June 26

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

Providence Gazette (June 26, 1773).

“Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner.”

Like many other colonial printers who published newspapers, but not all of them, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette used the colophon at the bottom of the final page to promote services available at his printing office rather than merely giving the name and location of the printer.  In the early 1770s, the colophon for the Providence Gazette regularly advised that customers could place orders for job printing “at Shakespear’s Head, … where all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  Job printing orders included broadsides, trade cards, handbills, and blanks (or forms) of various sorts.

On April 25, 1772, Carter added an additional line to the colophon, advising prospective customers about “Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.”  Among the newspaper printers who inserted extended colophons that doubled as advertisements for their printing offices, others also gave handbills special emphasis.  In Boston, Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, included a note in his colophon that declared, “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  In Philadelphia, the colophon for William Goddard’s Pennsylvania Chronicle concluded with “Blanks and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”  Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, on the other hand, focused on “all Kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

That several printers made a point of including handbills among the services listed in their colophons suggests that they regularly received orders for such items, likely far more orders than those examples in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest.  That Thomas proclaimed that his printing office could produce handbills so quickly further testifies to the likelihood that merchants, shopkeepers, and others distributed handbills as an alternative or as a supplement to newspaper notices, creating a more visible and vibrant culture of advertising in early America, especially in urban ports, than surviving primary sources alone indicate.  Since handbills were intended to be ephemeral and disposable, colonizers did not save and preserve them in the same manner that newspaper printers and some subscribers compiled complete runs of many eighteenth-century newspapers, complete with the advertisements they contained.

April 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 26, 1773).

“Hope the Customers to the Paper will continue to encourage it by advertising.”

The first advertisement in the April 26, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy concerned the operation of the newspaper.  For nearly sixteen years, since August 1757, John Green and Joseph Russell printed the newspaper, but starting on that day “the Printing and Publishing of this PAPER will, in future be carried on by NATHANIEL MILLS and JOHN HICKS.”  Neither the printers nor readers knew it at the time, but the newspaper would not continue for nearly as long under Mills and Hicks.  They published the last known issue on April 17, 1775, two days before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord that marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

At the time that ownership of the newspaper changed hands, Green and Russell expressed “their respectful Thanks for the Favours they have received.”  Furthermore, they expressed their “hope the Customers to the Paper will continue to encourage it by advertising, &c.”  That “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) included subscribing to the newspapers and providing content, such as editorials and “Letters of Intelligence.”  The printers realized that the continued viability and success of the newspapers depended most immediately on maintaining advertising revenue since readers but subscribed for a year while most advertisements ran for only three or four weeks.

Readers likely noticed a new feature in the first issue published by Mills and Hicks, a colophon that ran across the bottom of the final page.  Green and Russell did not always include a colophon, perhaps because they considered the newspaper so well established that they did not consider it necessary to devote space to it in each issue.  Their final issue, the April 19 edition, for instance, did not feature a colophon.  On April 12, the colophon at the bottom of the last column on the final page simply stated, “Printed by Green and Russell.”  Mills and Hicks, on the other hand, opted for a more elaborate colophon that served as a perpetual advertisement for the newspaper and other services available in their printing office, a practice adopted by some, but not all, colonial printers.  Distributed over three lines, it read, “BOSTON: Printed by MILLS and HICKS, at their PRINTING-OFFICE in School-street, next Door to CROMWELL’S HEAD TAVERN, where Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence for this Paper are taken in; and the Printing Business carried on, in its different Branches, with the greatest Care.”

Mills and Hicks could not depend on their reputations to market the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in the same way that Green and Russell did after more than a decade of publishing the newspaper.  In their first issue, they placed greater emphasis on soliciting advertisements to help support their enterprise.  Subsequent issues included the colophon, a regular feature that encouraged colonizers to advertise as well as purchase subscriptions and submit orders for job printing.

Colophon from Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 26, 1773).

January 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 3, 1772).

“Blanks and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”

Some colonial printers used the colophon at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers merely to give publication information.  Such was the case in several newspapers during the first week of 1773.  The colophon for the New-Hampshire Gazette succinctly stated, “PORTSMOUTH, Printed by Daniel and Robert Fowle.”  Similarly, the colophon for the Boston-Gazette simply read, “Boston: Printed by EDES & GILL, in Queen-Street, 1773.”  Beyond New England, the colophon for the Pennsylvania Gazette gave similar information: “PHILADELPHIA: Printed by HALL and SELLERS, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE, near the Market.”

In contrast, many printers treated their colophons as perpetual advertisements for the goods and services they provided at their printing offices.  In many instances, those colophons included the most readily accessible information about subscription prices, advertising fees, or both.  Consider the colophon for the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  It opened with the same information that appeared in concise versions in other newspapers: “PHILADELPHIA: Printed by WILLIAM GODDARD, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Front-Street, near Market-Street, on the Bank Side, and almost opposite to the London Coffee-House.”  In a bustling city where printers published four other newspapers, Goddard wanted to make sure that subscribers, advertisers, and other customers could find his printing office.

From there, the printer noted that “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this paper.”  In addition to generating revenue through subscriptions and advertising, Goddard encouraged an eighteenth-century version of crowdsourcing for content that he might choose to include in his publication.  In addition to publishing the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Goddard also accepted orders for job printing.  In the final lines of the colophon, he asserted that “all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care, Fidelity and Expedition,” adding that “Blanks [or printed forms] and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”  That Goddard and other printers so often mentioned handbills in their colophons suggests that many more of those ephemeral advertisements came off of colonial presses than the relatively few that survived might suggest.

