May 19

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

New-York Journal (May 16, 1771).

Philip House, who has been for some Years past the Carrier of this Paper, is now discharged from my Business.”

When Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, discovered that that they had more content for the May 17, 1771, edition than space would usually allow, they opted to print several advertisements in the margins.  Although that format was not part of every issue of the Connecticut Journal or other eighteenth-century newspapers, printers and compositors did resort to placing advertisements in the margins fairly regularly.  On the previous day, for instance, John Holt, printer of the New-York Journal, placed an advertisement in the right margin on the third page, running perpendicular to the rest of the text on that page.

A couple of features, however, distinguished Holt’s notice from the advertisements the Greens ran in the margins.  First, Holt’s advertisement concerned his own business.  “Whereas Philip House, who has been for some Years past the Carrier of this Paper, is now discharged from my Business,” Holt announced, “This is to desire the Customers for the said Paper, to let me know if any of them should fail of getting their Papers, till the present Carrier becomes acquainted with the Places where they are to be left.”  Holt placed his notice for the purpose of customer service, maintaining good relationships with subscribers following a change in personnel that potentially had an impact on whether or how quickly they received their newspaper.

Placing such a notice in the margin may have been quite intentional, a means of enhancing its visibility and increasing the likelihood that subscribers noticed it.  Unlike the Greens, Holt did distribute an additional half sheet for advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue.  He could have placed his own advertisement there, but doing so ran the risk of it getting separated from the rest of the issue.  In the margin of the third page, Holt’s notice became part of the standard four-page issue.  Its placement in the margin encouraged readers to peruse it in order to discover what kind of information received special treatment.

The format also indicated that Holt intended for his notice to appear in the margin from the start.  It ran in two lines that extended the length of the column.  The advertisements the Greens placed in the margins of the Connecticut Journal, on the other hand, were divided into several columns of a few lines each.  Those advertisements ran in a previous edition.  Rather than resetting type, the Greens made them fit in the margins by distributing what originally appeared in a single column across five short columns.  They did so out of necessity when they did not have sufficient space in the standard issue of their newspaper, whereas Holt did not transpose his notice from a traditional column to the margin.  From its conception, Holt had a different vision for his note to subscribers about disruptions in delivering the New-York Journal.

At a glance, advertisements printed in the margins of eighteenth-century newspapers look like they ended up there simply because compositors ran out of space.  Closer examination combined with knowledge of the production of newspapers, however, reveals the range of factors likely influenced decisions to place advertisements in the margins.  Different circumstances prompted the Greens to place advertisements in the margins than led Holt to do so.

March 21

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

New-York Journal (March 21, 1771).

“THE celebrated Sermon preached … on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield … By JOHN WESLEY.”

Word of George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, quickly spread through the colonies as well as across the Atlantic.  Newspapers in the colonies covered local reaction to the loss of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  In turn, they also reprinted coverage from one to another, further enhancing a sense of collective mourning.  It took longer to receive word of reactions in England, but by late March the colonial press carried those updates as well.  On March 18, 1771, the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy both carried an “Extract of a Letter from the Right Honourable the COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON,” Whitefield’s patron, “received a few Days ago by the December Packet.”  The countess mourned the “Faithful Minister of the Gospel.”

A few days later, residents of New York learned of another response to Whitefield’s death from across the Atlantic.  John Holt, printer of the New-York Journal, announced that he would soon publish the “celebrated Sermon preached” by John Wesley, a leader of the Methodist movement within the Church of England, “on Sunday the 18th of November last, on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, at the Chapel in Tottenham Court-Road, and the Tabernacle near Moorfields.”  According to the Wesley Center Online, “The Sermon was at once published in London; and a reprint was issued in Dublin, also dated 1770.”  Commemorations of Whitefield’s death quickly resulted in commodification in England and Ireland, just as in the colonies.  That commodification continued when American printers came into possession of copies of the sermon.  Holt was the first advertise an American edition of Wesley’s sermon, but he was not the only one to take it to press.  John Fleeming in Boston also published the sermon.  Whitefield’s death was one of the most significant news events of 1770.  It prompted mourning on both sides of the Atlantic, but also presented opportunities for commodification.

January 28

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

Jan 28 1770 - 1:25:1770 New-York JournalFREEMAN’s NEW-YORK ALMANACK, For the Year 1770.”

In the final week of January 1770, John Holt continued in his efforts to rid himself of surplus copies of Freeman’s New-York Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1770. He did so much more vigorously than other printers who reduced the length and size of their advertisements significantly as January came to an end, perhaps an indication that Holt seriously miscalculated demand for Freeman’s New-York Almanack, printed far too many, and now had an excessive quantity on hand.

