May 2

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

Postscript to the Censor (May 2, 1772).

“Just Arrived, The Cream of Goods.”

Gilbert DeBlois placed his advertisement for “The Cream of Goods” imported from England in several newspapers published in Boston in the spring of 1772, including the Censor.  Ezekiel Russell commenced publication of the Censor, more “a political magazine rather than a newspaper,” in November 1771.[1]  He eventually supplemented it with a half sheet Postscript that looked more like a newspaper.  Instead of carrying essays and editorials exclusively, it also featured news and advertising.  Those efforts to diversify the publication, however, did not broaden its appeal to readers in Boston.  As Isaiah Thomas, the ardent patriot who published the Massachusetts Spy and wrote The History of Printing in America (1810), noted, “the circulation of the paper was confined to a few of their own party,” Tories who sympathized with the British government.[2]  Given his politics, DeBlois numbered among that party.  He eventually left Boston as part of the British evacuation in 1776.  He was among the advertisers in the final issue of the Censordistributed by Russell.

Thomas made his contempt for the Censor clear, demeaning it for being “discontinued before the revolution of a year from its first publication.”  In a footnote, Thomas also provided details about a notorious contributor to the Censor.  “Dr. Benjamin Church, a reputed whig, who when the Revolutionary war commenced was appointed surgeon general of the American army, but was soon after arrested and confined, being detected in a traitorous correspondence with the British army in Boston, I have been informed by a very respectable person whom I have long known, was a writer for the Censor.”  Thomas did not reveal his source, but he did state that “[t]his person, then an apprentice to Russell, was employed to convey, in a secret manner, the doctor’s manuscripts to the press, and proof sheets from the press to the doctor.”  Thomas asserted that Church engaged in skullduggery long before his infamous letter to General Thomas Gage was intercepted and decoded in October 1775.  Some historians have suggested that Church’s case was more nuanced than Thomas allowed, as did Church at the time.  Thomas apparently had little use for Church’s rationalizations that he deliberately sent misinformation to the British to ward off attacks against patriots who lacked ammunition, just as he had little use for the Censor.  For a few months, the Postscript to the Censor increased the number of publications that disseminated advertising in Boston, but Russell did not attract enough subscribers or advertisers to continue producing the weekly political magazine and its supplement.

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[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 275.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 285.

March 5

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 5, 1772).

“MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS … At the Head of the Long-Wharf, King-Street, BOSTON.”

Thick black mourning borders enclosed the columns of the March 5, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy.  Isaiah Thomas, one of the most ardent patriots among the printers in Boston, commemorated the second anniversary of the Bloody Massacre, the Massacre in King Street, better known today as the Boston Massacre.  Colonial printers most often used mourning borders when announcing the death of an official (including Francis Fauquier, lieutenant governor of Virginia, in March 1768) or a prominent figure (including George Whitefield, a minister associated with the revivals now known as the Great Awakening, in September 1770), but in the 1760s and 1770s American printers also deployed mourning borders to lament the death of liberty, doing so in response to the Stamp Act and the “HORRID MASSACRE! Perpetrated in King-street.”

On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Thomas did more than frame the content of the Massachusetts Spywithin mourning borders.  A woodcut depicting a skull and bones, familiar from the Stamp Act protests, appeared near the top of the first column on the front page, just below several lines about massacre that Thomas attributed to Shakespeare.  The printer also inserted a letter written on the occasion of the anniversary of the “fifth of March … to appear with the labours of those able and assiduous patriots, who have rendered the Spy the terror of tyrants, the scourge of traitors, and expositor of the violent and fraudulent usurpations of a set of villains partaking largely the nature of both.”  Thomas also published a memorial to “FIVE of your fellow countrymen, GRAY, MAVERICK, CALDWELL, ATTUCKS and CARR … most inhumanly MURDERED … By a Party of the XXIXth Regiment, Under the command of Capt. Tho. Preston.”  The memorial linked the Boston Massacre to the murder of Christopher Seider, an “innocent youth,” by Ebenezer Richardson, “Informer, And tool to Ministerial hirelings,” on February 22, 1770, just two weeks before the events in King Street.  The memorial expressed dismay that even though Richardson “was found guilty By his Country On Friday April 20th, 1770,” he “Remains UNHANGED” on “This day, MARCH FIFTH! 1772.”  The memorial concluded with a proclamation that “the PRESS” should “Remain FREE” as “a SCOURGE to Tyrannical Rulers.”