Eighteenth-century printers introduced a variety of variations into their colophons.  Some included only brief publication information, while others consistently used their colophons as advertisements to promote their businesses.  Those who took that approach were the most consistent advertisers of the period, disseminating at least one advertisement in each issue they printed.  Even the most prolific advertisers among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who placed paid notices did not advertise at that rate.

November 20

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

New-London Gazette (November 20, 1772).

“A curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS.”

One advertisement dominated the final page of the November 20, 1772, edition of the New-London Gazette.  Ebenezer Backus, Jr., ran a notice that filled more than three-quarters of the page, inviting customers to attend a sale of a “curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS” at his store in Norwich.  Although other items appeared at the top of the page, the size of Backus’s advertisement in general combined with the size of font for the word “GOODS” in the middle of the page in particular, drew attention away from everything else.  Readers may have eventually noticed the “POETS CORNER,” a weekly feature on the final page, but the prominence of Backus’s advertisement likely meant they overlooked Thomas Hartshorn’s notice calling on those indebted to him to settle accounts, at least initially.

Backus’s notice may have circulated solely in this format, but that may not have been the case.  He could have also made arrangements with Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, to produce additional copies to distribute as broadsides or handbills.  That seems to have been a practice among printers and entrepreneurs in the early 1770s.  Smith and Coit likely did so with a broadside book catalog that also ran in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Similarly, John Boyles may have adopted the same strategy with subscription proposals for Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws in the October 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

The inclusion of a colophon suggests that Green printed separate broadsides or handbills for Backus to post around town or give to prospective customers.  Green did not always publish a colophon in the New-London Gazette.  When he did, it sometimes read, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by T. Green,” and other times simply stated, “Printed by T. Green.”  In contrast, the colophon centered at the bottom of the final page of the November 20 edition gave both the place of publication and the printer’s full name, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by TIMOTHY GREEN.”  Printers often placed their colophon on broadsides and handbills they printed for others, giving announcements or advertisements intended for other purposes a secondary purpose as marketing materials promoting the services offered by printers.  The presence of the colophon on the final page of the New-London Gazette does not definitively demonstrate that a broadside or handbill circulated separately, but it does support the possibility that colonizers encountered more advertising in a variety of formats than those preserved in the collections of research libraries and historical societies might suggest.

New-London Gazette (November 20, 1772).

June 28

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

Maryland Gazette (June 25, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, of moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s.”

Many colonial printers did not regularly publish how much they charged for newspaper subscriptions or advertising, while some included that information in the colophon at the bottom of the final page of each issue.  A few transformed their colophons into extensive advertisements for all sorts of goods and services available at their printing offices.

Such was the case for Anne Catherine Green and Son, printers of the Maryland Gazette.  They did not merely state that they printed their newspaper in Annapolis.  Instead, they declared that “all Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year” or twelve shilling and six pence annually.  Green and Son published advertisements “of a moderate Length” for five shillings “the First Time” and an additional shilling “for each Week’s Continuance.”  Like many other printers, they charged more for “Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”  Some printers gave prices for only subscriptions or for only advertisements.  The more complete accounting from Green and Son demonstrates that a single advertisement that ran for a month generated almost as much revenue as a subscription for an entire year.

In addition to printing the Maryland Gazette, Green and Son also sold “most kinds of BLANKS” or printed forms for legal and financial transactions.  Throughout the colonies, printers hawked blanks.  Green and Son listed “COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of several Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; BILLS of EXCHANGE; [and] SHIPPING-BILLS.”  They appended “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had on hand, “ready Printed,” an even greater variety of blanks to meet the needs of their customers.  In addition, they did “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK … in the neatest and most expeditious Manner.”  That included broadsides for posting around town, handbills for distributing on the streets, catalogs for auctions, and other advertising materials.

Each issue of the Maryland Gazette concluded with an extensive advertisement for goods and services available at the printing office.  Green and Son significantly expanded the colophon beyond giving the name of the printer and the place of publication, reminding readers that the printing office offered far more than just copies of the newspaper.

March 15

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

Maryland Gazette (March 12, 1772).

“All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year.”

Advertisements usually filled the final page of the Maryland Gazette in the early 1770s.  In addition, a colophon appeared at the bottom of the page.  Rather than merely announcing the names of the printers and place of publication, “ANNAPOLIS: Printed by ANNE CATHARINE GREEN and SON, at the PRINTING-OFFICE,” the lengthy colophon served as an advertisement for various goods and services.  Not all colonial printers used the colophon for such purposes, but a significant number did so.

Most commonly, printers promoted their newspapers – subscriptions, advertisements, or both – when they published extended colophons.  Green and Son informed prospective subscribers that they “may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year.”  In addition, “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance.”  Advertisers received a significant discount for running their notices more than once, but the higher fee for the initial insertion also covered setting type and bookkeeping.  Green and Son did not define what constituted a “moderate Length” for advertisements, but did state that they charged fees for “Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”  Advertisements generated significant revenue for most colonial printers.

Green and Son also used the colophon to hawk blanks or printed forms for commercial and legal transactions.  They had in stock, “ready Printed, most kinds of BLANKS,” including “COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of all Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; and BILLS of EXCHANGE; SHIPPING-BILLS, &c. &c.”  Repeating the abbreviation for et cetera underscored the range of blanks available at the printing office.  Finally, Green and Son did job printing, including broadsides and handbills, when colonizers placed orders.  They declared, “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK performed in the neatest and most expeditious Manner,” emphasizing skill and efficiency.

Once readers perused the paid notices that ran in the Maryland Gazette they encountered a final advertisement at the bottom of the last page.  Green and Son transformed the colophon into a marketing mechanism that remained consistent from issue to issue even as the other contents changed.  They listed many of the goods and services available at printing offices throughout the colonies, while also specifying the subscription and advertising fees for their own newspaper.

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?