August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 11, 1769).

Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”

During the summer of 1769, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, cooperated with other printers to incite demand for “a Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay,” a work frequently advertised in newspapers in Boston and other parts of New England. To that end, the Fowles inserted a subscription notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Printers had dual purposes in circulating such “PROPOSALS” as newspaper advertisements and, sometimes, separate subscription papers. They aimed to stimulate demand, but they also conducted market research by assessing demand. They did not move forward with projects if consumers did not express sufficient demand. Such was the case with this “Volume of curious Papers.” The subscription notice starkly stated that the “Work will begin as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” Those who wished to reserve a copy needed to submit their names to T. and J. Fleet in Boston, Bulkeley Emerson in Newburyport, or the Fowles in Portsmouth.

In their efforts to encourage colonists to subscribe to the work, the printers vowed that “No more Books will be printed than what are subscribed for.” This created a sense of urgency for prospective subscribers, warning that if they did not make a commitment soon that eventually it would be too late to acquire a copy so they better not waver. The printers also presented a challenge that made colonists responsible for preserving the history and heritage of New England. The subscription notice concluded with a short paragraph that outlined their duty: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public, as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.” The printers did not envision carefully storing the original documents as a means of safeguarding them for future generations. Instead, the best form of preservation occurred through multiplication. Taking the volume to press would guarantee that the contents of those “curious Papers” would survive long beyond the originals becoming “irrecoverably lost” through deterioration or mishap over the years. Colonists had a civic duty, “a regard to the Public,” to play a role in preventing that loss, according to the printers. Rather than thinking about purchasing and reading the “Volume of curious Papers” as a form of “particular Entertainment” only for themselves, the subscription notice challenged colonists to think of it as a service to their community. Consumption need not be frivolous; it could also serve a purpose in the interests of the greater good.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:9:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 9, 1769).

“A BOARDING SCHOOL in Savannah, for the education of young ladies.”

In the summer of 1769 Elizabeth Bedon proposed opening a boarding school “for the education of young ladies” in Savannah, but only if she “meets with the proper encouragement” from other colonists. She inserted an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette that provided an overview of the curriculum (“Reading, Writing, Arithmetick, and all kinds of Needle Work”) and the tuition for day scholars, day boarders, night boarders, and students who wished to attend only the lessons on needlework.

Bedon used her advertisement to undertake rudimentary market research, much like printers used subscription notices to determine whether publishing a particular book would be a sound investment of their time and resources. She identified the enterprise she wished to pursue, but made opening the school contingent on receiving encouragement from the parents and guardians of prospective pupils. Bedon stated that “it does not suit her to open school until she can engage such a number of scholars as will render it worth her while.” To that end, she invited “those who intend to intrust their children under her care” to send a message. Once she had a sufficient number of students she would open her school, just as printers took books to press once they achieved a sufficient roster of subscribers. On the other hand, if she could not enroll enough students to make her school a viable venture she was not obligated to instruct any who had indicated interest, just as printers did not publish books for an inadequate number of subscribers.

Printers most often used advertising – both newspaper notices and separate subscription papers – to conduct market research and estimate demand for particular products in eighteenth-century America, but members of other occupational groups sometimes adopted similar methods to better determine their prospects for success before launching a new endeavor. Elizabeth Bedon, for instance, used the public prints to present a proposal for a boarding school for young ladies to colonists in Georgia. She anticipated using the results derived from this minor investment to determine her next step.

January 2

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

“Received many intimations and advices, from numbers of our Subscribers.”

Boston Chronicle (January 2, 1769).

When the Boston Chronicle concluded its first year of publication, printers John Mein and John Fleeming inserted a lengthy notice that listed several proposed “Amendments and Additions.” These included “enlarg[ing] the size of our Paper one half more,” starting on the first Monday of January 1769. When that day arrived, however, Mein and Fleeming published a new address “To the PUBLIC” to explain that they had further revised their proposals in response to requests received “from numbers of our Subscribers.” Rather than a larger newspaper delivered once a week on Mondays, those subscribers stated a preference for an “additional Paper on THURSDAY, or SATURDAY.”

