April 17

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Boston Chronicle (April 17, 1769).

“APPRENTICES, (Wanted for the PRINTING BUSINESS).”

On April 17, 1769, John Mein and John Fleeming, the printers of the Boston Chronicle, put this advertisement searching for three young apprentices in their own newspaper. The printers wanted apprentices between thirteen and sixteen years of age. Two would work in the “PRINTING BUSINESS” and one in “BOOK BINDING.” Young men usually started apprenticeships in their teenage years and they finished in their early twenties. Bookbinding apprenticeship were not easy, according to Ed Crews. “Mastering the trade required hard work, dexterity, attention to detail, and a willingness and ability to handle painstaking tasks. By the time they became journeymen, apprentices had learned dozens of skills, including folding pages, collating them, stitching, gluing, and techniques for decorating covers.” This shows how hard it was to be a skilled bookbinder. Most apprenticeships were strenuous and not easy, but being an apprentice to a bookbinder could open new opportunities when the apprenticeship ended. Crews says, “Bookbinders with high skills, working in the right shop, could expect satisfying jobs and pay.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Residents of Boston and its environs had access to several local newspapers in the late 1760s. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Boston Weekly News-Letter had all been published in one form or another for several years or even decades. In December 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming commenced publication of another newspaper, the Boston Chronicle, expanding the options for disseminating both news and advertising. According to Isaiah Thomas in his monumental History of Printing in America, the Boston Chronicle was “intended to imitate in its appearance the London Chronicle.” Like their competitors, Mein and Fleeming published one issue each week. Upon successfully concluding the first year of publication, the partners altered the size of the newspaper and began distributing new issues on both Mondays and Thursdays, making it the first newspaper published twice a week in New England.

In an overview of its contents, Thomas states that the Boston Chronicle “was well supplied with essays on various subjects judiciously selected from British authors, and it contained the celebrated letters of the Pennsylvania Farmer” by John Dickinson, a series reprinted in nearly every newspaper in the colonies in late 1767 and early 1768. Thomas also notes that the newspaper “grew daily into reputation, and had a handsome list of subscribers.” He did not, however, note how successfully Mein and Fleeming attracted advertisers for their newspaper.

Examining the pages of the Boston Chronicle reveals that no matter how “handsome” the list of subscribers, the newspaper did not publish as many advertisements as any of its local competitors, especially not in 1769. This may have been due in part to Mein’s outspoken political sympathies. “Before the close of the second year of publication,” Thomas reports, Mein “engaged in a political warfare with those who were in opposition to the measures of the British administration. In the Chronicle he abused numbers of the most respectable whigs in Boston; and he was charged with insulting the populace.” Perhaps some prospective advertisers hesitated to insert their notices in the Boston Chronicle for fear of being associated with Mein’s strident politics. Others may have made principled decisions not to advertise in the pages of his newspaper. Thomas declares that as the newspaper steadily lost its subscribers “it could neither be profitable to its publishers, nor answer the design of its supporters.”[1] Again, he does not comment on the role of advertising, especially the revenues generated from paid notices, in the demise of the Boston Chronicle.

Not only did the Boston Chronicle carry fewer advertisements than its competitors, a greater proportion of those that appeared in its pages promoted Mein and Fleeming’s endeavors, including their advertisement for apprentices “Wanted for the PRINTING BUSINESS” that appeared immediately below an advertisement for a book Mein sold at the London Book-Store. Only eight advertisements ran in the April 17, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, one quarter of them placed by the publishers. The advertisement for apprentices was not explicitly political, but the politics of the printers may have influenced how many other advertisements happened to appear on the same page.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; 1874; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 264-265.

December 12

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

Boston Chronicle (December 12, 1768).

The peculiar advantage of having most of their Advertisements preserved and generally in view.”

The masthead of the December 12, 1768, Boston Chronicle proclaimed that it was “VOL. I. NO. 52.” John Mein and John Fleeming, the publishers acknowledged the milestone in a notice that they inserted immediately before the other advertisements at the end of the issue. “THE first year of the Publication of the BOSTON CHRONICLE being now concluded,” the publishers proclaimed, “we take this opportunity of returning our thanks to all the Gentlemen and Ladies, who have contributed to support it.” Partly out of appreciation and partly out of enthusiasm for commencing another year of publication, Mein and Fleeming then outlined several “Amendments and Additions” to the plan for their newspaper.

