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.