August 26

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 26, 1772).

“Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

In the summer of 1772, John Dunlap informed the public that he “JUST PUBLISHED … POEMS on SEVERAL OCCASIONS, with some other COMPOSITIONS; by NATHANIEL EVANS.”  He called on subscribers who previously reserved copies to collect them from his printing office on Market Street in Philadelphia while also encouraging others “who design to become Purchasers … as there are but few Copies thrown off above those subscribed for.”  In addition to promoting the author as a former “Missionary (appointed by the Society for propogating the Gospel) for Gloucester County, in New-Jersey; and Chaplain to the Lord Viscount Kilmorey, of the Kingdom ofIreland,” Dunlap asserted that the book was “Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

That short advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette reiterated several of the appeals that Dunlap previously deployed in marketing the book.  He distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that gave prospective buyers a chance to examine both the paper and the type.  At the beginning of a lengthy description of the project on one side, Dunlap declared that the book would be “printed on the same Pennsylvania manufactured Paper as this Advertisement, and the same Type as the Poem annexed.”  During the imperial crisis, many colonizers express their appreciation for domestic manufactures, items produced in the colonies, making “Pennsylvania manufactured Paper” an attractive alternative to imported paper.  The printer devoted the other side of the broadsheet to “AN ODE, Written by the AUTHOR on compleating the Twenty-First Year of his Age” that doubled as a “A SPECIMEN OF THE TYPE.”  That preview of the content simultaneously allowed buyers to see what they could expect in terms of the material qualities of the book.

An excerpt from the “PREFACE,” including a history of collecting and preparing the poems for publication following the death of the author, appeared on the other side of the broadsheet.  Dunlap appended a note that “the List of Subscribers will be committed to the press,” instructing “all who are desirous of encouraging this Publication, and who may not yet have subscribed [to] send their names.”  He also advised “those who have taken subscriptions of others” to send their lists as quickly as possible so he could include all subscribers in the list and print enough copies to match the advance orders.  In the newspaper advertisement, Dunlap promised that non-subscribers who bought any of the surplus copies would have their name “printed in the List of Subscribers to the 2d Edition.”  They would eventually be recognized among the ranks of those who supported the project.

Dunlap did not rely solely on newspaper advertisements in marketing his edition of Evans’s Poems.  Instead, he printed and distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that incorporated excerpts to entice prospective subscribers.  He also promised public recognition in the form of a printed subscription list.  Unlike newspaper advertisements, the broadsheet utilized the paper and the type for the project, allowing prospective customers to assess the material conditions of the proposed book when they decided if they wished to subscribe.  Although newspaper notices accounted for most advertising in eighteenth century America, entrepreneurs circulated many other kinds of marketing media, including trade cards, catalogs, and subscription notices with excerpts and type specimens.

John Dunlap, Type Specimen from Subscription Notice (Philadelphia, 1772). Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

December 4

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 2, 1771).

“To be Sold on the cheapest Terms.”

When John Dunlap commenced publication of the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771, he quickly gained advertisers.  From the very first issue, he distributed two-page supplements because the standard four-page issue could not contain all of the notices submitted to his printing office.  Many merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet replicated a style more common in newspapers published in Boston and New York rather than those that appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  A substantial number of advertisements in Dunlap’s newspaper featured extensive lists, naming dozens or even hundreds of items and occupying a significant amount of space.  Perpendicular lines ran down the center of each, creating two columns within those advertisements.  Rather than dense paragraphs of text, one or two items ran on each line, making it easier for readers to navigate the contents.  Many of these catalogs of merchandise extended half a column or more.  Philip Benezet’s advertisement filled an entire column.

Why did notices with this particular format appear in great numbers in the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771 but not in other newspapers published in Philadelphia?  Did price play a role?  Dunlap included the costs for subscriptions and advertising in the proposals he distributed prior to launching his newspaper.  “The Price to Subscribers will be Ten Shillings per year,” he stated.  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  Benezet’s advertisement certainly was not “a moderate length.”  In such instances, Dunlap asserted that he published “those of greater length at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”  David Hall and William Sellers did not include the price for subscriptions or advertisements in the colophon for the Pennsylvania Gazette, but William Bradford and Thomas Bradford indicated that “Persons may be supplied with” the Pennsylvania Packetat Ten Shillings a Year.”  William Goddard also charged ten shilling for an annual subscription to the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  None of the printers, however, included prices for advertising in the colophons of their newspapers.

