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