The mourning borders did not enclose just the memorial, editorials, and other content related to the Boston Massacre.  Instead, they appeared on all four pages, enclosing even the advertisements for cookbooks, “ENGLISH GOODS,” almanacs, and mathematical instruments.  Even if readers chose to skip over the dense essays that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper, they could not miss the mourning borders when they perused the advertisements.  Merely reading the advertisements on the final page of the Massachusetts Spy required colonizers to engage with the politics of the period.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 19 (New Style) in 1749 (or January 8, 1748/49, Old Style).  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

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Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

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Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

jan-30-advertising-wrapper-worcester-magazine-4th-week-may-1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 273rd birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Benjamin Andonian

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 2, 1772).

“WANTED immediately, a Journeyman COMPOSITER.”

This advertisement struck me because it was related to the production of the newspapers we were reading in class.  This advertisement “WANTED immediately” a compositor at a newspaper. I thought it would be interesting to learn about what a compositor is and how this might increase my knowledge of early American newspapers.

The invention of movable type opened the door for a new age of printing in Europe in the 1500s.  That meant new crafts and careers, including compositors. Compositors arranged the letters in advance of them being covered in ink.  Historian Liz Covart describes the job expectations step by step.  The compositor starts with the composition stick, placing letters in proper order.  The placement of letters is done in opposite order, right to left, so they appear right side up and left to right on final edition.  After a quick check to clean up errors, compositors place their work in a chase to be inked up and printed.

I found it very interesting how the printing press offered positions for compositors and others to make the newspapers we read in class and consulted for this project.  Each sentence, letter, and word or punctuation mark was positioned by a compositor like the one sought in this advertisement.  Seeing such a specific job and the steps involved made me think of the process today and the new jobs and careers that the internet has created, like the printing press did in early America.  Lily Talavera expands on this in an article about the booming market for social media jobs.  According to Talavera, “Social media has created a new category of jobs. You may have heard them as social media jobs or with other names relevant to the requested tasks. These jobs are in high demand, and many people already work full-time on social media.”  Innovations in delivering news today have a similar effect on creating new kinds of jobs as an innovation like the printing press had in creating jobs for compositors in the early modern period.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

When I taught a course about Revolutionary America, 1763-1815, in Fall 2021, I once again incorporated the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  I asked each of the twenty-three students in the class to serve as guest curators for those projects.  Each of them was responsible for compiling a digital archive of newspapers originally published during a particular week in 1772.  Then they scoured the newspapers to identify advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children for inclusion in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  For each of those advertisements, the guest curators composed tweets that included the project’s tagline, a quotation, and a citation.  For the Adverts 250 Project, each student selected one advertisement to research in greater detail, consulting at least one secondary source by an historian of early America, and then wrote an entry about what they learned and what the advertisement reveals about some aspect of commerce, politics, or daily life during the era of the American Revolution.

Ben is the first of the students from that class to have his work as a guest curator appear on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  In many ways, it is very fitting that he starts the entries researched and written for that class with one that examines an advertisement about the printing trade.  We devoted a lot of time to discussing print culture, consumer culture, slavery, and their intersections during the era of the American Revolution.  Compositors set the type for the newspapers, broadsides (including the Declaration of Independence), and pamphlets (such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense) that kept colonizers informed during the imperial crisis and, ultimately, encouraged them to sever their political allegiance to Great Britain.  Compositors also set the type for the countless newspaper advertisements that offered enslaved people for sale or promised rewards for the capture and return of those who liberated themselves from their enslavers.  Liberty and slavery appeared side by side on the pages of newspaper published during the era of the American Revolution.  Compositors also set the type for advertisements for consumer goods as well as essays that critiqued consumption and editorials that advocated nonimportation agreements and promoted “domestic manufactures” as means of exerting economic pressure to achieve political ends.

