December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 2, 1768).

“AMES’s Almanack will be publish’d in a few Days.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, frequently inserted advertisements for books, pamphlets, stationery, and other items they sold. In the December 2, 1768, edition, they ran a short notice to encourage readers to purchase almanacs: “JUST PUBLISHED, And to be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Portsmouth; Bickerstaff’s & West’s Almanacks for the Year 1769.” Like other printers and booksellers, they offered several titles, realizing that customers developed loyalties for their favorites.

In addition to listing the two almanacs they already stocked, the Fowles concluded with a nota bene about another that would soon be available: “N.B. AMES’s Almanack will be publish’d in a few Days.” They did not provide any additional information about this almanac. Readers who also perused any of the newspapers from Boston that week may have known about an altercation among printers who sold Ames’s almanac. William McAlpine published legitimate copies, but Richard Draper, Edes and Gill, and T. and J. Fleet collaborated to print, market, and sell a pirated edition. Their marketing efforts included inserting notices in the newspapers they published – the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Evening-Post, respectively – that had the appearance of news items warning consumers against purchasing a “counterfeit Ames’s ALMANACK” that contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts” and bore William McAlpine’s name in the imprint.

What about the almanac advertised and sold by the Fowles? According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, the Fowles sold copies that bore these imprints: “Printed for, and sold by, D. and R. Fowle, at Portsmouth, New-Hampshire” and “Printed by William M‘Alpine, for D. and R. Fowle, at Portsmouth.” Both were typographically identical with those having an imprint stating “Printed and sold by William M‘Alpine.” The Fowles had not launched their own pirated edition to compete with the printers in Boston, nor had they joined the cabal that printed and distributed the actual counterfeit. Instead, they cooperated with McAlpine to distribute legitimate editions in their own market.

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 18, 1768).

“Preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, meant business. They placed a notice in their own publication to inform subscribers, advertisers, and other customers that they needed to settle their accounts or else face the consequences. The Fowles periodically placed such notices, but they ratcheted up the rhetoric in November 1768. The printers were exasperated and they made that clear to readers.

The Fowles declared that they were “determined in a few Weeks, to publish a List of Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing.” With this warning, they offered a grace period. Those subscribers delinquent in settling their accounts could avoid public embarrassment by resolving the matter soon after this notice appeared in the newspaper. If they chose, however, not to take advantage of the grace period then they could expect to have their public shaming compounded by having “the Sum due” printed alongside their name. The printers aimed “to show how injuriously they are treated” by customers who refused to pay their bills.

Furthermore, the Fowles made it clear they were aware of some of the stratagems used by those who owed them money. “Many Customers who live in the Country,” they observed, “are often seen in Town, but if possible avoid coming to the Printing Office.” To add insult to injury, those who did visit often informed the Fowles “how they are involved in such and such a Law Suit, and that they have just paid all their Money to such a Lawyer.” The printers reasoned that two could play that game: “Therefore as they fancy paying Money to Attorneys best, we have left, and are preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.” The Fowles would not hesitate to take legal action if it became necessary.

They made that threat, however, only after publishing gentle reminders for customers to submit payments. Less than two months earlier, they inserted a notice that celebrated the twelfth anniversary of the New-Hampshire Gazette but also called on “a considerable Number of our Customers” to settle accounts. They considered doing so a “great Service.” Several weeks later they abandoned the language of service in favor of legal obligation. Rather than flaunting the money they spend on lawsuits against others, it was time for customers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to invest those funds in paying the printers.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 3 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

“BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”

Like almost every other colonial printer who published a newspaper, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly inserted advertisements for their own goods and services. Although they sometimes promoted books they sold at the printing office, including John Dickinson’s popular “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES,” they most often ran short notices that informed readers they sold printed blanks (better known as forms today). Blanks included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. They were stock-in-trade for printers throughout the colonies.

I have previously argued that advertisements for blanks in particular (and goods sold by printers more generally) had a dual purpose in colonial newspapers. Selling blanks certainly generated revenues for printers. In that regard, advertisements for blanks appeared for the same reason as advertisements for any other consumer goods and services. Advertisements for blanks, however, also served as filler when the rest of the issue fell short of content to fill the pages.

