August 21

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 21, 1772).

“PROPOSED to Print by SUBSCRIPTION.”

In the summer of 1772, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, distributed a proposal for printing “A rational Interpretation of the prophetic Visions of St. John … By SAMUEL LANGDON, D.D. Pastor of the first Church in Portsmouth.”  Before taking the work to press, they first sought subscribers who pledged in advance that they would purchase it.  Printing by subscription was a common business model in eighteenth-century America. Subscription proposals allowed printers to encourage interest in their projects and assess demand before investing time, materials, and other resources in ventures unlikely to succeed.  The Fowles claimed that they considered publishing Langdon’s “Series of expository Discourses … at the earnest Request of many Gentlemen acquainted with it,” suggesting that some demand already existed.  Savvy consumers, however, may have suspected that claim was merely a ploy to get them to jump on the bandwagon.  Regardless of how many “Gentlemen” already subscribed, the Fowles declared that they would not move forward with the project unless “proper Encouragement is given by a full Subscription.”  Furthermore, “No more will be printed than what are engaged by Subscribers.”  The printers attempted to create a sense of urgency around subscribing to what they portrayed as a popular project as soon as possible or miss out on having their names printed among the list of subscribers.

Production of the book, on the other hand, would take quite a bit of time.  Rather than take the entire volume to press, the Fowles proposed a serial publication that would “come out in month Numbers, containing about 32 Octavo Pages, on good Paper and a new Type.”  Subscribers paid only when they received new installments of the series.  The Fowles estimated that it would take about two years to publish the entire work, “each Year making a Volume of about 380 Pages.”  They promised that the “Numbers will be duely sent, free of Charge, to all the principal Towns where Subscriptions are taken in.”  They listed nearly a dozen local agents in towns in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Philadelphia, stating that they sent subscription papers to them.  In addition, the Fowles explained that each number would be “advertised in the publick Prints as soon as publish’d.”  Those who resided “at too great a distance to receive the Numbers seasonably” could instead choose “to subscribe for the whole in Volumes, stitched or bound,” as long as they “specify their Desire, in the Subscription.”  The Fowles asserted that they would send each annual volume “as soon as published.”  They did not, however, indicate how often such subscribers were expected to submit payment.  Overall, they outlined a complicated system of distributing and collecting subscription proposals as well as distributing serialized “numbers” and collecting payments each month.  The logistics may have been too complicated.  It does not appear that they printed and distributed the first “number” in November 1772 as intended.  They did publish a pamphlet by Langdon, “A Rational Explication of St. John’s Vision of the Two Beasts,” thirty-two pages on octavo paper, in 1774.  They may have published other essays by Langdon separately as well, but not the entire project as originally envisioned and presented to prospective subscribers.  If few subscribers responded to their proposals, that likely played a significant role in their decision not to pursue the project.

July 24

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 24, 1772).

“Those Persons who are Indebted for this PAPER, are desired to settle within the Month.”

Throughout the colonies, printers regularly placed notices in their newspapers calling on subscribers and other customers to settler accounts.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, ran such a notice on July 24, 1772.  The use of italics set their notice apart from others in the same issue drawing attention to their declaration that “The Subscribers to this paper, who are one year or more in arrear, and those who are in any other manner indebted to the printers, are requested to discharge their accounts immediately.”  Newspaper subscribers notoriously neglected to make payments.  Printers often threatened legal action, but usually did not follow through on those threats, perhaps because maintaining robust circulation, even among subscribers who did not pay, helped attract advertisements.  Advertising represented a significant revenue stream for many colonial printers.

On the same day that the Greens ran their notice, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, placed a similar announcement in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  They advised that “Those Persons who are Indebted for this PAPER, are desired to settle within the Month of August next,—and as many pay off as can.—They who cannot pay the whole, may give their Notes for the Remainder, as there is a Necessity for a Settlement as soon as possible.”  The Fowles did not elaborate on what constituted a “Necessity,” nor did they make any threats against those who ignored their notice.  On other occasions, they warned that they would sue recalcitrant subscribers or even publish their names to shame them in front of the rest of the community.  No list of delinquent subscribers appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Like the Greens who placed their notes in italics, the Fowles devised a means of calling attention to their notice.  They enclosed it in a border composed of printing ornaments, the only item in that issue to receive such treatment.

