January 12

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

New-York Journal (January 12, 1769)

“[No Room for News. Advertisements left out will be in our next.]”

John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, faced a dilemma when he prepared the January 12, 1769, edition to go to press. He had too much content for the standard four-page issue. A short notice at the bottom of the final column on the third page advised readers that there was “[No Room for News. Advertisements left out will be in our next.]”

Why place this notice on the third page instead of the last? Consider the mechanics of printing a four-page newspaper on a hand-operated press in eighteenth-century America. Minimizing the number of impressions reduced the amount of time required working at the press. To maximize efficiency, printers produced the standard four-page edition by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. This required setting type for the fourth and first pages to print simultaneously and then the second and third pages to print together. Compositors usually set the exterior pages first, in part because they included material that repeated from week to week, such as the masthead on the first page and the colophon and advertisements on the fourth page. The type for the third page often would have been the last set for the issue, explaining why Holt’s notice about not having enough space for all the news and advertisements appeared at the bottom of the final column of that page.

Still, Holt made additional efforts to serve his customers. A legal notice concerning James Cunningham, “an insolvent debtor,” that otherwise would have appeared among the advertisements instead ran along the right margin of the third page. It concerned a hearing that would take place on January 17, before publication of the next edition of the New-York Journal. If Holt wished to generate the advertising revenue, it was imperative to find a way to insert that advertisement in the January 12 issue. Printers sometimes ran short advertisements in the margins, rotating the text so it appeared perpendicular to the rest of the column. In most cases such advertisements ran in several columns, only a few lines each and the same width as the columns that ran the length of the entire page. Compositors used advertisements that already appeared in previous issues, transferring lines of type already set. The legal notice concerning Cunningham, however, had not previously appeared in the New-York Journal. It appeared as a short but wide paragraph that ran the length of the page.

Holt also issued a two-page Supplement to the New-York Journal. Except for the masthead, the first page consisted entirely of “The ANATOMIST, No. XIV,” the next installment in a series of essays that ran in the weekly supplement. The essay concluded on the following page, leaving space for some news (“JOURNAL of OCCURRENCES, continued,” with the dateline “BOSTON, December 10”) and two advertisements. One of those advertisements included a notation on the final line, “56 59,” to remind the compositor that the advertisement was to appear in issues 1356 through 1359. The January 12 edition and its supplement comprised issue 1358. Though he did not have sufficient space in the standard issue, Holt made room in the supplement to insert that advertisement.

As the January 12, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal demonstrates, colonial printers and compositors made creative choices in their efforts to circulate news and advertising to colonial readers and consumers. Even as he offered assurances to advertisers that their notices would indeed appear in the next issue, Holt finagled additional space that allowed some to circulate immediately rather than being delayed a week.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).


John Holt’s newspaper lived up to the full name that appeared in the masthead: “THE NEW-YORK JOURNAL; OR, THE GENERAL ADVERTISER.” In many instances, Holt’s newspaper might better have been called an advertiser because it carried significantly more paid notices than news content.

Consider, for example, the October 27, 1768, edition. It consisted of the standard four-page issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page featured three columns. In addition, Holt distributed a four-page “SUPPLEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL OR GENERAL ADVERTISER.” Printed on a smaller sheet, each page had two columns of text the same width as those in the regular issue as well as a third column of text rotated such that it appeared perpendicular to the rest. The sheet was not wide enough to accommodate three columns, so the compositor devised a creative means of inserting advertisements using type already set for previous issues.

In the regular issue, advertising filled a significant amount of space: five of the twelve columns. News and other content, such as a table of the tides and a poet’s corner, accounted for the remaining columns. Advertising comprised an even greater proportion of the supplement. Only two columns of news appeared in it.

Those advertisements helped to sustain the New-York Journal. Like most eighteenth-century newspapers, its viability depended in large part on the revenues generated from advertising. Unlike most newspapers of the era, it listed the fees for advertisement in the colophon. “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth,” Holt specified, “are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” A great many advertisements happened to be longer than they were wide. In such instances, Holt charged “in the same Proportion” for “larger Advertisements.” Peter T. Curtenius’s advertisement, twice as long as it was wide, would have cost ten shillings to set the type and run for four weeks and an additional two shillings for each additional insertion.

Not all colonial newspapers contained as many advertisements as the New-York Journal, but most did devote at least one-quarter of their space – and often much, much more – to paid notices. In that regard, newspapers were delivery mechanisms for advertising as much as for news, even in an era predating the rise of Madison Avenue and the modern advertising industry.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 4, 1768).