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 4 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

The October 21, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette makes this especially clear. It was a standard four-page issue created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first two pages consisted entirely of the masthead and news items, but the final two pages featured a mixture of news and advertising. A short advertisement, just five lines, appeared in the lower right corner of the third page: “BLANKS of most sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, Pamphlets, &c. sold at the Printing Office, which is kept near the State House, in the Street leading to the Market. And Ferry.—Where Isle Shoals and Newmarket Lottery Tickets are sold.” Another short advertisement, this one only two lines, appeared as the final item on the fourth page, immediately above the colophon. “BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth,” it starkly announced. In both cases, the placement at the bottom of the last column on the page indicates that the compositor inserted these advertisements only after including other content, both news and advertising. Advertising their own wares benefitted newspaper printers, but those short notices also played a role in meeting other goals in the publication process.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 30, 1768).

“This Day’s Paper compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.”

The masthead of the September 30, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included all of the usual information. It gave the full name of the newspaper, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.” It also included information specific to that issue, including the date, “Friday, Sept. 30, 1768,” and volume and number. It was “Vol. XII” and “Numb. 625 Weeks since this Paper was publish’d.” Only in the advertisements did Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, reveal the significance of “Numb. 625.”

“This Day’s Paper,” the Fowles announced, “compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.” Daniel Fowle had commenced publication on October 7, 1756. Unlike many other colonial newspapers, the New-Hampshire Gazette did not suspend publication during the Stamp Act was in effect, though the Fowles did remove the colophon that identified them as the printers. The New-Hampshire Gazette endured for a dozen years, through both paper shortages and political crises.

Yet the printers did not mark the occasion solely to celebrate their achievement and the impending thirteenth year of publication. They also noted that the current issue “compleats the Year also with a considerable Number of our Customers, especially those in Portsmouth, who are earnestly called upon to pay the same, which will be of great Service at this Time.” Colonial printers frequently placed notices in their own newspapers to encourage both subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts. The Fowles had done so many times before, sometimes at much greater length and with greater ferocity. They had previously advised delinquent customers that by paying their bills they could “prevent unnecessary Trouble,” hinting that legal action was the next step in resolving the situation. They were not so strident when they commemorated a significant milestone in September 1768, perhaps because they did not want to overshadow that event. Still, their livelihood – and the continuation of the New-Hampshire Gazette for another issue or another 625 issues – depended on subscribers and advertisers paying their bills.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 29, 1768).

“RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.”

Calls for rags regularly appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers, sometimes issued by printers and other times issued by proprietors of paper manufactories. Readers did not require any explanation that their used rags would be recycled into paper, perhaps even paper that would become issues of the very newspaper in which they encountered notices encouraging them to collect and contribute their rags.

Although they sometimes expected their fellow colonists to donate rags that had exceeded their usefulness, printers and papermakers often offered a variety of inducements to convince readers to send their rags. Sometimes they offered to pay cash. Other times they played on political sentiments, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, noting that local production of paper decreased dependence on imported paper while simultaneously bolstering the local economy. The success of such endeavors depended not only on readers acting as consumers of that paper but also as providers of the necessary supplies.

In their brief advertisement in the July 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, printers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle took a different approach. They offered to barter: “RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.” The Fowles did not elaborate on which sermons or other pamphlets they traded, but they likely considered this an opportunity to achieve two goals simultaneously. In the process of acquiring a commodity essential in producing paper they could also reduce their surplus stock of pamphlets that had not sold as well as they had hoped. Two weeks earlier Robert Fowle published a lengthy advertisement that listed dozens of books as well as “a very great variety of single Sermons and other Pamphlets.” If the printers could not convince colonists to purchase these wares then they might as well offer them in trade. Operating a printing office required such flexibility.

March 25

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 25, 1768).

“May be supplied with the NEW HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE &c. &c. for NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.”