Printers and subscribers engaged in an ongoing battle of wills in colonial America.  Subscribers did not pay for their newspapers, prompting printers to suggest that they would sue their customers.  They sometimes implied that they could not continue publication if they did not receive payments, which may have been what the Fowles intended when they referred to the “Necessity” of subscribers settling accounts.  Printers cajoled subscribers in a variety ways, their notices frequently receiving privileged treatment in the newspapers they published.

July 3

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 3, 1772).

The Printers will not Promise to exchange after the first of August next.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, gave one of their advertisements a privileged place in the July 3, 1772, edition of their newspaper.  They positioned their notice about “Compleat Sets of the new and correct Law-Book, for the Province of New-Hampshire” at the top of the first full column of advertising, increasing the likelihood that readers would take note of it as they finished the news items even if they only quickly glanced at the advertisements.

To encourage sales of the new edition, the Fowles offered a deal to customers who owned copies of the previous edition.  They stated that they “will take the old ones of such Persons, as were subscribers for that Edition, and allow them one Dollar for the same.”  In other words, those customers received a discount when they traded in the outdated edition.  To convince customers that this was a good deal, the Fowles proclaimed that the previous edition was “not worth a Farthing” now that they published a “new and correct” edition, so customers might as well take advantage of their generosity in allowing “one Dollar” for it.

The Fowles also attempted to create a sense of urgency by making clear that this was a limited time offer.  They asserted that customers who wished to return the previous edition must “purchase a new Book now.”  They warned that “the Printers will not Promise to exchange after the first of August next.”  Customers had only four weeks to contemplate this offer before the Fowles potentially rescinded it.  In addition, the printers had “but few to dispose of in this Way,” or so they claimed.  That meant that interested readers needed to make the exchange while supplies lasted.

The Fowles deployed several savvy marketing strategies when they published a new and updated edition of the laws of the colony.  They offered discounts to former customers who traded in the old edition, simultaneously pressuring them to purchase the new volume soon by cautioning that they had limited supply and the offer expired soon.  Prospective customers needed to act quickly or risk missing out!

March 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 6, 1772).

“A few of the New-Hampshire Registers … may be had at the Printing-Office.”

The “Civil, Military & Ecclesiastical REGISTER of the Province of New-Hampshire, for the YEAR 1772” apparently did not sell as well as the printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, hoped.   They first advertised the volume in their newspaper, the New-Hampshire Gazette, on December 13, 1771.  That notice included a lengthy list of the contents.  A week later, they supplemented the original copy with an explanation intended to convince colonizers to purchase a copy of their own.  “Every Gentleman who holds an Office,” the Fowles declared, “and has the Honor of having it recorded in the above Register, undoubtedly ought and will furnish himself with one.”  Furthermore, “other Persons should have them, in order rightly to know their Superiors.”  From the “Governor, Council and House of Representatives” to “Justices of the Peace through the Province and for each County,” the Register listed officials throughout the colony.

Nearly three months after first advertising the Register, the Fowles inserted a shorter notice (but in much larger type) to alert prospective customers that “A few of the New-Hampshire Registers, very necessary for all sorts of People, may be had at the Printing-Office.”  They continued to insist that they sold an invaluable resource for colonizers to consult in a variety of circumstances, but they no longer devoted as much space to making that assertion.  Prospective customers likely needed more convincing.  The Fowles did not publish an updated register in 1773 nor in any subsequent year.  Other printers did so in 1779 and 1787, but the Fowles seemingly did not encounter enough success with the project in 1772 to justify making another attempt.  Perhaps more extensive advertising might have helped to create a more robust market, but the Fowles may have determined that no amount of marketing would so significantly improve sales to make another edition worthy of the time and expense necessary to produce it.  Even with their access to the press and ability to run as many advertisements as they wished, the Fowles had surplus copies of the register that cut into any profits they might have earned.

August 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 30, 1771).