I invited students to contemplate all of these developments, not only in the abstract but also taking into consideration actual people and their experiences during the era of the American Revolution.  This advertisement for a “Journeyman COMPOSITER” provides a springboard for considering the many themes woven throughout the Revolutionary America class that I designed and that Ben completed.  Throughout the colonies, compositors played a role in presenting news and opinions about current events to the public.  They also played a role in shaping consumer culture and perpetuating slavery.  Beyond their contributions to producing the printed page, compositors made decisions about their own political activities and what kind of society they wanted to emerge from the American Revolution.  That being the case, Ben’s choice of an advertisement to start a new round of entries from guest curators is very fitting indeed.

December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.

December 19

GUEST CURATOR:  Colin Wren

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 19, 1771).

“CHEEVER’S Latin ACCIDENCE, carefully revised.”

Ezekiel Cheever, the author of A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue, was a Puritan who migrated to New England in 1637. He originally settled in Connecticut before moving to Massachusetts to teach Latin and grammar in the public schools. In 1670 he took the position of Master of the Boston Latin Grammar School which he held until his death in 1708. During his life he was widely loved by his students despite his strict reputation. Under his leadership the school became regarded as one of the best in the colonies and his students included men such as the poet Michael Wigglesworth, Governor Johnathan Belcher, and Judge Samuel Sewall. One year after his death, one of Cheever’s students compiled his teaching notes into a book and published Cheever’s Accidence in 1709. The book was exceedingly popular and became the unofficial standard textbook for teaching Latin grammar in America. In all, twenty-three editions of the book were published, the last of which was published in 1838. While “Latin ACCIDENCE,” as the book was called in this advertisement, was written to teach students Latin, it also taught them the basics of English grammar and helped to formalize definitions that are still taught in schools today.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Colin selected an advertisement for the fifteenth edition of Ezekiel Cheever’s Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue. Two variants of that edition hit the market in 1771.  In one, the imprint stated, “Printed and sold by Isaiah Thomas, in Union-Street.”  In the other, the imprint declared, “Printed by Isaiah Thomas, for John Perkins, on Union-Street.”  According to the catalogers at the American Antiquarian Society, only the imprints differed between the two volumes.  Perkins most likely placed the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy since it advised prospective customers that he sold the textbook, as well as a “few sets of ACCOUNT BOOKS,” but did not mention Thomas.

What prompted Thomas to produce variant imprints for the fifteenth edition?  Did Perkins pay to publish only a certain number to carry at his shop, assuming the risk for those copies but not for any others?  If so, did he and Thomas agree in advance that the printer would produce additional copies that omitted Perkins’s name from the imprint?  Or did production take place in the opposite order?  Perhaps Thomas initiated the project, but Perkins recognized an opportunity to profit from a new edition, one with significant improvements.  The advertisement did underscore that the volume had been “carefully revised, and the numerous errors of the former editions corrected by one of the Masters of the South Grammer School in Boston.”

Whatever the order of publication of the variants, Perkins turned to Thomas when he set about marketing the book, inserting an advertisement in the newspaper that Thomas published.  Did Perkins have to pay for that advertisement?  Or was advertising part of a more extensive agreement?  Given that Perkins also promoted “BINDING work performed in the neatest manner, with fidelity and dispatch,” the two entrepreneurs, fellow members of the book trades who possessed different skills, may have negotiated several in-kind exchanges that went beyond publishing Cheever’s “Latin ACCIDENCE.”

October 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Jake Luongo

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Spy (October 31, 1771).

“A YOUNG, sprightly, sober NEGRO BOY … Enquire of the Printer.”

This advertisement offers a thirteen-year-old “NEGRO BOY” for sale, along with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer hereof” for anybody interested in purchasing the enslaved boy slave.  Selling a human being is just abhorrent, to say the least, but to put the advertisements amongst other advertisements for household items and livestock is just utterly disturbing to today’s readers. Unfortunately, it was just another advertisement to most readers of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Advertisements for enslaved people for sale were abundant in number yet often sparse when it came to details regarding the people actually being purchased. If interested buyers needed more information, they were to “Enquire of the Printer.”

