August 29

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (August 26, 1773).


It was the first time that Clementina Rind’s name appeared in the colophon of the Virginia Gazette, formerly published by her late husband.  William Rind died on August 19, 1773.  A week later, his widow revised the colophon to read: “WILLIAMSBURG: Printed by CLEMENTINA RIND, at the NEW PRINTING OFFICE, on the Main Street.”  Clementina continued her husband’s practice of using the colophon as an advertisement for subscriptions and advertising.  “All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE,” the colophon continued to inform readers, “at 12s6 per Year.  ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Time after; and long ones in Proportion.”  A thick border, indicative of mourning, separated the colophon from the rest of the content on the final page.  Similarly, mourning borders appeared in the masthead as well, alerting readers of a significant loss.

Due to a variety of factors, the death notice in digitized copy of Rind’s Virginia Gazette is not fully legible.  His fellow printers, Alexander Purdie and John Dixon, however, ran an even more extensive tribute to their former competitor in their own Virginia Gazette, though lacking mourning borders.  They first described William as “an affectionate Husband, kind Parent, and a benevolent Man” before lauding his work as “publick Printer to the Colony.”  Purdie and Dixon memorialized a colleague whose “Impartiality on the Conduct of his Gazette, by publishing the Productions of the several contending Parties that have lately appeared in this Country, cannot fail of securing to his Memory the Estee, of all who are sensible how much the Freedom of the Press contributes to maintain and extend the most sacred Rights of Humanity.”  Purdie and Dixon underscored the important contributions of all printers in paying their respects to the departed William.  They also gave an extensive account of the funeral rituals undertaken by “the ancient and honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons” in memory of “so worthy a Brother.”

Clementina printed the Virginia Gazette for thirteen months.  Following her death on September 25, 1774, John Pinkney became the printer.  Clementina was not the only female printer producing and distributing a newspaper in the colonies at the time.  In Annapolis, Anne Catherine Green and Son published the Maryland Gazette.  The widow of Jonas Green, Anne Catherine printed the newspaper upon his death, sometimes as sole publisher and sometimes in partnership with a son.  The Adverts 250 Project has also traced some of the work of Sarah Goddard, printer of the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s.  Female printers joined their male counterparts in contributing to the dissemination of information (and advertising) during the era of the American Revolution.

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (August 26, 1773).

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).

April 16

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

Massachusetts Spy (April 16, 1773).

THE extensive circulation of the MASSACHUSETTS SPY, through town and country, renders it very beneficial for those who ADVERTISE therein.”

Many colonial printers promoted their newspapers in the colophon that appeared on the final page.  Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, did so in one of the lengthier colophons that appeared in newspapers published in the 1770s.  In addition to providing his name and the place of publication, he gave extensive directions to his printing office “At the South Corner of MARSHAL’S LANE, leading from the MILL-BRIDGE into UNION-STREET.”  Thomas noted that “all Persons may be supplied with this Paper” and gave the price for an annual subscription.  He also listed local agents in four towns – Bridgewater, Charlestown, Newburyport, and Salem – who accepted subscriptions on his behalf.  In addition, Thomas solicited advertisements and job printing, including handbills and printed blanks.  He informed prospective customers of “PRINTING in its various Branches, performed in a neat Manner, with the greatest Care and Dispatch, on the most reasonable Terms.”

Massachusetts Spy (April 16, 1773).

Although printers regularly promoted various goods and services available in their printing offices, they did not often include their own newspapers among those advertisements (except to call on recalcitrant subscribers to make payments) nor did they insert notices to encourage the public to place advertisements.  That made Thomas’s notice at the top of the first column on the first page of the April 16, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Spy rather unusual.  The printer proclaimed, “THE extensive circulation of the MASSACHUSETTS SPY, through town and country, renders it very beneficial for those who ADVERTISE therein.”  Established July 17, 1770, the Massachusetts Spy was the newest of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, but Thomas suggested that its circulation rivaled its competitors.  Advertising in his newspaper, the printer asserted, drew the attention of readers and, in turn, that attention yielded results for the advertisers.  In making his pitch, Thomas also stated that “Advertisements … are inserted in a neat and conspicuous manner on the most reasonable terms,” offering assurances about the effectiveness, quality, and price of advertising in his newspaper.

Thomas also sought new subscribers.  After extolling advertisements, he addressed “Such gentlemen and ladies, in this Province as are desirous of taking in the SPY.”  The printer characterized its contents as “the earliest and most important Foreign and Domestic Intelligence, with a number of ORIGINAL papers, on a variety of subjects.”  To further entice prospective subscribers, he gave the price of an annual subscription and trumpeted that it “is cheaper than any public paper or other periodical publication whatever, of its bigness [or size], in the four quarters of the globe.”  Accordingly, the Massachusetts Spyhas met with very great encouragement from the public,” a pronouncement intended to resonate with prospective advertisers as well as prospective subscribers.  In a nota bene, Thomas offered to send the newspaper to “Gentlemen and ladies in any of the American colonies, who incline to subscribe,” another testament to the “extensive circulation” that he mentioned as a reason for placing advertisements.

At the bottom of the final page of each issue of the Massachusetts Spy, the colophon informed readers that Thomas accepted subscriptions at the printing office and briefly mentioned “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in.”  Although advertisements accounted for significant revenue for colonial printers, Thomas and others rarely promoted advertising except in the colophons of their newspapers.  In this instance, Thomas apparently recognized an opportunity to cultivate more advertising for his newspaper.  In making his pitch to prospective advertisers, he emphasized price (“reasonable terms”) and, especially, effectiveness (displaying notices in a “conspicuous manner” and the “extensive circulation” of the newspaper).  He coupled those appeals with his efforts to attract more subscribers, hoping to expand both means that the Massachusetts Spy generated revenue.

