January 16

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 14, 1771).

“Said Morton has to dispose of, a large and very neat assortment of gilt and plain frame looking-glasses and sconces.”

Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square,” printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, one of several newspapers published in the city in the early 1770s.  On many occasions, Gaine devoted more space to disseminating advertising than news articles, letters and editorials, prices current, and shipping news from the customs house.  Such was the case for the January 14, 1771, edition.

Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, that issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but Gaine distributed paid notices throughout his newspaper.  The first two columns on the first page of the January 14 edition contained advertising.  News accounted for most of the third and fourth columns, but five short advertisements concluded the fourth column.  News filled the first three columns of the second page before giving way to advertising in the final column.  On the third page, readers encountered news in the first two columns and advertising in the last two.  The final page consisted entirely of paid notices.  Overall, nine of the sixteen columns, more than half of the issue, delivered advertising to readers.

Yet that was not all.  Gaine had so many advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue that he also published a two-page supplement to accompany it.  With the exception of the masthead, that supplement contained nothing but paid notices, another eight columns of advertising.  Considered together, this amounted to seventeen of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement.  More than two-thirds of the content that Gaine delivered to subscribers and other readers that week consisted of advertising.

For many newspaper printers in eighteenth-century America, advertising generated revenues that rivaled or surpassed subscription fees.  For Gaine, that was almost certainly the case, thought the volume of advertising also suggests impressive circulation numbers.  Advertisers would not have chosen to insert their notices in his newspaper if they were not confident that they would reach the general public.

November 7

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 5, 1770).

“The Co-partnership of Stanton and Ten Brook, is by mutual Consent dissolved.”

Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, had too much news and advertising to fit in a standard issue of his newspaper on November 5, 1770, so he resorted to a solution common among printers throughout the colonies.  He published a two-page supplement to accompany the standard issue.  In this case, he used a smaller sheet with only three columns per page (instead of four), filling both sides with advertisements.

Some of the advertisements in the supplement also appeared in the standard issue, including a notice about the partnership of Stanton and Ten Brook dissolving “by mutual Consent” and calling on associates to settle accounts, a notice seeking Elizabeth Hancock and informing her that “she will be inform’d of something greatly to her advantage” is she contacted Jacob Le Roy, and a list of books that Gaine himself offered for sale.  Like many other printers, Gaine was also a bookseller.

Why did these advertisements run twice on the same day, first in the standard issue and again in the supplement?  This suggests that the two placed by Le Roy and the partnership of Stanton and Ten Brook may not have generated additional revenue for the printer.  Instead, he may very well have used them as filler to complete the page.  All three appeared at the bottom of the third column, suggesting they were the last notices incorporated into the supplement.  Gaine probably hoped that running his own advertisement a second time would yield greater sales for the bookselling segment of his enterprise, but it does not seem likely that he would have charged the others for an additional insertion of their advertisements.

Were any of the other advertisements in the supplement included to complete the page rather than because the advertisers instructed Gaine to run them again and agreed to pay for the service?  Advertisements crowding the pages of colonial newspapers and overflowing into supplements usually represented significant revenues for printers, but this example suggests that was not always the case for every advertisement.  Although including an advertisement twice on a single day was relatively rare, Gaine and other printers did run some notices sporadically and for far longer than advertisers may have requested.  In some cases, it seems that printers valued advertisements as filler just as much as they valued them for the fees they earned.

October 15

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

Hutchin’s Improved:  BEING AN ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1771.”

By the middle of October 1770, advertisements for almanacs for 1771 began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Such notices were a familiar sight to readers of the public prints who encountered them every fall.  Just like the changing of the seasons, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs followed a similar pattern from year to year.  In the late summer and early fall printers first announced that they would soon publish almanacs for the coming year.  Those were usually short notices that listed little more than the titles that would soon become available.  As fall continues, the number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased, as did the length of advertisements for particular titles.  This continued into the new year before the advertisements tapered off in late January and early February.

Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for Hutchin’s Improved Almanack in the October 15, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was one of the first of the lengthy notices in the fall of 1770.  It extended more than half a column, making it the longest advertisement in that issue.  In promoting the almanac, Gaine proclaimed that the “usual Astronomical Calculations” had been “laid down with as great Accuracy as in any Almanack in America.”  In addition, Hutchin’s Improved Almanack contained a variety of other useful items, including a calendar of “Court Terms,” a guide to “Post Roads and Stages through every Settled Part of the Continent,” and instructions for remedies “to preserve Health” and “to cure Disorders incident to the Human Body.”  Gaine devoted most of the advertisement to short descriptions of twenty “select Pieces, instructing and entertaining” that ranged from “Moral Reflections” to “Historical Remarks” to “entertaining Anecdotes, Similies, Aphorisms, [and] Epitaphs.”  Among the “Moral Reflections,” readers would find “Rules for preserving HEALTH in eating and drinking.”  Gaine opined that “An Observance of these Rules will bring us to Temperance.”  The “Historical Remarks” included “An Extract from Mr. Anderson’s History of the Rise and Progress of Commerce,” while the “entertaining Anecdotes” featured “A diverting Tale” of “The Sausage Maker raised to a Prime Minister” and “the Pastor and his Flock; a droll, but True Story.”

Almanacs accounted for a significant portion of popular print culture in eighteenth-century America.  Consumers from the most humble households to the most grand acquired almanacs each year.  Printers competed with each other for their share of the market, aggressively advertising their titles in newspapers.  In doing so, they sought to distinguish their almanacs from others and convince prospective customers that their version included the most extensive, most useful, and most entertaining contents.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 19, 1770).

“Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine.”

It was a familiar appeal, one that became even more urgent when colonists boycotted imported paper in response to duties imposed on it (along with glass, lead, paint, and tea) in the Townshend Acts.  Newspaper printers throughout the colonies regularly issued calls for readers to collect and contribute “old Rags” that could be transformed into paper, offering “Ready Money” in exchange.  Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered it not once, not twice, but three times in the March 19, 1770, edition.

Either Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown,” or a compositor who worked in his printing office inserted similar notices on both the third page and the fourth page.  One stated, “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine,” and the other “Ready Money for Linnen Rags.”  In both instances, these brief notices appeared at the bottom of the final column, completing the page and producing columns of equal length.  Yet they were more than convenient filler.  After all, Gaine or the compositor could have inserted other sorts of notices.  Eighteenth-century printers often hawked printed blanks in any leftover space.  Another one-line advertisement did run at the bottom of the second column on the third page, advising readers of “The Ten Pound Act, sold by H. Gaine.”  The notice about linen rags likely appeared more than once out of a sense of pressing need that outweighed promoting pamphlets and printed blanks for sale at the printing office.

John Keating’s lengthy appeal on behalf of “the Paper Makers” once again ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, calling on “Friends to their Country” to save “clean RAGS” as a means of “preserv[ing] the Rights and Liberties” of the colonists.  Keating framed collecting rags to manufacture into paper as a patriotic duty.  His petition ran week after week in Gaine’s newspaper, inflecting the printer’s much more humble calls for rags with additional meaning because, as Keating explained, none of the items taxed by the Townshend Acts were “more necessary and considerable than Paper.”  A single line that lends the impression of filler at first glance – “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine” – overflowed with political meaning when considered in the context of current events.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 3, 1768).

“JUST imported by ADAM GILCHRIST.”

Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, took in so many advertisements that he could not fit all of them in the standard four-page issue for October 3, 1768. In addition to two pages of advertising in the regular issue, Gaine distributed a two-page supplement comprised solely of advertisements. That still did not provide sufficient space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing shop at the Sign of the Bible and Crown in Hanover Square. Either Gaine or the compositor who set the type for the October 3 edition made space for inserting four additional advertisements on the second and third pages by printing them in the margins.

The first and fourth pages appeared as usual: three columns on each page as well as the masthead and prices current running across the top of the first page. The second and third pages, however, each had a slender fourth column created by rotating the text of short advertisements and setting them perpendicular to the rest of the content. These advertisements appeared in the left margin of the second page and the right margin of the third page, positioned away from the fold that separated the two pages.

This strategy required selecting short advertisements to divide into columns. For instance, the second page featured two short advertisements: nine lines from Adam Gilchrist promoting textiles he had recently imported and five lines announcing an employment opportunity for “A Person qualified to teach three or four Children, in a Gentleman’s Family.” These notices had the same width as other advertisements and news content throughout the rest of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury yet they were broken into several columns to fit them in the margins. If necessary, the several columns of each could be combined into one and printed elsewhere in subsequent issues without having to set the type from scratch.

