August 6

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

Connecticut Courant (August 6, 1771).

Many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College.”

Colonial printers sometimes blurred the lines between news and advertising.  Such was the case with an item that appeared in the August 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  As the last item among the news in that issue or as the first item among the advertisements, Ebenezer Watson inserted a notice that functioned as both.  “Whereas many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College,” Watson announced, “this may inform the public, That A Continuation of the Narrative of the Indian Charity-School in Lebanon in Connecticut; From the Year 1768 to the Incorporation of it with Dartmouth-College, and removal and settlement of it in Hanover, in the Province of New Hampshire, 1771 is lately published.”  The notice seemed to provide an overview of the recent history of Dartmouth College, but, like many advertisements for books, it simply listed the extensive title of the publication it promoted.

Eleazar Wheelock, president of Dartmouth College, penned the volume.  Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, printed the book and, in the notice that he placed in his own newspaper, informed readers that copies “may be had at the Printing Office in Hartford.”  He exercised his prerogative as printer to place his advertisement in a place that it looked like news, likely hoping to increase the number of readers who would take note of it even if they did not peruse other advertisements.  The items that appeared after it all had a format that readily identified them as advertisements, but Watson’s notice was more difficult to distinguish from the news items that filled most of the page.

In addition to using this advertisement as a transition between news and paid notices, Watson also made a request of other newspaper printers.  In a nota bene, he declared that “If the Printers in general would be so kind as to insert the above in their respective paper, the favor will be gratefully acknowledged, and possibly the public benefited.”  In asking his counterparts in other cities and towns to reprint his advertisement, Watson continued to treat it as a news item that delivered information for the purpose of better informing the public, not merely a commercial endeavor and means of generating revenue at his printing office in Hartford.  He apparently hoped that other printers would similarly present his advertisement as news of interest to their readers.

December 26

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

Connecticut Courant (December 25, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of not more than ten Lines, are taken in and inserted for THREE SHILLINGS three weeks.”

On November 13, 1770, Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson, printers of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, announced that they planned to enlarge the newspaper and make other improvements before the end of the year.  The November 13 edition served as a specimen copy for current and prospective subscribers, though it did not feature a new colophon on the final page.  Green and Watson inaugurated that aspect of the newspaper on December 25 when the new size became official.  Compared to the previous colophon, “HARTFORD: Printed by GREEN & WATSON,” the new colophon was much more extensive, befitting a publication that sought to join the ranks of those from Boston and New York.

The new colophon included information about the costs of subscriptions and advertisements that not all printers made readily available to readers.  If subscription fees or advertising rates did appear in print, they were usually part of a colophon.  Some colophons incorporated one or the other, but usually not both.  When they enlarged and enhanced the Connecticut Courant, Green and Watson provided both in the colophon.  They set two prices for subscriptions, “NINE SHILLINGS, Lawful Money per Year, if sent by the special Post, or SEVEN SHILLINGS without Postage.”  That provided important insight into Green and Watson’s business practices, especially their means of circulating the Connecticut Courant to distant subscribers.  In the late 1760s and early 1770s, other printers who listed their subscription rates, most of them in busy and crowded urban ports, did not take the fees for post riders into consideration.  Separate advertisements sometimes tended to those concerns, though they typically offered services without specifying prices.  The colophon for the enlarged Connecticut Courant made the total costs for subscribing visible to customers.

In terms of advertising rates, Green and Watson charged three shillings to publish notices of ten lines or less for three weeks.  Prices increased “in Proportion” for longer advertisements.  As was typical, the initial fee included setting type, bookkeeping, and multiple insertions.  Some printers allowed for four insertions, but most opted for three, then charged additional fees for subsequent insertions.  Advertisers could continue running their notices in the Connecticut Courant for an additional six pence per week.  That meant that half of the initial fee, three shillings or thirty-six pence, covered setting type and bookkeeping because three weeks of inserting a notice amounted to eighteen pence.  Most newspaper printers derived greater revenues from advertising than subscriptions.  In the case of the Connecticut Courant, three advertisements cost the same as an annual subscription that included “the special Post.”

Subscription rates and advertising fees were an aspect of early American printers’ business practices that did not regularly find their way into print in eighteenth-century newspapers.  For many years Green and Watson did not incorporate this information into the Connecticut Courant, but when they enlarged the newspaper at the end of 1770, they added a new colophon as one of the improvements.  In so doing, they provided important information about the production of their newspaper.

November 14

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

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

We here offer them a Specimen.”

Subscribers and others who regularly read the Connecticut Courant immediately notices something different about the November 13, 1770, edition.  Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson printed it on a larger sheet than usual.  They acknowledged that they had done so in a message from “The PRINTERS to the PUBLIC” that filled the entire first column on the first page, making it difficult for readers to overlook.  Published in Hartford since 1764, the Connecticut Courant had not been as extensive a newspaper as its counterparts published in bustling urban ports like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Many of those newspapers commenced publication decades earlier and evolved over time. Green and Watson desired for their newspaper to experience a similar evolution, acknowledging that they “have often been obliged, for Want of Room, either wholly to omit, or else give the Public but a very partial Account of many very interesting and important Articles of News which in larger Papers, are more fully and largely set forth.”

The printers intended to “remedy and redress” that “Inconvenience” by enlarging the Connecticut Courant.  In addition to the lengthy message from Green and Watson on the first page, the entire November 13 edition served as an advertisement of sorts, “a Specimen” printed on larger sheets for the public to examine.  The printers proclaimed that they were “determined to enlarge the Connecticut COURANT to a Size no less than that of the Boston or York Papers.”  Such an upgrade would aid them in their efforts “of furnishing out the Paper with such Collections of News as will render it as entertaining, useful and profitable as lies in our Power.”  Green and Watson further explained that the posts from Boston and New York both arrived in Hartford on Sundays, giving them sufficient time to review newspapers they received from those cities and reprint “the Whole of the most material and important Advices” in the Connecticut Courant on Tuesdays.

Access to more extensive coverage of news from other colonies and beyond came at a price.  The “Enlargement will necessarily subject us to an additional Expence,” the printers explained as they informed readers that subscription rates would increase only modestly by one shilling per year.  The new price, they assured the public, was no more expensive than printers of other newspapers of similar size charged their subscribers.  Those who already subscribed had five weeks to decide if they wished to continue their subscriptions before Green and Watson transitioned to larger sheets and increased the rates for the Connecticut Courant.  The printers also invited those who did not yet subscribe to consider doing so in order to receive the more extensive news coverage they would soon provide.  At the same time, they called on “our good Customers who are in Arrears for the Paper, Advertisements, or any other Account” to make payment before the enlargement took place.  Green and Watson needed the “Ready Cash” to purchase paper and pursue their goals for enhancing the newspaper.  Furthermore, they would not publish any new advertisements without receiving payment in advance.

Green and Watson devoted a significant portion of the November 13 edition of the Connecticut Courant to promoting the newspaper itself.  They outlined improvements in the works that would soon be implemented, while also demonstrating those enhancements to current and prospective subscribers.  The entire issue was “a Specimen” intended to showcase the features of the new Connecticut Courant and convince readers that an extra shilling each year for a subscription would be money well spent.

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).