Dunlap set the same rate for subscriptions as his competitors, but did he attempt to undercut them when it came to advertising?  If so, was that strategy only temporary, intended to come to an end once he felt his newspaper had been firmly established?  His proposals included other savvy marketing strategies.  He listed local agents in more than a dozen towns, from Boston in New England to Charleston in South Carolina, demonstrating that he planned for wide dissemination of the Pennsylvania Packet.  He also distributed the first issue “gratis” in hopes of cultivating interest and leveraging commitments from prospective subscribers.  Dunlap may or may not have charged lower rates for advertising as a means of jumpstarting his newspaper, but doing so was certainly within the realm of possibility in Philadelphia’s competitive media market.

November 4

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

Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1771).

“WANTED, A NEGRO BOY … apply to the Printer.”

Two issues.  It took only two issues for John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, to become a slave broker.  Dunlap published the inaugural issue of his newspaper on October 28, 1771.  It overflowed with advertising.  So many advertisers submitted notices to the printing office that Dunlap published a two-page supplement and inserted a note that other advertisements arrived too late for publication that week but would appear in the next edition.  Most advertisements in that first issue promoted consumer goods and services.

The following week, however, Dunlap ran another sort of advertisement that regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia:  a notice in which an unnamed advertiser sought to purchase an enslaved person.  “WANTED,” the advertisement proclaimed, “A NEGRO BOY, from fourteen to twenty years of age, that can be well recommended.”  In running that advertisement, John Dunlap and the Pennsylvania Packet helped to perpetuate slavery and the slave trade.  Yet Dunlap did more than provide space in his newspaper in exchange for advertising fees that made his new publication a viable venture.  The advertisement instructed that “Any person who has such to dispose of, may hear of a Purchaser by applying to the Printer.”  Dunlap brokered the sale by supplying additional information to readers who responded to the advertisement.

That was a common practice throughout the eighteenth century.  In “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Jordan E. Taylor analyzes a “dataset of more than 2,100 unique eighteenth-century North American ‘enquire of the printer’ newspaper slave advertisements appearing from 1704 through 1807.”[1]  Most of those advertisements ran for multiple weeks, making them even more ubiquitous before the eyes of readers and profitable for printers.  Dunlap, then, was not an outlier among printers during the era of the American Revolution.  Instead, he very quickly adopted a widespread practice.  Not exclusively a broker of information, the printer also served as a broker of enslaved men, women, and children.

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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): 290.

November 1

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

New-London Gazette (November 1, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by T. GREEN.”

When John Dunlap distributed subscription proposals in advance of publishing the Pennsylvania Packet, he expressed his intention to disseminate the new newspaper widely.  He lined up local agents from a variety of occupations in towns in Pennsylvania and far beyond.  They included “James Wilson, Esq; Attorney at Law, Carlisle,” Pennsylvania, “Richard Thomas, Esq; Sheriff, Charlestown,” Maryland, “Rev. William Dunlap, King and Queen county, Virginia.”  He also enlisted booksellers Noel and Hazard in New York as well as printers in the major port cities.  Some of them published their own newspapers, yet they assisted a fellow printer in another town launch his own publication.  They likely received complimentary copies of the Pennsylvania Packet, part of an exchange network that allowed printers to liberally reprint content from one newspaper to another.  From Cape May, Massachusetts, to Charleston, South Carolina, local agents stood ready to receive subscriptions to the Pennsylvania Packet.  Beyond the continent, “Messrs. Esmand and Walker, Printers in Bridgetown, Barbados” also accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf.

In addition to that extensive list, the proposals ended with a note that “many other Gentlemen, whose names will be particularized in our first Number” also served as local agents in other towns.  Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette was one of those local agents.  His newspaper carried the same subscription proposals for the Pennsylvania Packet that ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, though Green trimmed the list of local agents.  The final line simply stated, “Subscriptions are taken in by T. GREEN.”  When it came to local subscribers, Green probably did not worry too much about the Pennsylvania Packet competing with the New-London Gazette.  Given the time required to deliver it from Philadelphia to Connecticut, its contents supplemented rather than replaced the “freshest ADVICES, both FOREIGN and DOMESTICK” that the masthead of the New-London Gazette promised.  In addition, Green’s newspaper exclusively carried certain content, including local advertisements, legal notices, and shipping news from the custom house.  Colonial printers served as editors, selecting items from multiple newspapers to reprint, but some readers also acted as their own editors through consulting several newspapers on their own, deciding for themselves which “ADVICES” they considered most important.  When they served as local agents for newspapers published in other towns, printers like Green facilitated that process.