The unconventional placement of these advertisements may have given them more visibility than if they had appeared in the long columns amidst other paid notices. Their position on the page may have incited curiosity among readers, yielding a benefit for the advertisers even as Gaine and the compositor sought to solve the problem of having too much content for the current issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Many printers throughout the colonies resorted to this trick on occasion, yet not so frequently that the unusual placement of these advertisements would have passed without notice.

December 8

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

dec-8-1281766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (December 8, 1766).

“BOOKS and STATIONARY … to be sold by Hugh Gaine.”

Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for “BOOKS and STATIONARY, Just imported in the last Ships from London” occupied a place of privilege in the December 8, 1766, issue of the New-York Mercury. It appeared in the first column (and extended into the second) on the first page, the first item below the masthead and charts for high tides and prices current. Just to make sure that readers noticed this advertisement, several words were printed in the largest fonts that appeared anywhere in that issue: “Hugh Gaine” in a size that rivaled the title of newspaper in the masthead and “BOOKS and STATIONARY” (at the top of the first column) and “STATIONARY, &c.” (at the top of the second column) in sizes nearly as large.

Gaine did not have to pay extra or engage in any sort of negotiations with the printer of the New-York Mercury in order for his advertisement to receive such extraordinary treatment. As the masthead announced, he printed the newspaper! That certainly gave him the authority and ability to design his own advertisement and lay out the issue in ways that best served his own interests. He used one of his products, his newspaper, to promote the assortment of books, stationery, and other goods he sold “at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square.” Sometimes the layout of advertising in colonial newspapers was haphazard. Printers often moved type already set from previous issues into other columns in subsequent issues or changed the order of advertisements in order to insert other items. In this case, however, the placement of Gaine’s advertisement was not merely fortuitous; it was intentional.

dec-8-1281766-first-page-new-york-mercury
First Page of New-York Mercury (December 8, 1766).

On the third page, an advertisement for “HUTCHINS’s Improved: BEING AN ALMANACK AND EPHEMERIS Of the Motions of the SUN & MOON” had similarly large font for some of the key words, distinguishing it from the other advertisements and news items on the same and facing pages. Not surprisingly, the almanac was sol “at HUGH GAINE’s Book-Store and Printing-Office, in Hanover-Square.”

In contrast, a relatively short advertisement announcing that James Rivington had just imported “sundry new Books” appeared on the fourth page. Rivington’s name appeared in all capital letters in a font the same size as the names of other advertisers. Gaine published advertisements from his competitors, but he made sure that his own marketing notices overshadowed them in significant ways. Such was the power of the printer!

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 30, 1766).

“BOOKS & STATIONARY, Just imported, and to be sold by HUGH GAINE.”

Hugh Gaine printed the New-York Mercury, though it is clear from the masthead that he considered himself more than just a printer. He listed his occupations as “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer.” In that regard, Gaine was not much different from other printers who published newspapers in colonial America. They often supplemented the income from operating the newspaper by selling a variety of other products and services associated broadly with the book trades.

Jun 30 - 6:30:1766 Masthead New-York Mercury
Masthead for the New-York Mercury (June 30, 1766).

Gaine devised a headline for his advertisement, which was not a standard practice but also not unknown. He announced that he sold “BOOKS & STATIONARY,” merchandise associated with the book trades. Upon closer examination of his advertisement, however, potential customers would have discovered that in addition to books, stationery, and writing supplies (including “Leather Ink-pots,” “most excellent Sealing-Wax,” and “Office Quils and Pens”), he also sold “a great Variety of other Articles,” including musical instruments, telescopes, and paper hangings (what we would today call wallpaper). Gaine stocked a good deal of merchandise beyond the newspaper he printed.

Setting aside those items, half of his lengthy advertisement promoted a patent medicine, the pectoral balsam of honey, and concluded with a “BEAUTIFYING LOTION.” (One of the benefits of printing the newspaper must have been inserting his own advertisements of whatever length he wished.) Gaine may or may not have written the copy for this portion of the advertisement; he may have copied it directly from other promotional materials sent to him by the suppliers of this remedy. It may seem strange today that a “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer” peddled patent medicines in the eighteenth century, but Gaine was certainly not the only one who did so. A variety of printers and booksellers included a few lines devoted to patent medicines in their book catalogues, demonstrating that they really diversified the merchandise they offered to customers.