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 21

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

The Censor (March 21, 1772).

“This Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”

The colophon for The Censor, a political newspaper-magazine published in Boston by Ezekiel Russell for a few months in late 1771 and early 1772, appeared immediately below the masthead on the front page rather than on the final page. While the placement was unusual, it was not unique.  Both newspapers printed in New York at the time adopted the same format, drawing attention to the printers as soon as readers glanced at the front page.  Starting with the March 7 issue, Russell did include more information in the colophon for The Censor than the New York printers listed in the colophons for their newspapers.  The colophon for the New-York Journal simply stated, “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, ON HUNTER’S-QUAY, ROTTON-ROW.”  The colophon for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was only slightly more elaborate: “Printed by HUGH GAINE, Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in HANOVER-SQUARE.”

Russell initially included the same information, printer and location, in a short colophon that declared “Published by E. RUSSELL, at his Printing-Office, in Marlborough-Street.”  He eventually added, “Where this Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”  Even though he recently began accepting advertising to publish in a supplement, the Postscript to the Censor, Russell did not indicate how much he charged to publish advertisements.  Although some printers mentioned subscription prices or advertising fees or both in their colophons, most did not regularly provide that information in their weekly publications.  The information that Russell incorporated into the colophon for The Censor indicated that he adopted a different business model than other printers.  Others charged annual subscription rates rather than by the issue or “per Number.”  Why did Russell choose a different method for his weekly publication?  Perhaps he wished to make The Censor seem less expensive to prospective subscribers.  After all, “Two Pence per Number” amounted to eight shillings and eight pence over a year.  None of the newspapers printed in Boston at the time published their subscription rates, but the colophon for the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, listed the price at “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.”  If printers in Boston charged similar amounts for their newspapers, that made an annual subscription to The Censor more expensive than any of the local newspapers.  The Censor quickly folded, largely because it rehearsed unpopular political opinions, but the cost “per Number” may have been a factor in the publication’s demise as well.

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.

February 18

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

Essex Gazette (February 18, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”

How much did advertising cost?  How much did advertising cost compared to subscriptions?  These are some of the most common questions I encounter when discussing eighteenth-century advertising at conferences and public presentations.  The answer is complicated, in part because most eighteenth-century printers did not list advertising rates or subscription fees in their newspapers.  A significant minority, however, did regularly publish that information in the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page.

Such was the case with Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  Over the course of two lines, the colophon in their newspaper announced, “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 4s. 6d. if sent by the Post) to be paid at Entrance.  ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  The colophon revealed how much the Halls charged for subscriptions and advertising as well as other business practices.

Subscribers paid six shillings and eight pence per year, but that did not include postage for delivering the newspapers.  The printers expected subscribers to pay half, three shillings and four pence, in advance.  Like many other eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, the Halls extended credit to their customers.  Newspaper subscribers were notorious for not paying for their subscriptions, as demonstrated in the frequent notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts placed in newspapers throughout the colonies, prompting the Halls to require half from the start.  They asked for even more, four shillings and six pence, from subscribers who lived far enough away that they received their newspapers via the post, though the colophon does make clear if the additional shilling covered postage.  The Halls may have charged a higher deposit because they considered it more difficult to collect from subscribers at a distance.

Short advertisements, those “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” cost three shillings or nearly half what an annual subscription cost.  Other printers specified that they adjusted advertising rates “in proportion” to length.  The Halls likely did so as well, making the cost of an advertisement that extended twenty lines about the same as a subscription.  They did not specify in the colophon that they required payment before running advertisements.  Some printers made that their policy but apparently made exceptions.  When they inserted notices calling on subscribers to send payment, they sometimes addressed advertisers.  For many eighteenth-century printers, advertising generated significant revenue. Considering that a single advertisement could cost as much or more as an annual subscription in the Essex Gazette, the Halls had good reason to cultivate advertisers as well as subscribers.

January 19

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 16, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS taken in … Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”

Advertising represented significant revenues for early American printers.  For many, advertising, rather than subscriptions, determined the viability and profitability of their newspapers.  Some printers included invitations to submit advertisements along with publication information in the colophons that appeared at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers.  In the colophon for the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, Isaiah Thomas proclaimed, “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in.”  Considering how much revenue advertisements generated, some printers devoted as much space (or more!) to paid notices in their newspapers as to other content, though others made efforts to balance news and advertising.  For his part, Thomas did not allow advertising to crowd out local news for Boston, “AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE” from other cities, letters to the editor, and other content.  In the January 16, 1772, edition, for instance, he filled one-third of the columns with advertising and the rest with news.  He also inserted a note that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next,” alerting advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked but merely delayed.

At the same time, Thomas produced other forms of advertising, including handbills, and promoted such work as well as other job printing performed “on the most reasonable Terms.”  Those services appeared in the colophon of every issue of the Massachusetts Spy in the early 1770s.  The printer alerted prospective advertisers that he produced “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  Though relatively few of those handbills survive today, especially compared to newspapers (and the advertisements in them) preserved in their entire runs, they were part of a vibrant culture of advertising in the second half of the eighteenth century.  As they traversed the streets of Boston and other cities and towns, colonizers glimpsed broadsides pasted to buildings and grasped handbills thrust at them as they passed.  Merchants and shopkeepers gave out trade cards to promote their businesses and wrote accounts and receipts on billheads.  Booksellers and auctioneers distributed catalogs.  Advertisements were not the only kind of job printing undertaken by Thomas, but singling out handbills for special attention in the colophon of his newspaper suggests that he saw advertising as an especially lucrative endeavor.