What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Original of this Advertisement, with the Subscribers Names, which are omitted, may be seen at the Printing-Office.”
Colonial printers disseminated information via newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, and other items produced on their presses, but the printed word was not their only means of communicating with the public. Through written correspondence or visiting printing offices, colonists gained access to information that did not appear in print. For instance, newspaper advertisements of all sorts instructed interested parties to “enquire of the printer” for more information. Enslavers often remained anonymous when they placed advertisements looking to sell those they held in bondage, instead stating that readers should “enquire of the printer” for particulars, but they were not alone. Purveyors of various commodities also listed printers as intermediaries, as did colonists seeking employment and artisans seeking apprentices. In addition to “enquire of the printer” advertisements, subscription notices listed printers as local agents collecting orders for books published in other cities. Sometimes printers had more extensive subscription notices on display in their printing offices compared to what appeared in newspapers.
On other occasions, printers chose to withhold some information, but informed readers that they could learn more in person. Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette. The notice declared that “the new Work-House in Salem, was broke open” on August 25 and “the Workmen’s Tools stolen and carried away.” The “Subscribers” who placed the advertisement lamented “such Villainy [that] brings a Scandal upon the Town” and encouraged “all well-disposed Persons [to] do their utmost that Justice may take Place.” To that end, the “Subscribers” offered a reward “to any Person or Persons, who will discover the Offenders.” The notice concluded with a note from Samuel Hall, the printer, that stated, “The Original of this Advertisement, with the Subscribers Names, which are omitted, may be seen at the Printing-Office.” Hall did not indicate whether the original contained more information than appeared in print, other than the names of the “Subscribers” who placed it and offered the reward, but even the omitted names revealed that readers could learn more with a visit to the printing office. Hall also did not specify why he did not publish the names of the “Subscribers.” Perhaps he shared his reasons with those who came to examine the original. Whatever the case, Hall utilized multiple methods in disseminating the information in his possession. Some of it appeared in print, but certain details he shared with the curious when they visited his printing office.