Today’s advertisement provides a relatively rare glimpse of the subscription rates for an eighteenth-century newspaper. While a few printers inserted both subscription and advertising rates in the colophon on the final page, transforming the publication information into a final advertisement that appeared in each issue, most did not. Printers rarely mentioned the subscription rates in the pages of their newspapers, even as they frequently published notices calling on subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts.

An advertisement in the March 25, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included the subscription and delivery costs for residents of “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Rochester, Dover, Durhan, Newmarkett, and … Stratham.” In it, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the newspaper, informed readers that “a Carrier or Post Rider” would begin delivering newspapers in those towns the following week. Those who wished to subscribe would be charged “NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.” They were expected to pay “at Entrance” rather than later become the subjects of subsequent notices calling on subscribers to pay their overdue accounts. While this notice indicated the total fees charged to subscribers serviced by the carrier who covered this route, it still obscured the base rate for subscriptions. The Fowles listed a fee with “Carriage included.” Was it the same rate as residents of Portsmouth paid for their annual subscriptions? Or had it been topped off to cover delivery expenses? Either way, the notice revealed the price of a subscription for residents of towns in Portsmouth’s hinterland, information that did not frequently appear in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

This notice also testified to the current and continuing dissemination of the newspaper beyond Portsmouth. Dated March 25, a Friday, and appearing in an issue of the same date, it advised that “FRIDAY next” the carrier would begin making deliveries along the proposed route. The Fowles invited “Those who incline to encourage so useful and advantagious a Person as a Carrier” to submit their names for a list “at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.” The printers expected that readers in those towns already had sufficient access to the New-Hampshire Gazette that they would see this notice and respond in less than a week. Even before the Fowles employed “a Carrier or Post Rider” for this particular route the news and advertising contained in the pages of their newspaper had wide distribution beyond Portsmouth. Establishing this new route only extended their efficiency and reach in disseminating information in the era of the American Revolution.

December 27

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

Dec 27 - 12:24:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 24, 1767).

“MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement for an almanac, “MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768,” in the final issue published in 1767. More than any other aspect, the typography of this notice distinguished it from news items and advertisements that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the newspaper. It appeared as a single line that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the second page. Another short advertisement, that one calling on the owner to retrieve a boat recently found adrift, mirrored the position of the Fowles’ advertisement on the facing page, running across all three columns at the bottom of the third page. Had they been set into columns, each advertisement would have consisted of three lines.

Why did the Fowles choose to deviate from the usual format in this issue of their newspaper? They may have wished to draw particular attention to the almanacs for 1768 as the first day of the new year approached. In that case, they might have inserted the notice concerning the boat on the opposite page in order to provide balance. Alternately, they may have received the notice about the boat too late to integrate it into columns that had already been set, but found a creative way to include it in the issue. In that case, the advertisement for the almanac provided balance (though they exercised their privilege as printers to place it first in the issue) and supplemented their lengthier advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack” and “Bickerstaff’s curious Almanack” on the final page.

Measuring the length of the columns on each page would aid in determining the viability of either of these options as explanations for what occurred. That, however, requires access to the original copies rather than digital surrogates. Digitized editions standardize the size of every page to the dimensions of the screen on which they appear. Although metadata, including measurements, could be included in the process of producing digital editions, that would significantly increase the time and cost, ultimately further limiting access to a format intended to broaden access for historians, other scholars, and the general public. Even as librarians and archivists and the communities they serve celebrate new opportunities presented by evolving technologies, they also acknowledge that digital surrogates supplement rather than replace original sources.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:20:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“Prevent the Money’s going out of the Province to the Detriment of every Individual.”

Advertisements for almanacs usually began appearing, sporadically, in colonial newspapers in September, allowing readers plenty of time to acquire their own copy before the new year commenced. As January approached, the variety of titles and the number of advertisements increased. By the end of November, just about every newspaper throughout the colonies included at least one advertisement for almanacs each week. Many printers testified to the accuracy of the calculations in the almanacs they published and sold. Some promoted them by listing an extensive table of contents, informing prospective customers of the entertaining anecdotes and valuable reference material.