Three advertisements for the almanac appeared on the final page of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal, Holt’s newspaper. He exercised his privilege as the printer to insert and arrange advertisements as he saw fit. The first of those notices was not at first glance an advertisement for the almanac. Instead, it appeared to be a public interest piece about “raising and preparing FINE FLAX” and the advantages of “farmers in North America” doing so. A separate paragraph at the end, just two lines preceded by a manicule, informed readers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” That note appeared immediately above the most extensive of Holt’s advertisements for the almanac. He had previously run the notices about “FINE FLAX” and the almanac separately, sometimes even on different pages, and left it to readers to discover the synergy for themselves. A month into the new year, however, he no longer left it to prospective customers to make the connection on their own.

To further increase the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of the almanac, Holt placed a third advertisement next to the second one. Even if readers perused a page comprised almost entirely of advertisements so quickly that they did not notice how the “FINE FLAX” advertisement introduced an advertisement listing the contents of the almanac, it would have been difficult to skim all three columns without taking note of Freeman’s New-York Almanack.

Holt’s advertisements for the almanac accounted for a significant portion of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal. Even taking into account the two-page supplement distributed with it, the entire issue consisted of only eighteen columns. The three advertisements for the almanac filled more than an entire column, displacing news items and editorials that Holt could have published instead. He apparently calculated that he included sufficient news between the standard issue and the supplement to satisfy subscribers, thus allowing him to aggressively advertise the almanac.

December 24

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

Dec 24 - 12:21:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 21, 1769).

The whole process … is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack.”

This notice appeared among the many advertisements that ran in December 21, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. It extolled the virtues of experimenting with the “Method used in French Flanders, Of raising and preparing FINE FLAX, For making the finest of [textiles known as] Hollands, Lawns, Cambricks and Laces.” For the most part, it resembled an editorial more than an advertisement, but the final two lines made clear that John Holt, printer of both the New-York Journal and Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1770, inserted it to bolster his marketing efforts for the almanac. Holt advised prospective customers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” This advertisement accounted for one of the most ingenious marketing strategies for almanacs deployed by printers in the 1760s.

Holt advertised the almanac elsewhere in the December 21 issue of the New-York Journal. An advertisement on the third page conformed to one of the standard formats for marketing almanacs. It announced that the almanac was “lately published” and provided an extensive list of the contents beyond the usual astronomical calculations. The almanac included all kinds of usual reference information, including a “Table of Coins, as they pass in England, New-York, Philadelphia, New-England, and Quebec,” a “List of Council, General Assembly, Judges and other Officers in New-York and New-Jersey,” and a “Table of Roads throughout all the English Dominions in America.” The overview of the almanac’s contents did not, however, list the “Method … Of raising and preparing FINE FLAX.” Holt reserved that for a separate advertisement that appeared on the following page.

The printer encouraged readers raise an prepare flax themselves, proclaiming it “the most profitable article of agriculture that ever was introduced in any country.” As an “inexhaustible source of wealth,” it accrued benefits to the farmer but also served the “national advantage.” In making this claim, Holt presented an opportunity for “gentlem[e]n and farmers in North America” to achieve “great profits,” boost local economies, and acquire new commercial advantages as disputes with Britain continued over trade imbalances and duties imposed on imported goods. In addition to encouraging “domestic manufactures,” many colonists advocated for greater diversification of the colonial economy by cultivating new commodities. In singing the praises of “raising and preparing FINE FLAX,” Holt added to the chorus while simultaneously leveraging that discourse to market Freeman’s New-York Almanack. This supplementary notice reinforced his other advertisement that took a more common approach to marketing almanacs in early America.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:25:1769 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 25, 1769).

Family Physician, or Primitive Physic, just published.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 25, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal concluded with an advertisement for a handy reference manual, “THE Family Physician, or Primitive Physic.” Prospective customers could acquire copies “at the Printing-Office, at the Exchange.” In other words, John Holt, the printer and publisher of the New-York Journal, sold this book to supplement his income. In so doing, he competed with druggist Thomas Bridgen Atwood, who advertised elsewhere on the same page of the supplement. Atwood and Holt, however, provided different goods and services.

Atwood, who advertised regularly, sold a “general Assortment of Drugs and Medecines.” In addition to selling patent medicines and other remedies prepared in advance by others, he also compounded new prescriptions. Holt, on the other hand, offered a means for prospective customers to avoid consulting (and paying) “a Physician or Surgeon” or an apothecary. The book he peddled would allow buyers to act as doctor and pharmacist in treating “most kinds of common Diseases” since it contained “Receipts [recipes] for preparing and applying a great Number of Medicines.” Prospective customers did not need to worry about any lack of expertise or access to the necessary materials. Holt pledged that most of the “Receipts” were “simple” to prepare and their elements “easily procured.”

To underscore the utility of the book as a substitute for consulting physicians and apothecaries, Holt noted that consumers considered it “so generally useful and acceptable to the Public” that it had been reprinted thirteen times in the course of just a few years. For his final pitch, he proclaimed that “every Family, especially in the Country, ought certainly to be furnished with one of these Books.” In promoting this reference manual to prospective customers who lived outside of the city, he suggested that procuring a copy was not merely a means of saving money on consultations with physicians and druggists. The book provided greater access to the world of medicine, especially the most common and basic remedies, for those who did not have doctors and apothecaries residing in close proximity.

