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.