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