February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 23, 1769).

“The imposition laid upon us in the use of British paper.”

Although colonial printers liberally reprinted news items and editorial pieces from newspaper to newspaper, they only infrequently reprinted advertisements. After all, advertisements usually addressed local and regional audiences. In addition, paid notices were an important revenue stream that made colonial newspapers viable ventures. As a result, printers had few reasons to reprint advertisements from the newspapers they received from their counterparts in other cities and towns. On occasion, some printers did reprint advertisements that they considered either entertaining or instructive. Such was the case for an advertisement from the February 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal that John Holt reprinted just a week later in the February 23 edition of the New-York Journal.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had inserted an advertisement offering “Ready MONEY for CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” that Pennsylvania’s “Paper Manufactory” could make into paper, thus supporting the local economy, eliminating dependence on paper imported from England, and avoiding the duties imposed by the Townshend Act. The Bradfords conceived of saving rags as a political act rather than a mundane chore, charging “Ladies” to express “their love of liberty” by taking the lead in supporting this particular act of resistance to Parliament’s overreach.

Holt eliminated any mention of the Bradfords and their “Pennsylvania Writing PAPER,” considering them irrelevant to the lesson he wished to impress on readers of the New-York Journal. He reprinted the rest of the advertisement in its entirety, along with a brief introduction: “For the Encouragement of the Paper Manufactory, the following Advertisement is copied from the Pennsylvania Journal, and being equally applicable to this Province, is earnestly recommended to the Consideration of all who desire its Prosperity and wish to preserve its Freedom.” In making this statement, Holt doubled down on the political message advanced by the Bradfords.

But that was not all Holt did. After reprinting the original advertisement, he inserted an editorial of equal length. He lamented the “great sums of money that are continually sent out of America … for the single article of paper.” He expressed dismay that colonists had not done more to encourage paper production in New York; the industry would garner “a considerable and certain profit” as well as avoid “the unconstitutional imposition exacted upon us” by the duties on imported paper. Encouraging domestic manufacture of paper would “promote the good of our country, and preserve its right and liberties.” Finally, Holt made a bid for supporting paper production in New York rather than Philadelphia, another reason to remove any mention of the Bradfords and their goods from the advertisement. He complained that “[b]esides the money sent from this province to Europe for paper, considerable sums are sent for it to Philadelphia.” He believed that approximately twenty paper mills operated in that city and its environs, compared to only a couple in New York. Not only did Holt promote paper made in America, he wanted his own colony to benefit from its production rather than import from a neighboring province.

Although Holt described this piece as an advertisement and placed it among the paid notices, it might better be considered an editorial. The political valence of the original advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal merited reprinting in the New-York Journal, but Holt enhanced it with even more extensive commentary.

February 19

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

New-York Journal (February 16, 1769).

“We have therefore reprinted a few Hundreds.”

Throughout January and February each year the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements for almanacs tended to taper off, though some printers and booksellers did continue their efforts to sell surplus copies and turn expenses into revenues. Each day that passed meant that more of the contents, especially the astronomical calculations, became obsolete. Based on their advertisements, retailers expected that most colonists would purchase their almanacs before a new year commenced or very shortly after.

That made an advertisement in the February 16, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal rather unusual. Instead of announcing that he still had copies of “FREEMAN’s ALMANACK” for sale, John Holt announced that he planned to print more copies in order to meet the ongoing demand. “Having been much called for since the first Edition has been all sold off, And many People being not yet supplied,” Holt explained, “We have therefore reprinted a few Hundreds, which will be ready for delivery To-Morrow, at the usual Prices.” This raises several questions about the production and distribution of Freeman’s New-York Almanack. When did it sell out? How long did it take Holt to decide to issue a second edition? How many prospective customers, especially retailers who indicated they would purchase copies by the dozens, approached Holt about printing a second edition?

The entire enterprise seems suspicious. Even though the almanac included contents that retained their value throughout the year – such as “Times of the Courts in New-York, New-Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” – seven weeks of 1769 had elapsed. It seems strange that consumers voiced so much demand for this almanac at the same time that printers and booksellers ceased advertising almanacs and further attempts to sell any remainders. Did Holt actually issue a second edition? Or did he devise this announcement to make Freeman’s New-York Almanack seem like it had achieved extraordinary popularity in hopes of bamboozling readers into purchasing his surplus stock? Or could this notice have been his first attempt at marketing almanacs for the following year, planting the idea that Freeman’s New-York Almanack for 1769 was still in such high demand that prospective customers needed to acquire Freeman’s New-York Almanac for 1770 as soon as they saw it advertised in the fall? Holt’s advertisement deviates so significantly from others that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies that it merits skepticism.

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).

“SUPPLEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL OR GENERAL ADVERTISER.”

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.