“[*Immediate Settlement*]”

Like many other printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, periodically placed notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts.  Some printers tied such notices to important milestones in the publication of their newspapers.  Most often they announced that a newspaper completed another full year of publication and simultaneously asked readers to mark the occasion by paying any debts that had been on the books for more than a year.  Doing so allowed them to underscore the longevity of the newspaper while also collecting revenues necessary for continued operations.  Rarely did they ask subscribers, advertisers, and others to bring their accounts completely up to date; instead, most printers continued to allow credit for more recent transactions.

On occasion, however, some printers did request an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” in the notices they placed in their newspapers.  Such was the case in August 1771 when the Fowles asked “THOSE of our Eastern Customers, from Kittery to Falmouth, &c. who received the New Hampshire Gazette, of Mr. James Libbey, late Post Rider, deceased … to settle immediately with the Printers.”  They did not ask that all customers settle accounts, only those served by the former post rider.  Libbey’s death may have disrupted distribution of the New-Hampshire Gazette in eastern towns located in the portion of Massachusetts that eventually became Maine.  If they were uncertain when another reliable post rider would cover the route, the Fowles may have considered the time right to get accounts in order with subscribers in that region.

To lend their request some urgency, the printers designed a headline intended to attract attention.  The Fowles sometimes enclosed headlines for advertisements, especially legal notices, within brackets, a practice peculiar to their newspaper.  In this instance, they supplemented brackets with asterisks to make clear that they desired an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” without delays.  They deployed graphic design to distinguish their notice from others as they grappled with a transition within the operations of their printing office and the distribution of their newspapers.

April 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 26, 1771).

“Wesley’s SERMONS, on the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the fall of 1770, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, extensively covered the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  In addition to news coverage, the Fowles published poems written in memory of the minister and vigorously advertised a variety of commemorative items.  Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30.  For the next several months, the Fowles regularly printed and reprinted news accounts, memorials, and advertisements related to his death.

They commenced advertising Whitefield memorabilia again in the spring when vessels from England arrived in American ports.  Those vessels carried newspapers that reported on public reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  They also carried new commemorative items already marketed in England, including Whitefield’s will and the funeral sermon preached by John Wesley.  The Fowles were the first printers to advertise both items in their newspaper.  On April 19, they advertised “The Last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD,” stating that it “will be published” in a few days.  The Fowles indicated that they printed their own edition rather than acquiring copies of an American edition that Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, published after receiving an English edition in “the last Ships from London.”

A week later, the Fowles once again advertised Whitefield’s will, updating “will be published” to “Just published.”  In a separate advertisement they informed prospective customers that “Rev. Mr. Wesley’s SERMONS … preached at [Whitefield’s] Tabernacle, and Tottenham Court Chapel … to a very crouded and afflicted Audience” had “Just come to Hand.”  In this case, they probably sold an American edition that John Fleeming advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter a week earlier.  Just as John Holt printed copies in New York and distributed them to printers and booksellers in other towns, so did Fleeming.  As these commemorative items became more widely available and advertisements in newspapers proliferated, colonists experienced another round of the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  These items from England counted as news since they delivered information previously not available in the colonies, but they also represented opportunities for printers and booksellers to generate revenues as they participated in rituals of mourning for an early American celebrity.

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 12, 1771).

“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”

In the April 12, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a short notice informing prospective customers that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  Readers knew that the Fowles referred to an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Massacre or Preston’s Massacre, as the Boston Massacre was known at the time.  John Fleeming, the printer of the volume, began advertising it in the Boston Evening-Post in the middle of January.  It did not take long for advertisements to appear in other newspapers in New England and as far away as South Carolina as a network of printers and booksellers received copies to sell in their local markets.  Indeed, the Fowles alerted readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that they carried the book at their printing office in Portsmouth on January 25.

Nearly three months later, they still had “A few of the TRIALS” available.  They ran the advertisement once again, though regular readers knew that the Fowles’ copies had not “just come to Hand.”  The placement of the advertisement suggests one of the reasons the printers decided to promote the book once again.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column on the last page.  Immediately to the left ran another notice inserted by the printers: “BLANKS of most sorts, &c. With a Number of Books, Sold at the Printing Office.”  In addition to inviting consumers to acquire goods from the Fowles, these advertisements also completed two of the three columns on the final page of the April 12 edition.  One of them extended three lines and the other only two, making them a convenient sort of filler that did not require the compositor to set additional type.  Creating columns of the same length played a role in the Fowles’ decision to advertise an account of the “TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”  The printers sought to inform consumers about recent events, commemorate the Bloody Massacre, and generate revenues, but those were not the only factors that explained the timing of this advertisement.  The mundane details of setting type to complete a page contributed as well.

