What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“It would greatly oblige us, if our advertising Customers would send their Advertisements Saturday Afternoon.”
Colonial printers only occasionally addressed the business of advertising in their newspapers. Some did solicit advertisements in the colophon at the bottom of the final page, though they did not always specify rates or offer additional instructions. In the colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks stated that “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence for this Paper are taken in” at their printing office. John Holt did provide more information in the colophon for the New-York Journal, noting that “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.” A few printers also promoted other forms of advertising. Isaiah Thomas, for example, informed readers that he printed “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice” in the colophon for the Massachusetts Spy. The printer of the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote highlighted a particular service in the masthead of that newspaper: “All ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”
Most printers, in contrast, did not regularly publish information about advertising in their newspapers. Among those that did, few presented the sorts of specifics that Holt, Thomas, and Miller did in their colophons. That makes the note that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted at the bottom of the third page of the August 23, 1773, edition all the more noteworthy. “It would greatly oblige us,” they pleaded, “if our advertising Customers would send their Advertisements Saturday Afternoon.” The printers presumably meant “no later than Saturday Afternoon.” They distributed their weekly newspaper on Mondays. That meant that production of the first and last pages, printed on the same side of a broadsheet, took place near the end of the week and production of the second and third pages, on the other side of the broadsheet, just prior to distribution. Edes and Gill and others who worked in their printing office needed time to set type for the latest news and new advertisements, manually operate the press, and hang the newspapers for the ink to dry before folding and delivering them to subscribers. If advertisers wanted their notices to appear in the Boston-Gazette on Monday then they needed to submit them to the printing office in a timely fashion. Edes and Gill advised that meant Saturday afternoon. To increase the likelihood that advertisers would take note of such instructions, they inserted this notice as a single line in the margin at the bottom of the page, a line that ran across all three columns of that page. That notice guided advertisers while also testifying to what the printers considered best practices in the business of advertising in their colonial newspaper.