Printers acted as liaisons between buyers and sellers of enslaved people. According to Jordan E. Taylor, printers acted as “slave brokers” both before and after the American Revolution.[1]  Once the Declaration of Independence was signed, it seemed contradictory to some Americans to advertise enslaved people for sale, but printers did not agree.  The advertisements continued, along with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer.”  According to Taylor, no matter the backlash printers received for these advertisements in the late eighteenth century, the money made on them mattered more, especially in towns with more than one newspaper that competed with each other for advertisements.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Jake outlines some of the most significant arguments that Jordan E. Taylor makes in “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807.”  In his study of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements, Taylor examined newspapers published throughout the colonies and the new nation in the eighteenth century.  That included newspapers published in New England and the Middle Atlantic, where Taylor identified a concentration of these advertisements before the end of the American Revolution.[2]

Note that the advertisement Jake examined appeared in the Massachusetts Spy, the newspaper published in Boston by ardent patriot Isaiah Thomas.  In the spring of 1775, Thomas fled to Worcester for his safety after repeatedly infuriating British officials with the articles and editorials he published in the Massachusetts Spy.  Even in 1771, when the advertisement for a “YOUNG, sprightly, sober NEGRO BOY” appeared with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information, Thomas made his political principles known.  The advertisement not only ran among notices promoting consumer goods and services but also in close proximity to Thomas’s own advertisement for the “Massachusetts CALENDAR; or an ALMANACK, for the year 1772.”  Rather than publishing a generic almanac, Thomas made clear his was one for American patriots.  It contained essays “On Liberty and Government” as well as an engraving of the Boston Massacre as both memorial and warning.

Taylor identifies many other instances of the juxtaposition of content advocating liberty for some Americans alongside content that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  Historians now consider Isaiah Thomas one of the most significant and influential printers active during the era of the American Revolution, in large part because he was such a vocal proponent of American rights, American liberty, and American independence.  Closer examination of the contents of the Massachusetts Spy, however, reveals that he also served as a slave broker, facilitating the purchase and sale of enslaved men, women, and children by publishing advertisements and providing additional information to those who did “Enquire of the Printer.”

Massachusetts Spy (October 31, 1771).

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[1] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287.

[2] Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer,” 309.

October 27

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 24, 1771).

“Neatly engraved … The BOSTON MASSACRE.”

In the fall of 1771, Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, advertised an almanac for the coming year.  In the October 27 edition of his newspaper, he announced that he published the “Massachusetts CALENDAR; or an ALMANACK, for the year, 1772.”  He deployed several strategies to market the almanac to both retailers and readers.  Like many printers, he listed the contents as a preview for prospective buyers.  In addition to the usual astronomical calculations, this almanac included “Several Select Pieces … On Liberty and Government; Thoughts on Government; On the Culture of Silk,” and other essays.  In addition, it contained poetry and useful tables, including one for calculating interest “on a Entire new Construction.”

Thomas also noted the price, including discounts for retailers and others who bought in volume.  A single copy cost three shillings, but a dozen only twenty-two shillings and six pence.  That meant that anyone who purchased eight copies received four additional copies for free, a pricing scheme that allowed booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to charge competitive prices that still allowed them to generate profits on the sale of the almanac.  In addition, Thomas emphasized that he published “The SECOND Edition,” suggesting that this particular almanac was especially popular among the many choices available to consumers.  Anyone interested in acquiring copies needed to act quickly.

To further entice customers, Thomas also promoted the “FOUR Plates, neatly engraved” that embellished the almanac.  Those images included “The four Seasons, with the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac,” rather standard fare in eighteenth-century almanacs, as well as portraits of “The King of Denmark” and “Mr. Weatherwise,” whose “Prognosticks” appeared among the contents.  Thomas considered one image especially significant, a depiction of “The BOSTON MASSACRE, on the evening of the 5th of March 1770.”  He listed it first and used capital letters to draw attention to this relief cut from an engraving attributed to Paul Revere.  The combination of essays examining “Liberty and Government” and an image of the Boston Massacre made clear that this almanac incorporated a particular political ideology among its contents.  This was an almanac for American patriots who remained vigilant throughout the imperial crisis.

March 31

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 28, 1771).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the SPY are also taken in by Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker.”