“All those who choose to continue taking the said Whig Papers … let the Printer know.”

Many American printers resorted to subscription notices to assess interest and incite demand for books and other items they considered publishing, but John Holt, publisher of the New-York Journal, experimented with another means of attracting customers for one of his projects. He offered a premium to those who subscribed to his newspaper. As Holt explained in an advertisement inserted in the August 4, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, he had been republishing “Half a Sheet weekly of the Papers called the American Whig, and others relating to that Controversy.” The “Controversy” referred to “the Residence of Protestant Bishops in the American Colonies.” Holt distributed the first twenty-six half sheets gratis to those who already subscribed to the New-York Journal, but he expected interested readers to subscribe to subsequent half sheets from the American Whig series. He established a subscription rate of “one Dollar for every Fifty-two Half Sheets” in addition to the usual subscription fees for the New-York Journal. Holt instructed those who wished to continue receiving the American Whig supplements to “let the Printer know it in Time, otherwise no more than the said Twenty-six Papers will be sent.”

In terms of generating content for the American Whig, Holt adapted the standard practice that printers throughout the colonies used to fill the pages of their newspapers. They participated in networks of exchange, receiving newspapers from near and far and reprinting items previously published elsewhere. This method gathered and distributed all sorts of news, but Holt suspected that some readers might be interested in creating and preserving a volume devoted specifically to the controversy over Protestant bishops. To that end, the additional half sheets featured only reprinted items relevant to that debate, published separately “for the Conveniency of binding” into a book upon collecting sufficient number. Although Holt reported that he undertook this project “at the Desire of many of his Subscribers,” his initial widespread distribution of the free half sheets combined with his notice calling for subscribers to commit to paying for subsequent items in the series demonstrates that he hoped to enlarge the number of customers who purchased the American Whig. He used the free issues as a tool for enticing subscriptions for publishing a book.

Innovative as this marketing strategy may have been, it seems to have fallen short of Holt’s goals for attracting subscribers. He issued enough half sheets for two volumes, the first drawn from the original twenty-six distributed gratis and the second consisting of the subscription series, but a proposed third volume never went to press. Through his various advertising efforts, Holt managed to generate sufficient interest to sustain the project beyond its initial stages, but not enough to continue it for as long as he intended.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 22, 1768).


Guest curator Zachary Karpowich recently examined an advertisement promoting the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.”  David Hall and William Sellers inserted this advertisement for a pamphlet they had published in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet Hall and Sellers were not the only printers to collect the twelve “Letters” together into a single pamphlet, nor was the Pennsylvania Gazette the only newspaper to carry advertisements for those pamphlets.  Just as the “Letters” spread from colony to colony as they were reprinted from newspaper to newspaper in late 1767 and well into the spring of 1768, colonists had access to a variety of pamphlets that collected the series of essays under a single cover for their convenience and continued reference.

The American Antiquarian Society’s catalog indicates that at least four printing houses published their own edition of the “Letters” in pamphlet form in 1768.  According to the imprints, residents of Philadelphia could purchase an edition “Printed by David Hall, and William Sellers” published in the spring and a second edition released later in the year.  That Hall and Sellers printed more than one edition testifies to the popularity of the pamphlet.  Colonists in New York could purchase an edition “Re-printed by John Holt, near the Exchange,” while residents of Boston could choose between competing editions, one “Printed and sold by Edes & Gill, in Queen Street” and another “Printed by Mein and Fleeming, and to be sold by John Mein, at the London Book-Store, north-side of King-Street.”  Each of these printers also published newspapers that had reprinted the “Letters” over a series of weeks:  Holt, the New-York Journal; Edes and Gill, the Boston-Gazette; and Mein and Fleeming, the Boston Chronicle.  At least one other edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1769, that one described as a third edition “Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, at the London Coffee-House.”  That the Bradfords produced yet another edition for readers in Philadelphia suggests that printers cultivated demand for the pamphlet and successfully disseminated the arguments about Parliament overstepping its authority advanced by John Dickinson.