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, took a rather unique approach when they marketed “AMES’s Almanack For the Year 1768.” They did acknowledge that “particular Care will be taken to have it correct,” but most of their advertisement focused on the advantages of purchasing their imprint rather than the same title printed in Boston. They first asserted that they provided an important public service that merited reciprocation from readers (not all of whom would have been subscribers) of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The Fowles took on “very great Expence” in publishing the colony’s only newspaper and informing “their Customers [of] every Occurrence Foreign and Domestick, that they thought worthy of public Notice.” They suggested that this should predispose readers to purchase their almanacs rather than any printed by their competitors.

If that were not enough to convince readers, the Fowles made another practical argument, one founded on the collective economic welfare of the colony’s inhabitants. When readers purchased almanacs from printers in Boston, they did so “to the Detriment of every Individual at this scarce Season for Cash.” The Fowles cautioned against “the Money’s going out of the Province” that way, warning that readers could prevent that situation. The printers balanced their civic service in publishing the newspaper with the civic duty of readers to also act on behalf of their community’s shared interests. The Fowles assumed that readers planned to purchase almanacs; they developed marketing aimed to funnel existing demand to their product.

August 7

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

The Printers in this Town would without Charge publish such Accounts.”

Aug 7 - 8:7:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 7, 1767).

Daniel and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly interspersed their own announcements among the other advertisements published in their newspaper. They inserted three such announcements in the August 7, 1767, edition. Two related notices had previously appeared, once requesting that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them” and the other calling on “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette, Advertisements, &c. … to make immediate Payment” or risk going to court. Both of these announcements addressed the financial operations of the publication.

The third, on the other hand, sought to enhance the content of the newspaper to better serve its subscribers, though the Fowles likely figured that new content of particular interest to readers would also enhance sales. Looking to their counterparts published in other cities, especially Philadelphia and New York, the Fowles noted that “the Publishers by some Means obtain Accounts from the Masters of Vessels on their Arrival of what Vessels they meet with on their Passage.” Such information was valuable to “those in the Mercantile Business” as well as the families of sailors who otherwise heard much less about the “Welfare of their Friends.”

The Fowles wished to include such information in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but they had difficulty collecting it. They called on the “Gentlemen Merchants” of Portsmouth to devise a method of reporting these accounts to the printing office, promising to publish them gratis as a service to the community. Their efforts to obtain these reports amounted to what would be described today as crowdsourcing, accepting and collating contributions of data or information from multiple participants to achieve a cumulative result. The process of crowdsourcing (as well as the term itself) became especially popular in the digital age, but new technologies improved and expanded a method already in practice much earlier. In their advertisements, the Fowles encouraged readers to participate in the production of the news via crowdsourcing the late 1760s.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 10, 1767).

“All Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted this notice in the final column of the July 10, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In it, they instructed that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press” should “at the same Time send pay with them.” In making this request, the Fowles addressed two common questions about eighteenth-century newspaper advertising. Who wrote the advertisements? Did printers make money from advertising?

By comparing text and typography in advertisements published in multiple newspapers, it appears that advertisers wrote the copy and printers took primary responsibility for format and layout (though some exceptional advertisers also participated in designing the visual aspects of their own notices). The Fowles seem to confirm that advertisers composed the text, though they do not address the question of layout. Advertisers possibly sent along instructions, though the printers would have preferred payment instead.

This notice does not definitively answer whether advertising turned profits for printers, but it does cast light on some of their standard practices and challenges. The Fowles threatened not to insert any advertisements delivered without payment. They were “determined not to Charge any more” because extending credit was more hassle than it was worth. They had learned through unfortunate experience “the Trouble of keeping a great number of small Accounts which but few ever think worth Discharging.”

Historians of eighteenth-century printers have long argued that newspapers did not make money from subscriptions, that profits derived from advertising. This notice, however, suggests that in some cases – or “a great number” of cases, to borrow the Fowles’ phrase – advertising was no more likely to turn a profit than selling subscriptions. Colonists purchased advertising on credit, just as they participated in the consumer revolution by buying on credit. Sometimes they paid in a timely manner, but, if the Fowles were to be believed, quite often they were delinquent in settling their accounts. Historians of print culture cannot assume that advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers always generated revenues for the printers.