January 10

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 10, 1771).

“AN exact List of Blanks and Prizes in Fanueil-Hall Lottery, to [be] seen at the Printing-Office.”

Printing offices were hubs for disseminating information in eighteenth-century America.  Many were sites of newspaper production, printing and reprinting news, letters, and editorials from near and far.  Many printers encouraged readers and others to submit “Articles of Intelligence” for publication in the colophons that appeared on the final pages of their newspapers.  Every newspaper printer participated in exchange networks, trading newspapers with counterparts in other towns and colonies and then selecting items already published elsewhere to insert in their newspapers.  Newspaper printers also disseminated a wide range of advertising, from legal notices to advertisements about runaway apprentices and indentured servants or enslaved people who liberated themselves to notices marketing consumer goods and services.  In many instances, newspaper advertisements did not include all of the relevant information but instead instructed interested parties to “enquire of the printer” to learn more.  Accordingly, not all of the information disseminated from printing offices did so in print.  Some printers also worked as postmasters.  Letters flowed through their printing offices.  Printers did job printing, producing broadsides, handbills, and pamphlets for customers, further disseminating information at the discretion of their patrons rather than through their own editorial discretion.  Many printers sold books, pamphlets, and almanacs posted subscription notices for proposed publications, and printed book catalogs and auction catalogs.

Yet that was not the extent of information available at early American printing offices.  Colonists could also visit them to learn more about the results of lotteries sponsored for public works projects.  An advertisement in the January 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, informed readers of “AN exact Lost of Blanks and Prizes in Fanueil-Hall Lottery, to [be] seen at the Printing-Office opposite to William Vassell’s, Esq; the head of Queen-street.”  Other newspapers published in Boston that same week carried the same notice but named “Green & Russell’s Printing-Office.”  The printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy also played a role in disseminating information about a lottery that helped to fund a local building project.  Eighteenth-century newspapers sometimes included lottery results, the “Blanks” or ticket numbers and the corresponding prizes, but those could occupy a significant amount of space.  Rather than incur the expense of purchasing that space in newspapers, the sponsors of lotteries sometimes instead chose to deposit that information at printing offices, sites that collected and disseminated all sorts of information via a variety of means.  Printers served as information brokers, but they did not limit their efforts and activities to printed pages dispersed beyond their offices.  Sometimes colonists had to visit printing office or correspond with printers via the post in order to acquire information that did not appear in print.

February 12

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

Feb 12 - 2:12:1770 Connecticut Currant
Connecticut Courant (February 12, 1770).

“The business of supplying them with papers.”

William Stanton placed an advertisement in the February 12, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant to follow up on a “former Advertisement” that most recently appeared on January 22. In that previous notice, Stanton noted that he had “rode post for almost four years” and in that time many newspaper subscribers fell behind on paying him for his services. He requested that his clients settle accounts, but also expressed his interest in continuing in the business with some alterations to the current method of delivering their newspapers. Having devised a new plan, he placed a second advertisement to “further inform them of the method, proposed for the future.”

Stanton proposed riding from Litchfield to Hartford every week. The printers distributed new issues of the Connecticut Courant on Mondays. Stanton planned to collect them as soon as they were available and set off as quickly as possible, returning to Litchfield “on Tuesday of each week.” The masthead proclaimed that the Connecticut Courant contained “the freshest Advices Both Foreign and Domestick.” Stanton aimed to make those “freshest Advices” available to readers without delay. Rather than deliver the newspapers to subscribers, Stanton would deposit them in a shop near the courthouse for “gentlemen … from the several towns round the country” to collect at their convenience. “[C]onstant attendance will be given” at the shop, Stanton promised, for customers to retrieve their newspapers. For subscribers unable to make their way to Litchfield, Stanton proposed delivering the Connecticut Courant “by a special post … once a fortnight.”

For these services, Stanton charged eight shillings per year, “which is but two shillings more than the printers have of their customers in Hartford.” He considered this a bargain “so very favourable to the customers” that it “cannot fail of being agreeable.” In deploying such language, he encouraged readers to adopt his perspective that they did indeed get a good deal for the package of newspaper and delivery. He also revealed information that the printers did not publish in the Connecticut Courant, the cost of an annual subscription. Stanton’s advertisement provides noteworthy details about the mechanics of disseminating information in rural Connecticut on the eve of the American Revolution.