August 5

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

Newport Mercury (August 5, 1771).

“Where may be gad all kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

Colonial printers often used the colophons on the final pages of their newspapers for more than merely providing the name of the printer and the place of publication.  Many printers treated colophons as spaces for promoting various aspects of their businesses, transforming them into ancillary advertisements.

In a relatively brief example, Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, informed readers that he supplied “all Kinds of BLANKS” (or printed forms for commercial and legal transactions) “commonly used in this Colony.”  Anne Catherine Green included a much more extensive colophon in Maryland Gazette.  Like many other printers, she hawked subscriptions and advertisements, but she also promoted other goods and services available at her printing office in Annapolis.  “At same Place may be had, ready Printed,” she declared, “most kinds of BLANKS, viz. COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of several Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; BILLS of EXCHANGE; [and] SHIPPING BILLS.”  In addition to blanks, “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK performed in the neatest and most expeditious Manner.”

Isaiah Thomas also used the colophon of his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, to solicit job printing in addition to subscriptions and advertisements.  “PRINTING, in its various Branches,” he proclaimed, “performed in a neat Manner, with the greatest Care and Dispatch, on the most reasonable Terms.”  In particular, Thomas produced “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  According to the colophon for the New-York Journal, John Holt did “all Sorts of Printing Work … in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition.”  Alexander Purdie and John Dixon deployed similar language in the colophon for the Virginia Gazette: “All sorts of PRINTING WORK done at this Office in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition.”

Not every newspaper printer transfigured the colophon into an advertisement.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter, for instance, simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. Draper.”  A substantial number of printers, however, did seize the opportunity to do more than merely list their name and location at the bottom of the final page.  Their colophons became advertisements that perpetually appeared in their newspapers, promoting goods and services in a different format than other commercial notices.

March 31

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 28, 1771).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the SPY are also taken in by Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker.”

Most newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s did not have extensive colophons.  Consider, for example, those newspapers published at the time that Isaiah Thomas relaunched the Massachusetts Spy on March 7, 1771.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. DRAPER.”  Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post read, in its entirety, “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.”  The Boston-Gazette also had a short colophon, “Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL.”  Limited to “Printed by GREEN & RUSSELL,” the colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy did not even list the city.  All of those colophons appeared at the end of the final column on the last page.

In contrast, Thomas adopted a style much more often (but not universally) deployed in newspapers published in other cities and towns.  Extending across all four columns on the final page, it provided much more information about the Massachusetts Spy for readers, prospective subscribers and advertisers, and others who might have business with the printing office.  He included his location, “UNION-STREET, near the Market,” and listed the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence” annually.  He also noted that he sought advertising, but did not specify the rates.  In addition, Thomas stated that “Articles of Intelligence … are thankfully received.”  In other words, he solicited contributions to print or reprint in the Spy.  Like other newspaper printers, he accepted job printing as a means of supplementing the revenues from subscriptions and advertising.  Thomas proclaimed that he could produce “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  He provided all of the services available in other printing offices.

Thomas included an additional enhancement in his colophon, one that not only did not appear in other newspapers published in Boston but also did not appear in other newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He listed local agents who accepted subscriptions for the Spy in towns beyond Boston: “Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker, and Mr. W. Calder, painter, in Charlestown; Mr. J. Hillier, watch-maker, in Salem; Mr. B. Emerson, Bookseller, in Newbury-Port; and Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgewater.”  That portion of the colophon reflected advertisements Thomas placed in other newspapers prior to relaunching the Spy.  It testified to a network the printer established for gathering sufficient subscribers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise.  The list also made it more convenient for prospective subscribers to order their copies of the Spy.  Those who lived in any of the towns listed in the colophon could deal directly with the local agents rather than dispatch letters to the printing office in Boston.

When it came to publishing a newspaper in Boston, Thomas was a newcomer in the early 1770s.  All of the other newspapers in circulation had been established for many years.  Perhaps the printers believed that their newspapers and their printing offices were so familiar to readers that they did not need extensive colophons providing a lot of information.  Thomas chose a different model, one much more common in newspapers published in other places.  In the process, he added his own innovation, listing local agents, in order to gain greater advantage of the portion of each issue that he surrendered to the colophon.

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette.jpg
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 7, 1769).

Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS for this Paper … are gratefully received.”

Advertising accounted for half of the content in the November 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Readers encountered advertisements before any news or editorials; paid notices ran from top to bottom of the entire first column on the first page, with “EUROPEAN INTELLIGENCE” filling the other three columns. News from Europe continued on the second page and spilled over onto the third, but three of the columns on that page consisted of advertising. Except for the colophon, advertising comprised all of the content on the final page.