October 28

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

Pennsylvania Packet (October 28, 1771).

“A GENERAL ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST INDIA GOODS.”

In “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A WEEKLY NEWS-PAPER, ENTITLED, THE PENNSYLVANIA PACKET, AND GENERAL ADVERTISER,” dated October 8, 1771, John Dunlap declared that the newspaper would commence publication on Monday, November 25 “or sooner, if sufficient encouragement should offer.”  That “encouragement” included acquiring both subscribers and advertisers whose fees would support the new enterprise.

Even though printers already published several newspapers – the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote – in Philadelphia, Dunlap garnered the attention he needed to launch the Pennsylvania Packet much earlier than expected, four weeks ahead of schedule.  On Monday, October 28, he distributed the first issue.  In a note “TO THE PUBLIC” on the front page, he extended “his most hearty thanks … for the generous encouragement … whereby he is enabled to issue this new publication in about half the time he proposed.”

The front page also included three advertisements, a brief notice in which Lennox and Turnbull promoted their “GENERAL ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST INDIA GOODS,” a lengthy list cataloging the “large and neat Assortment of MERCHANDIZE” sold by John Biddle and Clement Biddle, and a testimonial about Enoch Story’s services as a broker and auctioneer signed by several prominent merchants.  The testimonial, dated May 16, 1771, previously ran in newspapers published in Philadelphia and Annapolis.

Those notices were just a few of many that appeared in the first issue of the Pennsylvania Packet.  Dunlap devoted half of a column on the third page to the shipping news from the customs house and then filled the rest of the page with advertisements.  The fourth page consisted entirely of advertisements and the colophon running across the bottom.  Dunlap even distributed a two-page supplement.  Essays appeared on the front and advertisements, mostly from Dunlap and other printers, on the back.  Dunlap even inserted a brief note to alert readers that “Some Advertisements which came too late, are deferred till next week, when they shall be carefully regarded.”

Many newspapers carried minimal advertising when they first launched.  Advertisers waited to see what kind of reception a publication received before investing in advertising.  They wanted to make sure newspapers had sufficient circulation to justify the expense.  How did Dunlap acquire so many advertisers so quickly?  Some may have responded to the pledge he made in the proposals when he stated that the “first Number shall be given gratis” to prospective subscribers.  Some advertisers may have believed that would yield sufficient circulation to merit placing their notices in the inaugural issue and then assessing whether they wished to continue.  If that was the case, Dunlap and his advertisers mutually benefitted.  The number of advertisements made the new Pennsylvania Packet look like a robust endeavor, one worthy of more subscribers.

October 14

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 14, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A WEEKLY NEWS-PAPER.”

Philadelphia was the most populous city among Britain’s mainland colonies in the early 1770s, large enough that John Dunlap determined that the market could support an additional newspaper in the fall of 1771.  Local readers already had access to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, but in early October Dunlap began distributing subscription notices for another weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, to commence on November 25.

Like subscription notices for other publications, whether books, magazines, or newspapers, Dunlap’s notice included both an overview of the purpose and a list of conditions.  Those conditions specified subscription prices and advertising fees that many printers rarely published after launching their newspapers, though some regularly incorporated one or both into their colophon alongside other details of publication.  “The Price to Subscribers,” Dunlap informed readers, “will be Ten Shillings per year.”  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  In that regard, Dunlap deviated from the standard pricing structure; most printers set the base price to include inserting advertisements for either three or four weeks before charging for “each continuance.”    Dunlap did adopt the familiar practice of charging more for longer advertisements, stating that “those of greater length” would appear “at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”

As was the case for other newspapers, advertisements for the Pennsylvania Packet were relatively expensive compared to subscriptions.  Three advertisements running for just one week cost nearly as much as a single subscription.  Paid notices represented significant revenue for most colonial printers who published newspapers.  That may have influenced Dunlap to list advertising fees ahead of subscription prices in the conditions in his subscription notice.  Although the advertisement ended with a list of local agents who accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf in several towns, he sought advertisers for his new endeavor as well as subscribers.  He needed both kinds of support for the Pennsylvania Packet to become a successful enterprise.