Colonists beyond the major port cities could also purchase the pamphlet.  Today’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth by Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle.  It specified two locations where readers could purchase the pamphlet:  “at the LONDON BOOK STORE, North Side of King Street, BOSTON, and at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”  The Fowles likely stocked the edition printed by Mein and Fleeming, considering that their advertisement reiterated the location listed in the imprint from that edition.  Just as they had reprinted the “Letters” in a series of issues, the Fowles also reprinted significant portions of an advertisement previously published in another newspaper, drawing from the notice for Hall and Sellers’s edition of the pamphlet in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The Fowles were not the only printers to advertise an edition of this pamphlet on April 22, 1768. John Holt ran an advertisement for his edition in a midweek supplement to his newspaper, the New-York Journal.  He composed his own copy, however, advising potential customers that the pamphlet “fully explains and unanswerably defends the Rights of the British Colonies.”  He reported that he had gathered the essays into a pamphlet “upon the Suggestion of many of the Inhabitants” of New York who recommended “that it ought to be kept in every Family, and be thoroughly consider’d, understood, and taught to the rising Generation.”  Holt stressed that reading the “Letters” would inculcate a particular set of values among youth; studying the pamphlet was not the sole domain of the current generation of colonial leaders.  Yet he also lamented that “the Sale of these useful Pamphlets, has hitherto been very inconsiderable, so that they are like to be a great Loss to the Printer” even though he indicated that they had been “Just published.”  Holt may have exaggerated as a way to jumpstart sales, a strategy that could have been effective once he advertised that he stocked copies of the pamphlet at his printing office.

Throughout the colonies printers encouraged customers to purchase – and read – the “Letters” in order that “the Principles of our happy Constitution may be universally known and established.”  The stakes were too high not to become familiar with Dickinson’s explication of the proper relationship between Parliament and colonies.  Turning a blind eye to such wisdom meant that the colonists would not be prepared “to assert and maintain the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.”

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 22, 1768).

March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 26, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely young Negro Girl.”

John Holt published the New-York Journal on Thursdays in 1768. According to schedule, he distributed a standard four-page issue on Thursday, March 24. A two-page supplement filled mostly with news and a limited number of advertisements accompanied that issue. Two days later, Holt distributed an additional two-page supplement on Saturday, March 26. He explained that it contained “Articles left out of last for Want of Room,” apparently items that either could not wait for inclusion the following week or that would crowd out more recent news if held that long. The March 26 supplement consisted almost entirely of news items. One advertisement appeared at the bottom of the final column on the second page.

That advertisement offered a “Likely young Negro Girl about 13 Years of Age” for sale. It stood in stark juxtaposition to the remainder of the content of the supplement. Holt devoted four of the six columns to news from Boston, including several editorial pieces reprinted from the Boston-Gazette. One reprinted letter, signed “A TRUE PATRIOT,” warned that the colonists “soon will find themselves in chains” if they did not “support their own RIGHTS, and the Liberty of the PRESS” in the face of abuses by Parliament. Another correspondent, “POPULUS,” underscored that there was “nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as FREE PRESS.” The press played such an important role that “it is ever watched by those who are forming plans for the destruction of the people’s liberties, with an envious and malignant eye.”

In addition to these editorials, Holt inserted a circular letter “written by the hon. the House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “in the last Session of the General Assembly and sent to the respective Assemblies on the Continent.” In it, that body expressed “their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the parliament; that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements on their natural and constitutional rights; because, as they are not represented in the British parliament, his Majesty’s commons in Britain, by those acts, grant their property without their consent.” In other words, colonists in Massachusetts objected to taxation without representation. Holt amplified their sentiments by reprinting their letter for readers in New York and its hinterlands.

All of this discussion of freedom of the press and theories of constitutional liberty took place alongside an advertisement for a “young Negro Girl.” The revenues generated from that advertisement contributed to the dissemination of the arguments voiced by “A TRUE PATRIOT,” “POPULUS,” and the assembly of the “Province of MASSACHUSETTS-BAY.” As white colonists fretted about their liberties, they also perpetuated a system that enslaved a “young Negro Girl” and countless others, holding their bodies in bondage even as they lamented potential challenges to their own speech. Resistance led to revolution as the imperial crisis intensified over the course of a decade, but many colonists were inconsistent in their conceptions of liberty and applying them to all who resided in the colonies. Even as they challenged Parliament to recognize their “natural constitutional right” colonists continued to purchase and peddle slaves from New England to George. The evidence for each appeared side-by-side in the pages of their newspapers.

December 10

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

Dec 10 - 12:10:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 10, 1767).

“One of the most useful and entertaining Almanacks in America.”

The new year was fast approaching. Just three weeks remained in 1767 when this advertisement for “FREEMAN’s New-York ALMANACK For the Year 1768” appeared in John Holt’s New-York Journal. Over the past month advertisements for almanacs had proliferated in New York’s newspapers and their counterparts printed throughout the colonies. Some merely encouraged customers to acquire their almanacs, but others, like this one, provided much more detail about the contents as a means of inciting demand and convincing consumers to select this particular almanac over any of the alternatives.