Each of the six enumerated “Amendments and Additions” marketed the Boston Chronicle in one way or another. The first, for instance, stated that they would enlarge the size of the newspaper by half “without any additional expence to the Subscribers.” The change would commence with the first issue of 1769. This change would make space for the third, fourth, and fifth improvements to the newspaper: reviews of “every New Book of Note, published in Great-Britain,” more comprehensive reporting of “Religious Disputes,” and, most ambitiously, “Every piece of history, politics, entertainment, agriculture, or poetry, &c. &c. that shall be judged worthy of inserting.” Space constraints and “the length of the historical and political articles” had previously prevented Mein and Fleeming from including all the content they considered valuable to subscribers, but enlarged editions would remedy that. If all of this was not enough, the publishers also offered a premium to subscribers: “an elegant copper-plate [map], the size of a folio page.” The second of the “Amendments and Additions” stated that subscribers would receive this gift gratis sometime within the coming year. Mein and Fleeming envisioned it as an annual tradition.

The sixth and final improvement addressed advertising: “Advertisements will be inserted at a very reasonable price.—The Advertisers will enjoy the peculiar advantage of having most of their Advertisements preserved and generally in view, as the Papers are calculated to be bound up at the conclusion of the year.” Mein and Fleeming imagined that subscribers collected every issue of the Boston Chronicle throughout the year, with the intention of taking them to bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. Subscribers could then consult the “historical and political articles” later, but that was not the only content they would peruse. They would also encounter advertisements as they once again consulted the pages of the Boston Chronicle. According to Mein and Fleeming, the newspaper was not disposable. The advertisements were not ephemeral. Instead, both would continue to inform, educate, and influence people long after first published.

When they announced their “Amendments and Additions” to mark the first complete year of publishing he Boston Chronicle, Mein and Fleeming focused primarily on the benefits to subscribers, but not exclusively. They also promoted their newspaper as a mechanism for distributing advertisements, aiming to increase the number of paid notices as well as the number of subscribers.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1768 Page 183 Boston Chronicle Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Chronicle (May 2, 1768).

LONDON BOOK-STORE, North-side of KING-STREET, Boston.”

Like many other printers in eighteenth-century America, John Mein and John Fleeming took advantage of publishing a newspaper to insert advertisements for their own goods and services. In addition to a note in the colophon advising prospective clients that “All Manner of Printing-work performed at the most reasonable Rates” at their printing office in Newbury Street, the partners included two advertisements for books they sold in the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle. One appeared in the standard issue and the other in the supplement that accompanied it.

The first did not deviate significantly from the length of most other advertisements in their newspaper. It promoted their pamphlet that collected together John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” proclaiming that each was “Printed exactly from the Philadelphia papers, in which these Letters were first published.”

The second occupied significantly more space. In it, Mein published a book catalog that listed many of the titles from the “very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the BEST BOOKS in every branch of POLITE LITERATURE, ARTS, and SCIENCES” in stock at the London Book-Store on King Street. This advertisement filled an entire page as well as the first column of the next page, four of the twelve columns in the supplement.

Full-page advertisements were rare but not unknown in the 1760s. Still, scholars of advertising and printing history must be careful when distinguishing among such advertisements, especially when working primarily with digitized sources. No matter the actual size of an original, databases of digitized newspapers standardize it to the size of the screen. When scholars print those sources they are once again standardized when remediated, this time to an 8.5×11 sheet of office paper. Thus a page from the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle appears to be the same size as a page from the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.

Yet that was not the case. The production process created material texts of two different sizes. The Boston Evening-Post, like most other newspapers printed in the colonies at the time, was a folio newspaper. In other words, each issue consisted of four pages created by printing two per side and folding a broadsheet in half. The Boston Chronicle, on the other hand, was a quarto newspaper. It had been folded once again, yielding eight pages from a single broadsheet rather than just four. The pages were smaller, changing the experience of carrying and reading the newspaper.

This also changed the proportion of space constituted by a single page in quarto-sized newspapers. In standard issues, each page accounted for one-eighth rather than one-quarter of the content. In supplements, each page accounted for one-quarter rather than one-half. This does not diminish the significance of Mein and Fleeming devoting so much space in the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle to their own advertisements, especially since the full-page advertisement in the supplement flowed through an entire column on a subsequent page. At the same time, however, the magnitude of this innovation must be measured against the size of the actual page rather than the deceptive size of the remediated image. The publishers created a spectacle, but since a full-page advertisement required less space in their newspaper than in most others they also left room for news items and paid notices.

May 2 - 5:2:1768 Page 184 Boston Chronicle Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Chronicle (May 2, 1768).