September 1

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 29, 1771).

“The List of Subscribers will be committed to the Press in a few Weeks.”

When John Dunlap set about publishing “ALL THE POETICAL WRITINGS, AND SOME OTHER PIECES, OF THE REV. NATHANIEL EVANS” at “the Newest Printing Office in Market-Street, Philadelphia,” he looked beyond the city in his efforts to cultivate customers.  On August 29, 1771, he advertised the book in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in hopes of selling copies to readers in New England.  In so doing, Dunlap pursued marketing practices already familiar in the colonies.  In the eighteenth-century, American printers often distributed subscription notices for their projects.  They inserted advertisements in newspapers published in multiple cities, inviting “subscribers” to order copies in advance.  Some supplemented those advertisements with handbills and circular letters.  Others even printed forms with blanks for local agents, usually booksellers and printers, to fill in the names of customers who reserved copies.

In recognition of their commitment to a project, subscribers received a premium in the form of having their names published.  Printers marketed subscription lists as valuable items intended to be bound into books along with title pages, frontispieces, tables of contents, copperplate engravings, indexes, and other ancillary materials.  Each subscription list represented a community of readers and benefactors who supported a project.  Within those printed lists, subscribers found themselves in the company of others who shared their interests, gaining status through the association.  Those who chose not to subscribe missed opportunities for public acclaim.  For his part, Dunlap made it clear that prospective subscribers had only a limited time to see their names among the ranks of those who supported “THE POETICAL WRITINGS … OF THE REV. NATHANIEL EVANS.”  Even though the book already went to press, he had not yet printed the subscription list.  Instead, he warned that “the Lost of the Subscribers will be committed to the Press in a few Week” so “all who are desirous of encouraging this Publication, and who may not yet have subscribed” should “sent their Names, without Loss of Time” to his local agents in Boston.  Dunlap sought to create a sense of urgency to convince prospective subscribers to submit their names and commit to purchasing copies of the book.

April 22

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 22, 1771).

“A Sermon, on the death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, preached by JOHN WESLEY.”

In the months following his death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, the commemoration and commodification of George Whitefield became a minor industry as printers and booksellers produced and marketed commemorative items.  Advertisements for funeral sermons, poems, hymnals, and other memorabilia appeared in newspapers from New Hampshire to South Carolina before the end of the year.  In the following spring, another round of advertising coincided with vessels bringing news – and new merchandise – from England.  Printers in several colonies created and sold American editions of Whitefield’s will and a funeral sermon delivered by John Wesley.

This new round of marketing began on March 21 with an advertisement in the New-York Journal.  John Holt, the printer of that newspaper, announced his plan to publish the “celebrated Sermon … on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield … By JOHN WESLEY.”  A week later, he ran a new advertisement advising readers that they could purchase the sermon at his printing office or from bookbinder George Leedel.  A few weeks later, consumers in other colonies soon encountered similar advertisements for Whitefield commemorative items.  On April 19, John Fleeming advertised his own edition of Wesley’s sermon in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury.  On the same day, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised that they planned to publish the “last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD,” a timely piece that “came in the last Ships from London.”

The marketing of new Whitefield memorabilia expanded to another colony yet again on April 22 with John Dunlap’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  He informed prospective customers that Wesley’s sermon “Just came to hand.”  He most likely sold Holt’s American edition.  His advertisement also promoted “the Deserted Village, a Poem by Dr. GOLDSMITH.”  Holt advertised those two titles together on March 28.  Dunlap carried them at “the Newest Printing-office, in Market-street, Philadelphia,” a few weeks later.  The widespread production and marketing of Whitefield commemorative items testified to the minister’s celebrity in the colonies.  That process also revealed the extent that printers, booksellers, and others saw his death as an opportunity to generate revenues through commodification that doubled as mourning.

September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1771.”

