What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine.”
It was a familiar appeal, one that became even more urgent when colonists boycotted imported paper in response to duties imposed on it (along with glass, lead, paint, and tea) in the Townshend Acts. Newspaper printers throughout the colonies regularly issued calls for readers to collect and contribute “old Rags” that could be transformed into paper, offering “Ready Money” in exchange. Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered it not once, not twice, but three times in the March 19, 1770, edition.
Either Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown,” or a compositor who worked in his printing office inserted similar notices on both the third page and the fourth page. One stated, “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine,” and the other “Ready Money for Linnen Rags.” In both instances, these brief notices appeared at the bottom of the final column, completing the page and producing columns of equal length. Yet they were more than convenient filler. After all, Gaine or the compositor could have inserted other sorts of notices. Eighteenth-century printers often hawked printed blanks in any leftover space. Another one-line advertisement did run at the bottom of the second column on the third page, advising readers of “The Ten Pound Act, sold by H. Gaine.” The notice about linen rags likely appeared more than once out of a sense of pressing need that outweighed promoting pamphlets and printed blanks for sale at the printing office.
John Keating’s lengthy appeal on behalf of “the Paper Makers” once again ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, calling on “Friends to their Country” to save “clean RAGS” as a means of “preserv[ing] the Rights and Liberties” of the colonists. Keating framed collecting rags to manufacture into paper as a patriotic duty. His petition ran week after week in Gaine’s newspaper, inflecting the printer’s much more humble calls for rags with additional meaning because, as Keating explained, none of the items taxed by the Townshend Acts were “more necessary and considerable than Paper.” A single line that lends the impression of filler at first glance – “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine” – overflowed with political meaning when considered in the context of current events.