Most newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s did not have extensive colophons.  Consider, for example, those newspapers published at the time that Isaiah Thomas relaunched the Massachusetts Spy on March 7, 1771.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. DRAPER.”  Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post read, in its entirety, “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.”  The Boston-Gazette also had a short colophon, “Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL.”  Limited to “Printed by GREEN & RUSSELL,” the colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy did not even list the city.  All of those colophons appeared at the end of the final column on the last page.

In contrast, Thomas adopted a style much more often (but not universally) deployed in newspapers published in other cities and towns.  Extending across all four columns on the final page, it provided much more information about the Massachusetts Spy for readers, prospective subscribers and advertisers, and others who might have business with the printing office.  He included his location, “UNION-STREET, near the Market,” and listed the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence” annually.  He also noted that he sought advertising, but did not specify the rates.  In addition, Thomas stated that “Articles of Intelligence … are thankfully received.”  In other words, he solicited contributions to print or reprint in the Spy.  Like other newspaper printers, he accepted job printing as a means of supplementing the revenues from subscriptions and advertising.  Thomas proclaimed that he could produce “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  He provided all of the services available in other printing offices.

Thomas included an additional enhancement in his colophon, one that not only did not appear in other newspapers published in Boston but also did not appear in other newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He listed local agents who accepted subscriptions for the Spy in towns beyond Boston: “Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker, and Mr. W. Calder, painter, in Charlestown; Mr. J. Hillier, watch-maker, in Salem; Mr. B. Emerson, Bookseller, in Newbury-Port; and Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgewater.”  That portion of the colophon reflected advertisements Thomas placed in other newspapers prior to relaunching the Spy.  It testified to a network the printer established for gathering sufficient subscribers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise.  The list also made it more convenient for prospective subscribers to order their copies of the Spy.  Those who lived in any of the towns listed in the colophon could deal directly with the local agents rather than dispatch letters to the printing office in Boston.

When it came to publishing a newspaper in Boston, Thomas was a newcomer in the early 1770s.  All of the other newspapers in circulation had been established for many years.  Perhaps the printers believed that their newspapers and their printing offices were so familiar to readers that they did not need extensive colophons providing a lot of information.  Thomas chose a different model, one much more common in newspapers published in other places.  In the process, he added his own innovation, listing local agents, in order to gain greater advantage of the portion of each issue that he surrendered to the colophon.

February 26

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

Essex Gazette (February 26, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by I. Thomas, Printer and Publisher … M.J. Hiller, Watch-maker in Salem.”

As Isaiah Thomas prepared to relaunch the Massachusetts Spy after a brief hiatus, he placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston.  On February 18, 1771, he inserted a notice in all three newspapers published that day, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In that notice, he revised the plan of publication he previously outlined.  Instead of publishing the Spy on Tuesdays, the day after new editions of the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Gazette and Post-Boy, he moved the day to Thursdays in order to take advantage of the post arriving from Hartford with newspapers and letters on Wednesdays.  That would allow him to disseminate whatever news arrived from the west.

With his original plan, he would have been the only printer in Boston who circulated a newspaper in Boston on Tuesdays.  The revised plan, however, put him in direct competition with the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Despite that fact, the Gazette and News-Letter carried Thomas’s advertisement for the Spy on February 21.  That notice featured copy identical to the advertisements in the other three newspapers except for the additions of a headline that labeled it “ANOTHER THURDAY’S PAPER” and “Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgwater” as a local agent who collected subscriptions on Thomas’s behalf.

Thomas did not confine his marketing of the revamped Spy to Boston’s newspapers.  The day after it first appeared, the printer inserted the advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  The notice about the Spy ran for several weeks in each newspaper that carried it, a strategy likely intended to create momentum in acquiring subscribers leading up to the relaunch on March 7.  Thomas carefully coordinated that advertising campaign.  Notices usually ran for three weeks for a set fee, with an additional charge for each subsequent insertion.  Thomas planned the appearance of his advertisements to occur in the three weeks prior to commencing publication of the improved Spy.  Those advertisements did not appear in other newspapers again on or after March 7.  Instead, new issues of the Spy did the work of advertising the newspaper as they circulated in Boston and beyond.