Yet even the colophon served as an advertisement. It included far more than just the name of the printer and the place of publication. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette sported one of the most elaborate colophons in any newspaper published in the colonies in the 1760s: “CHARLESTON; Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the Bay where Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS for this Paper, which is circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES, are gratefully received; Also, ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES, of which a large Stock is constantly kept up, and, For all Kinds of PRINTING and BOOK-BINDING Work, which continue to be executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.” This colophon filled more space and contained more words than some of the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

Its placement at the bottom of the final page guaranteed that no matter the order of the other contents of the newspaper those who perused it start to finish, even if they did not read every item, concluded with an advertisement that promoted goods and services offered by the printer. Those services included printing more advertising in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, a good investment considering the reach of the newspaper. Wells informed prospective advertisers that his newspaper circulated far beyond Charleston and even beyond South Carolina. He did not, however, merely solicit advertisements and subscriptions for the newspaper. He also emphasized other goods and services. He accepted job printing orders. He sold stationery and books. As an ancillary service, he either bound books or employed a bookbinder.

The colophon could have been merely informational – “CHARLESTON: Printed by ROBERT WELLS” – yet the printer dramatically expanded it to engage both consumers and prospective advertisers who read the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He exercised his privileges as the printer and his access to the press to promote his own business interests.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 15, 1769).

“Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office.”

Sometime during the week between publishing the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette and the August 15 edition, Samuel Hall altered the colophon. The new colophon simply stated: “SALEM: Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House.” Except for the period instead of a semicolon after “Town-House,” this read the same as the first line of the former colophon. However, Hall eliminated the second line: “where Subscriptions for this GAZETTE, at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, are taken in;–3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” Hall had been using the colophon as advertising space to promote subscriptions for the newspaper, hoping to attract new customers who read copies that passed from hand to hand. Not every colonial printer deployed the colophon as a final advertisement, but the practice was not uncommon either. Several used the space to solicit subscriptions or advertisements or to peddle handbills, stationery, printed blanks, or printing services.

This was not the first time that Hall altered the colophon for the Essex Gazette. Although he had been publishing the newspaper for only a little over a year (the August 15 edition was issue number 55), he had revised the colophon on several occasions, adding and removing a second line that served as advertising. In the first issue published in 1769, for instance, the second line informed readers of the price of subscriptions and announced that Hall sought advertisements. It read: “where SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper.” A couple of months later, Hall eliminated that second line and slightly altered the first, listing his name as “S. HALL” rather than “Samuel Hall.” That version eventually gave way to the one that appeared until August 8, the one in which Hall used the second line to encourage readers to become subscribers and specified that those who di so were expected to pay half of the subscription fee “at Entrance.”

Hall’s colophon for the Essex Gazette varied from issue to issue much more often than the colophons that appeared in other American newspapers in the 1760s. The publisher moved back and forth between using the colophon as space for advertising aspects of his own publication – subscriptions and advertisements – and a pared down notation limited to publisher and location. Why? What prompted Hall to make these changes? Does the elimination of the second line indicate that it had not achieved the purposes Hall intended? It took up so little space that Hall did not have to sacrifice other content when including it. Why did he choose to refrain from using the colophon to encourage subscriptions and advertising?

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 9, 1767).

“ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES.”

Each issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a colophon that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the final page. Most colonial newspapers included a colophon on the final page, though they differed in length and content. The colophon for the October 8, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette simply stated “Printed by Richard Draper.” On the same day, the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy included a longer colophon: “New-York: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Parker used the colophon as an advertisement for his own newspaper. One of his local competitors did the same in a more elaborate colophon for the New-York Journal, but also promoted job printing and offered relatively rare information concerning prices for newspaper advertisements. “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”

Among this variation, Robert Wells devised one of the most elaborate colophons that graced the pages of colonial newspapers in the 1760s. Had the type been set in a single column and inserted among the advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the contents of the colophon would have been indistinguishable from the paid notices inserted by colonial entrepreneurs. It first indicated Wells’s location, “at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY,” and then mentioned specific services related to the newspaper, “Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS.” To entice potential advertisers to choose his newspaper rather than either of the other two printed in Charleston at the time, Wells underscored that the South-Carolina and American General Gazette “circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES.” Advertisers could reach broad markets of prospective consumers.

Yet Wells did not conclude the colophon there. He inserted two more lines about his work as a bookseller and stationer, invoking common appeals to prices, quality, and choice found in advertisements placed by retailers of all sorts. He also hawked bookbinding services, making the “Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY” a location for convenient one-stop shopping. Wells accepted “ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES,” but also promised that “a large Stock is constantly kept up.” He did “all Kinds PRINTING and BO[O]K-BINDING Work … executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.”

Robert Wells took advantage of the space allotted in his newspaper for a colophon by inserting what amounted to an advertisement for the goods and services he provided. Such was the privilege of operating the press that every issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a message to colonial consumers.