What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Happy New Year!”
On January 1, 1771, subscribers to the Massachusetts Spy received a bonus sheet, not from the printer but instead from “The LAD who carries The MASSACHUSETTS SPY.” Unlike other supplements, this one did not carry additional news or advertising, though it could be considered a piece of marketing ephemera in its own right. The purpose of this bonus sheet was to wish “kind Customers A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year” on behalf of the boy who delivered the newspaper. A woodcut depicting an angel cradling the globe adorned the top of the sheet.
The bulk of the message consisted of three stanzas, each with an AABCCB rhyming scheme. The first focused on good wishes for the new year: “MAY grateful omens now appear, / To make the New a happy Year, / And bless th’ ensuing days: / May future peace in every mind, / Like odours wasted by the wind, / Its sweetest incense raise.” The second celebrated the monarch and the strength of the British Empire, both points of pride for most colonists despite disputes with Parliament about attempts to regulate commerce and other aspects of imperial administration. “May GEORGE in his extensive reign, / Subdue the pride of haughty SPAIN / Submissive to his feet. / Thy princely smiles our ills appease; / Then grant that harmony and peace / The dawning year may greet.” The third stanza requested a boon for the carrier on the occasion of the Christmas season and the new year: “Kind Sirs! your gen’rous bounty show, / Few shillings on your Lad bestow, / Which will reward his pains. / Who piercing Winter’s cold endures, / And to your hands the SPY secures, / And still his task main[t]ains.” In other words, the bonus sheet both extended greetings to subscribers and asked them to give holiday tips to the boys who diligently delivered their newspapers throughout the year, especially in harsh winter weather. The Massachusetts Spy was not the only newspaper to produce and distribute such bonus sheets to subscribers. They were a traditional part of marking the new year among newspaper printers, carriers, and subscribers in eighteenth-century America.
As the Adverts 250 Project concludes its fifth year and embarks on exploring advertising from 1771 throughout 2021, we wish our readers a Happy New Year with many grateful omens. Thank you for supporting this project over the past five years. Please continue to visit in the coming year. No tips necessary!