Freeman’s New-York Almanack included the usual calendars and calculations, including “Hour and Minute of the Sun’s Rising and Setting” and the “Moon’s Age, Quartering, Full and Change, Rising, Setting,” but these were “intermixed with Proverbs or moral Sentiments.” It also contained a combination of astronomical and astrological material inserted in most almanacs, especially “The 12 signs, with an Account of the several Parts of the Body they are supposed to govern” and “a Table of the Planets’ Motions.” The almanac also featured other valuable reference information, such as a “Table of Interest at 7 per Cent,” a “List of the Council Assembly, and Officers in New-York,” and a “Table of the Value of Coins in England, New-York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Quebec.” The author also incorporated a variety of items to entertain and instruct readers, including “The Rose, a Fable” and “Verses on New-Year and Winter.”

Many printers relied on the contents of their almanacs to do most of the work in marketing them, but Holt added a nota bene proclaiming that Freeman’s New-York Almanack “contains more in Quantity than any other Almanack publish’d in America, and is at least as useful and entertaining as any other.” Just in case potential customers had not been duly impressed with the extensive contents listed in the advertisement, Holt underscored that this almanac overflowed with useful and entertaining material. Still, sensible that the astronomical calculations remained the foremost reason many colonists purchased almanacs, he also promised that they had been “made with the greatest Care and Accuracy.” He also placed special emphasis on the treatment of an impending eclipse on January 19, a “great Eclipse” that merited additional attention.

Holt concluded the advertisement by announcing that he also sold “DUTCH ALMANACKS,” pocket almanacs, and sheet almanacs, though he provided no other information except the prices. At his “PRINTING-OFFICE, at the EXCHANGE,” customers could select from a variety of titles and an assortment of sizes and formats. They also enjoyed a similar range of choices at other printing offices and bookseller shops throughout the city. Realizing the fierce competition to sell publications that could not be held in reserve and sold at a latter date, Holt invested significant effort in marketing the one he had published.

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:26:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 26, 1767).

“English and Dutch Almanacks may be had at the same Place.”

Among the many advertisements in the November 26, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal and its supplement, printer John Holt’s advertisement for almanacs appeared first. Like many other newspaper publishers, Holt carried a variety of almanacs to suit the needs and preferences of potential customers. When it came to selecting this annual reference volume, many colonists had likely developed some sort of nascent brand loyalty to particular versions and looked for their favorite publications with familiar features. Name recognition helped to move “FREEMAN’s New-York Royal Sheet Almanack” and the “New-York Pocket Almanack” out of the printing shop and into homes throughout the port city and beyond.

In promoting an array of almanacs with various features and formats, Holt acknowledged the ethnic and religious diversity of colonial New York. In addition to the particular titles mentioned first in his advertisement, Holt also proclaimed that “English and Dutch Almanacks may be had at the same place.” The English conquest of New Netherland (now New York) had occurred a century earlier. Descendants of the original Dutch settlers resided throughout the colony, comprising a potential market for almanacs in the language they passed down from one generation to the next.

In printing, marketing, and selling almanacs, Holt also catered to another constituency, one that was much smaller than the Dutch population. Still, a sufficient number of Jewish colonists resided in New York to justify the expense of printing a “Kalender of the Sabbaths, Months, and other Holy-days, which the Jews observe and keep.” This was not a separate publication but was instead added to some copies of the English almanacs, transforming them into distinctive editions intended for specific readers. Holt did not indicate whether the “Kalender of Sabbaths” had been added as a supplement or if other content had been removed in order to make room for it. Either way, almanacs for Jewish colonists were simultaneously part of and separate from the assortment of almanacs marketed and sold in the colonies, reflecting other aspects of Jewish experiences in eighteenth-century America.

Advertisements for almanacs appeared with increasing frequency in newspapers throughout the colonies during the final months of the year in the 1760s. Printers and booksellers resorted to a variety of marketing strategies to convince consumers to purchase their almanacs. In New York, a busy port with residents from many backgrounds, John Holt advertised titles that reflected some of the ethnic and religious diversity of his potential customers.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:21:1767 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 21, 1767).