With the arrival of fall in 1770 came the season for advertising almanacs for 1771.  A few advertisements for almanacs appeared in various newspapers during the summer months, but they had not yet become regular features.  In late September, those advertisements began appearing in greater numbers.  Newspaper readers would have been accustomed to the seasonal pattern, expecting to encounter more and more advertisements for almanacs in October, November, and December and then a gradual tapering off in the new year as printers attempted to rid themselves of surplus stock before the contents became obsolete.  Almanacs were big business for printers, both those who published newspapers and those who did not.  These inexpensive pamphlets found their way into households from the most grand to the most humble.  Readers could select among a variety of titles, likely choosing favorites and developing customer loyalty over the years.

The compositor of the Pennsylvania Gazette conveniently placed four advertisements for six almanacs together in the September 20, 1770, edition.  The first announced that Hall and Sellers had just published the popular Poor Richard’s Almanack as well as the Pocket Almanack.  That advertisement, the longest of the four, appeared first, not coincidentally considering that Hall and Sellers printed the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers accepted advertisements from competitors, but that did not prevent them from giving their own advertisement a privileged place.  In the other three advertisements, local printers hawked other almanacs.  John Dunlap published and sold Father Abraham’s Almanack.  From Joseph Crukshank, readers could acquire Poor Will’s Almanack.  William Evitt supplied both the Universal Almanack and Poor Robin’s Almanack.  Hall and Sellers took advantage of their ability to insert advertisements gratis in their own newspaper by composing a notice twice the length of the others.  They listed far more of the contents as a means of inciting demand among prospective customers.

This was the first concentration of advertisements for almanacs in the fall of 1770, but others would soon follow in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  If the advertising campaigns launched in previous years were any indication, readers could expect to see even more elaborate notices than the one published by Hall and Sellers as well as many others that simply made short announcements that almanacs were available from printers and booksellers.  Such advertisements were a sign of the season in eighteenth-century America.

October 16

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

Oct 16 - 10:16:1769 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 16, 1769).

“Just published … Father ABRAHAM’S ALMANACK.”

It was one of the signs that fall had arrived in the colonies: advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers from New England to Georgia. The appearance of these advertisements had a rhythm as familiar as the changing of the seasons. A small number appeared as early as July or August to announce that particular titles would be published in the coming months. A greater number ran in September and October. By the end of October, some printers informed customers that they had just published almanacs, alerting them to purchase their favorite titles before supplies ran out. In November and December the number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased. As the new year approached, printers devoted significant space to newspaper advertisements about almanacs. This continued into January, though the advertisements tapered off in February and beyond. Some printers continued their attempts to rid themselves of surplus copies that ate into their profits. By the time spring arrived, advertisements for almanacs practically disappeared.

John Dunlap inserted his own advertisement for “Father ABRAHAM’S ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD, 1770” in the October 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Noting that he had “Just published” the almanac, Dunlap made it available to customers two and a half months before the beginning of the new year. His marketing strategy consisted primarily of listing the contents, hoping to entice prospective customers with a combination of practical reference materials and entertaining essays and poems. The almanac included the usual astronomical calculations, such as “the Rising and Setting of the Sun; the Rising, Setting, and Southing of the Moon; … [and] Length of Days.” Other reference material included “Tables of Interest at 6 and 7 per Cent; a Table of the Value, and Weight of Coins,” and a calendar of “Quakers yearly Meetings.” The practical information even extended to medicine: “A Collection of choice and safe Remedies, simple and easily prepared.” Dunlap imagined some of his prospective customers when he suggested that these remedies were “fitted for the Service of Country People” who did not have immediate access to apothecary shops in Philadelphia. The pieces of entertainment included “An Essay on Toleration and the Search after Truth” as well as “The Ant and Caterpillar, a Fable” and “Spring, a Poem.” One item resonated with news reported in the public prints and discussed in town squares: “An Ode on Liberty.”

Dunlap offered little commentary on the contents of the almanac, leaving it to prospective customers to assess the value on their own. Clearly, however, he believed that listing the contents would stimulate demand. Doing so provided a preview while also distinguishing this almanac from the many others printed, published, and sold in Philadelphia. If he had not considered listing the contents an effective means of marketing the almanac, he could have truncated the advertisement to just a few lines merely announcing its availability.