March 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 1, 1771).

“Some of our Advertising Customers are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct.”

On March 1, 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again informed delinquent subscribers that if they did not settle accounts they would find themselves facing legal action.  Newspaper printers regularly made such threats, but the Fowles did so more often than most.  Were they more aggressive in addressing overdue accounts?  Were their customers more recalcitrant than others?  Either way, they proclaimed that “Customers for this Paper, whose Accounts are of so long standing, but not sufficient for Court Writs, may depend on being sued before some Justice in Portsmouth, unless immediately paid.”  The Fowles seemed especially exasperated with “those at the Eastward indebted for many Years Papers,” vowing to bring them “to a proper Sense of their Duty” when the court at York met in April “unless this last Hint Rouses them.”

In the same issue, the Fowles also inserted a brief note to current and prospective advertisers.  “Some of our Advertising Customers,” the printers declared, “are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct, or an Interpreter with them.”  Once again, the Fowles took an exasperated tone.  That they published the only newspaper in New Hampshire may have afforded them greater latitude in doing so than their counterparts in places with multiple newspapers.  They did not reveal what they found lacking in the copy advertisers submitted, only that they experienced difficulty in making sense of some of the notices they received from those who sent them by post or messenger rather than visiting the printing office to make arrangements for their publication.  On occasion, newspaper printers advised prospective advertisers that they would assist with writing copy.  Many other printers also may have lent an editorial eye to copy they received, helping to explain the standardized language in many advertisements.  Doing so required understanding the purpose of an advertisement and clarifying the details.  The Fowles suggested that some copy they received lacked a clear purpose, unambiguous details, or both.

Although printers sometimes offered assistance, advertisers possessed primary responsibility for generating copy for paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  The Fowles apparently expected their advertisers to refer to notices that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette as models when composing their own advertisements.  They may have performed some editorial work upon receiving copy, but the Fowles expected that advertisers would submit notices that needed little revision before publication.

January 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 18, 1771).

“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing.  Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers.  While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.

Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year.  As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale.  For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post.  “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items.  Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.

Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”  Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia.  Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death.  Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies.  The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.

October 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 26, 1770).

“A Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper.”

In the eighteenth century, newspaper printers often inserted notices into their own publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their bills.  They were not alone in resorting to such measures.  Entrepreneurs of all sorts as well as executors of estates enlisted the aid of the public prints in instructing customers and associates to settle accounts.  Given their access to the press, however, some printers more regularly ran such notices than other colonists.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, were among the printers who most frequently made the collection of debts in the interests of continuing publication a feature of their newspaper.

The Fowles found it necessary to do so on October 26, 1770, expressing some exasperation.  “THOSE Persons who are still delinquent in discharging their Arrears for this Paper, and for Advertisements,” the printers declared, “and have been repeatedly call’d upon from Time to Time, are desir’d to comply with so reasonable a Request.”  Others who placed such notices usually threatened legal action against those who did not heed their warning.  The Fowles had done so in the past.  On one occasion they also threatened to publish a list of subscribers, advertisers, and others who did not pay their bills, though they did not follow through on that ultimatum.  In this instance, they did not deliver any threats against those in arrears but instead explained the effect that such delinquency would have on their business and, by extension, their ability to serve the community by disseminating news and other information.  The Fowles insisted that they needed to collect on debts owed to them because “a Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper, to carry on the Business.”  Without paper, they could not continue to print and distribute the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Although the Fowles regularly inserted notices to encourage subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts, they did not merely adopt the formulaic language that often appeared in such advertisements.  Over the years, they experimented with a variety of messages and tones, sometimes threatening and sometimes cajoling, in their efforts to attract the attention of clients in arrears and convince them to pay their debts.