John Holt printed a four-page supplement to accompany the May 21, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal. It included one page of “ARTICLES left out last Week, for Want of Room,” but the remainder of the supplement consisted primarily of advertisements. Almost every issue of the New-York Journal published in April, May, June, and July that year had a corresponding supplement, but the length, size, and purpose of the supplements varied. Sometimes they were mechanisms for delivering advertisements, but on other occasions few, if any, advertisements appeared. In an era when the standard issue for any American newspaper was four pages (created by folding a broadsheet in half) with only occasional supplements, Holt regularly adjusted his publication according to the amount of news and advertising of the week. In so doing, he was responsive to the needs of both readers and advertisers.

The May 21 supplement first caught my eye because of its strange format: two regular columns (as opposed to the usual three) with four short columns that ran perpendicular to the other two. Since I was working with a digitized copy, the size of the sheet was not readily apparent, but, having encountered something similar previously, I suspected that the supplement had been printed on a different size sheet than the regular issues. Consulting an original issue at the American Antiquarian Society confirmed that was indeed the case. The regular issue had been printed on a 9 ½ x 15 ½ sheet with three columns, the supplement on an 8 ¼ x 13 ½ sheet in the configuration described above. All columns measured 2 ¾ inches across. Holt rotated type that had already been set to create the four short columns that ran perpendicular to the rest of the content. For instance, shopkeeper Ennis Graham’s dense and lengthy list-style advertisement was divided into four columns. The printer maximized the amount of content he provided when printing on a smaller sheet.

May 24 - Graham 5:21:1767 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 21, 1767).

When I have encountered this trick of the trade in the past, most often it resulted from the printer not having access consistently to paper of the size usually used to publish the newspaper. That does not seem to have been the case in this instance. Sometimes Holt printed the supplement on the smaller sheet, but other times on a sheet the same size as the regular issue. The regular issue always appeared on the larger sheet. Whether on a smaller or larger sheet, sometimes Holt issued a half sheet (two-page) supplement and other times a full sheet (four-page) supplement. Usually the supplement included advertising, but not always. News from England and elsewhere merited immediate publication rather than waiting until the following week.

The supplements that accompanied the New-York Journal in 1767 sometimes had a strange layout because the printer carefully calculated the size of the sheet needed to deliver the content for the week, not because shortages of paper made peculiar layouts necessary. When other newspapers pledged that advertisement omitted would be printed in the next issue, Holt resorted to supplements to disseminate both advertising and the most current news as quickly as possible.

December 28

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

“A Variety of Books and Stationary.”

Like many other colonial American printers, John Holt inserted his own advertisements into the newspaper he published. The two-page supplement to the New-York Journal from December 27, 1766, for instance, included three advertisements for “the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” None of them included Holt’s name, but that may have been less important than providing sufficient direction for current and prospective customers to make their way to Holt’s printing shop. Besides, many readers likely would have already known Holt as “the Printer at the Exchange.” For those who did not, the masthead of regular issues of the New-York Journal proclaimed that it was “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, NEAR THE EXCHANGE.”

Each of Holt’s advertisements in the December 27 issue addressed a different aspect of his business. One attempted to drum up new business, succinctly announcing “A Variety of Books and Stationary, to be sold at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Between subscriptions and advertisements, publishing the New-York Journal generated revenue, but Holt, like many others in his occupation, also acted as bookseller. This yielded an additional flow of income to keep the entire operation running.

Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Another advertisement solicited supplies necessary for the New-York Journal to continue publication. “READY MONEY,” it announced, “given for clean Linen RAGS, of any Kind, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Printers throughout the colonies frequently placed such notices. They printed their newspapers on paper made of linen. Rags were essential to their business; they were recycled and reused as paper. Holt placed this particular advertisement in the upper right corner of the second page. Except for the masthead, it included the largest font in that issue, increasing the likelihood that readers would see and take note of it.

Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Holt’s third advertisement addressed prior operations of his business as well as its future. In the final issue of the New-York Journal for 1766, he called on former customers to settle accounts: “ALL PERSONS who are a Year or more indebted for this Paper, and all who are on any other Account indebted to the Printer at the Exchange, are earnestly requested immediately to discharge their Accounts.” Once again, similar notices appeared in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Subscribers notoriously fell behind in paying for their newspapers. Printers extended credit for subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing of various sorts as well as the books and stationery they sold. In designing the layout for this supplemental issue, the crafty Holt placed this advertisement second, immediately after a notice listing the winning numbers for a recent lottery. He may have hoped to capture readers’ attention as they eagerly examined nearly two columns of winning tickets and moved directly to the next item.

The December 27 supplement of the New-York Journal included relatively little news. Of its six columns, only the third and fourth were given over to news items. Holt devoted the remainder of the supplement to advertising, including three advertisements that either promoted his own printing shop or saw to its general maintenance.