March 10

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

Essex Gazette (March 10, 1772).

“The Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”

A subscription notice for a “second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay” ran in several newspapers in New England in 1772.  The version that appeared in the March 10 edition of the Essex Gazette carried a familiar appeal, asserting that “most of these Papers will, probably, be irrevocably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing” so many copies that “the Public” would always have access to important documents about the history of the colony.  Prospective subscribers, the advertisement argued, had a duty to assist in “the Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”

Readers of the Essex Gazette encountered this subscription notice in the context of commemorating recent history, “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston” on March 5, 1770.  Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette, devoted the entire first page of the March 10 edition to commemorations marking the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  They enclosed a lengthy memorial within thick mourning borders, a convention usually reserved for death notices but frequently deployed for political purposes during the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.

In the memorial, the Halls called on the public to seek “the Restoration and Preservation of AMERICAN LIBERTY,” advocating that “the destructive Consequences of Tyranny in general may be properly and truly realized” and that “the Memory of the fatal Effects of the late military Tyranny in this Province, in Particular, may never be obliterated.”  They invoked “that invincible Fortitude and Intrepidity which so eminently distinguished the venerable Founders of this Colony” as they encouraged “every American SON OF LIBERTY … to defend, with the last Drop of Blood, any future Attempts to subjugate this people to the despotic Controul of Military Murderers.”  As they commemorated the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, the Halls encouraged colonizers to consider 150 years of history and their role in shaping events.  They rehearsed recent events in a list of grievances against “Servants of the King,” the “British Ministry,” and the “Soldiery … taught to look upon themselves as Masters of the People.”  Those grievances had greater impact when considered in relation to the founding of the colony and subsequent events chronicled in the proposed volume of “Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay” advertised on another page.  The advertisement listed the Halls as local agents who accepted subscriptions for the project.  Between the memorial on the first page and the subscription notice on the final page, they tended to the recent and distant past by presenting readers with opportunities to prevent “the Memory” of significant events from being “obliterated” but instead “transmitted to Posterity.”

Essex Gazette (March 10, 1772).

February 18

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

Essex Gazette (February 18, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”

How much did advertising cost?  How much did advertising cost compared to subscriptions?  These are some of the most common questions I encounter when discussing eighteenth-century advertising at conferences and public presentations.  The answer is complicated, in part because most eighteenth-century printers did not list advertising rates or subscription fees in their newspapers.  A significant minority, however, did regularly publish that information in the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page.

Such was the case with Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  Over the course of two lines, the colophon in their newspaper announced, “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 4s. 6d. if sent by the Post) to be paid at Entrance.  ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  The colophon revealed how much the Halls charged for subscriptions and advertising as well as other business practices.

Subscribers paid six shillings and eight pence per year, but that did not include postage for delivering the newspapers.  The printers expected subscribers to pay half, three shillings and four pence, in advance.  Like many other eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, the Halls extended credit to their customers.  Newspaper subscribers were notorious for not paying for their subscriptions, as demonstrated in the frequent notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts placed in newspapers throughout the colonies, prompting the Halls to require half from the start.  They asked for even more, four shillings and six pence, from subscribers who lived far enough away that they received their newspapers via the post, though the colophon does make clear if the additional shilling covered postage.  The Halls may have charged a higher deposit because they considered it more difficult to collect from subscribers at a distance.

Short advertisements, those “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” cost three shillings or nearly half what an annual subscription cost.  Other printers specified that they adjusted advertising rates “in proportion” to length.  The Halls likely did so as well, making the cost of an advertisement that extended twenty lines about the same as a subscription.  They did not specify in the colophon that they required payment before running advertisements.  Some printers made that their policy but apparently made exceptions.  When they inserted notices calling on subscribers to send payment, they sometimes addressed advertisers.  For many eighteenth-century printers, advertising generated significant revenue. Considering that a single advertisement could cost as much or more as an annual subscription in the Essex Gazette, the Halls had good reason to cultivate advertisers as well as subscribers.