 30 edition of the New-York Journal. The notice acknowledged “an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers, of November 2, 1769” that described a runaway named Galloway and offered a reward for apprehending him. According to the notice in the New York newspapers, “a Person answering the Description of the above-named Galloway” had been jailed in the city. The notice instructed Galloway’s master to contact one of the aldermen, “who has the Goods that Galloway had stole, in his Possession.” Someone had indeed read the advertisements, at least those concerning runaway apprentices and indentured servants and their counterparts about enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Such advertisements usually included a fair amount of detail, in this case enough to identify Galloway and the stolen goods. In addition to disseminating that information, this advertisement served as a testimonial to the effectiveness of inserting such notices in the public prints.

It also demonstrated that newspapers circulated far beyond the cities and towns where they were printed. This notice concerning a runaway described “in the Philadelphia Papers” appeared in two newspapers in New York, describing a suspected runaway jailed in New York. Newspapers from Pennsylvania found their way to New York … and residents of New York had a reasonable expectation that their newspapers circulated in Pennsylvania. Someone considered it effective to respond to an advertisement that originated “in the Philadelphia Papers” by placing a notice in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal. Thanks to exchange networks devised by printers and abundant reprinting from one newspaper to another, the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers created a public discourse that extended from New England to Georgia. Yet conversations in those newspapers were not confined to news and editorials selected by printers. Advertisers sometimes engaged in their own conversations that moved back and forth from one newspaper to another, further contributing to the creation of imagined communities among readers in faraway places.

December 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 13, 1768).

“Be early in sending their Advertisements for Insertion, and not to exceed Monday Noon.”

Just as Mein and Fleeming marked the first anniversary of publishing the Boston Chronicle by placing a notice in their own newspaper, a day later Charles Crouch celebrated three years of publishing the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal with his own advertisement. Like his counterparts in Boston, Crouch addressed advertisers as well as subscribers, encouraging them to place notices in his publication. In the process, he provided details about the mechanism for publishing advertisements that did not often appear in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.

To entice advertisers, Crouch first underscored the popularity of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country, a necessary step considering that it competed with Peter Timothy’s South-Carolina Gazette and Robert Wells’s South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Crouch did not mention either by name, but when he addressed “the Friends to this Gazette” he did note that their “Number are as great as any other in the Place.” In other words, his newspaper had as many subscribers and advertisers as the others. Advertisers could not go wrong by placing notices in his South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal “as the Circulation of his Papers are very numerous.”

Crouch distributed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on Tuesdays. To keep to that schedule, he requested that advertisers “be early in sending their Advertisements for Insertion, and not to exceed Monday Noon.” Despite the time required to set type and print the newspaper on a hand-operated press, advertisers could submit their notices as late as a day prior to publication, though Crouch probably limited the number of last-minute submissions out of practicality. He aimed to keep to his schedule for the benefit of his readers, but also to adhere to what seems to have been an informal agreement among Charleston’s printers to stagger publication throughout the week. Until recently, the South-Carolina Gazette appeared on Mondays, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on Tuesdays, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette on Thursday. Crouch asserted that he was “fully determined to CONTINUE always punctual to his Day,” perhaps rebuking other printers in the city for recently deviating from the usual schedule and potentially infringing on his circulation and sales as a result.

Crouch did not offer much commentary on the other contents of his newspaper, other than noting that “Letters of Intelligence, Speculative Pieces, &c. are kindly received” and considered for publication. In promoting the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal as it “begins the fourth Year of its Publication,” he called on subscribers to pay their bills and assured prospective advertisers that he could place their notices before the eyes of numerous readers. He asserted that his circulation was as large as that of any other newspaper printed in South Carolina, making it the ideal venue for advertising.