While certainly informal compared to modern standards, this feedback amounted to market research for the printers. Mein and Fleeming weighed the evidence before making their final determination about the new plan for their publication. In choosing between Thursday and Saturday for a second edition, they opted for Thursday due to “the greatest number of our Subscribers inclining to have it on that day.” Yet they did not wish to disappoint those who desired a Saturday edition. To that end, they devised an alternative when circumstances permitted: “to oblige our friends, who wish for part of the paper on SATURDAY evening, whenever the southern post arrives before seven o’clock, we shall publish four pages that night.” Subscribers who lived in town could send for their newspapers two hours after the arrival of the post. Any who declined to do so could depend on the newspaper being delivered on Monday as usual.

Mein and Fleeming underscored that they made these changes in acknowledgment of the needs and desires expressed by their customers: “this alteration is made at the request of a great number of our Subscribers, and is designed for the better entertainment of the whole.” The printers made it their “first and principal study to give them satisfaction.” In other words, when presented with the results of rudimentary market research, Mein and Fleeming adjusted their business model accordingly in order to better serve their customers. In so doing, they commenced a new publication schedule unlike that of any other newspaper in the city. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette all continued as weeklies. The Boston Chronicle became a semiweekly in response to customer demand, at least according to the address “To the PUBLIC” the printers inserted in the first issue for 1769.

January 13

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

Jan 13 - 1:13:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 13, 1768).

“PROPOSED to be published, a PAMPHLET.”

James Johnston inserted a subscription notice for “a PAMPHLET … entitled ‘Religious and Moral Observations selected from the Writings of approved Authors’” in the January 13, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. He did not promote a product already available for customers to purchase; instead, like many other eighteenth-century publishers, he presented a proposal in order to gauge public interest in the pamphlet. It would go to press only once a sufficient number of “subscribers” pledged to purchase it.

Publishing by subscription significantly reduced the financial risk. No printer wanted to invest time and materials only to produce a book or pamphlet that never sold enough copies to turn at least a small profit. With that in mind, Johnston instructed that readers “willing to encourage” the proposed pamphlet “may send in their names to the printer of this paper.” As names arrived, he would compile a subscription list (which printers sometimes inserted in proposed publications as a means of acknowledging patrons who supported the project). Johnston did not specify a publication date. Instead, he stated, “The publication will commence as soon as a sufficient number have sent in their names to defray the first expence of publishing.” Although that would not cover all of his costs, the printer considered it enough to indicate that other buyers would eventually step forward to acquire the pamphlet. For initial subscribers “the price of the pamphlet will be two shillings sterling.” Subsequent buyers could expect to pay a higher price. Offering a bargain to those who invested in the project early often helped to stimulate interest.

As part of his effort to promote the pamphlet, Johnston offered a brief description and outline. He estimated that it would be approximately sixty-four pages or “four sheets in 8vo. [octavo].” (This meant that a single sheet was folded in half three times in order to form eight leaves that were one-eight the size of the original sheet. With text printed on both sides of each leaf, this produced sixteen pages per sheet. Four sheets yielded sixty-four pages.) As the title suggested, these sixty-four pages would contain “Religious and Moral Observations” intended to bring together “the opinions and most enforcing arguments of different eminent authors.” The passages would be carefully organized “under proper Heads” and the names of the authors or books included for further reference. The pamphlet would also include “original Notes” intended to “illustrate and enforce the several passages.”

Johnston published the subscription notice to determine interest in the pamphlet, but he also planned to use the pamphlet to assess interest in “a larger publication of the same nature.” He considered the pamphlet a “specimen.” If consumers reacted positively, he would publish a more extensive version. The combination of the initial subscription notice and, eventually, sales of the pamphlet (if the subscription notice proved successful) constituted market research to guide his decisions about printing a substantial volume.