June 5

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 3, 1771).

“News Carrier.”

John Green and Joseph Russell, printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, had more content than would fit in the June 3, 1771, edition of their newspaper.  They inserted a note advising that “Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.”  Even with limited space, advertising accounted for the entire final page as well as half a column on the third page.  The printers also managed to squeeze one advertisement each on the first and second pages.  In so doing, they selected advertisements that promoted their own endeavors.

The front page consisted almost entirely of news about “the Gentlemen, who were returned to serve as Members of the Honorable House of Representatives” for the colony as well as the “Gentlemen … elected Councellors for the Ensuing Year.”  A single advertisement, however, ran across the bottom of the page.  In it, Silent Wilde, “News Carrier,” advised current and prospective customers that he would continue to “ride once every Week from Boston to Northampton,Deerfield,” and other towns in the western portion of the colony in order “to supply Gentlemen … with one of the Boston News-Papers.”  Green and Russell had a particular interest in publishing Wilde’s advertisement since recruiting customers in western towns meant more subscribers for their newspaper.  In turn, greater circulation of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy made the publication more attractive to advertisers.  Green and Russell gave Wilde’s advertisement a privileged place, increasing the likelihood that readers would take note of it.

An advertisement at the bottom of the last column on the second page similarly advanced Green and Russell’s interests.  “J. RUSSELL, Auctioneer,” announced a sale “at the Auction Room in Queen-street” scheduled for the next day.  That “J. RUSSELL” was none other than Joseph Russell, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Throughout most of their partnership, Green oversaw the printing office while Russell operated an auction house.  Advertisements for Russell’s auctions frequently appeared in the newspaper his partner ran, often receiving special consideration in terms of placement.  In most instance, that meant they appeared first among the advertisements.  In this case, Green interspersed Russell’s advertisement among news items, making sure to find space for it while also increasing the likelihood that readers who otherwise passed over advertising would spot the notice when they perused the news.

The placement and order of other advertisements in the newspaper did not seem to follow any particular principle beyond forming columns of equal length.  Advertisements for a “News Carrier” and an “Auction Room” owned by the partners who printed the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, on the other hand, received special treatment.  The printers used their position to their advantage when choosing how to present those advertisements to readers.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 3, 1771).

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.

January 1

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 1, 1771).

“A Happy New Year!”

On January 1, 1771, subscribers to the Massachusetts Spy received a bonus sheet, not from the printer but instead from “The LAD who carries The MASSACHUSETTS SPY.”  Unlike other supplements, this one did not carry additional news or advertising, though it could be considered a piece of marketing ephemera in its own right.  The purpose of this bonus sheet was to wish “kind Customers A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year” on behalf of the boy who delivered the newspaper.  A woodcut depicting an angel cradling the globe adorned the top of the sheet.

The bulk of the message consisted of three stanzas, each with an AABCCB rhyming scheme.  The first focused on good wishes for the new year: “MAY grateful omens now appear, / To make the New a happy Year, / And bless th’ ensuing days: / May future peace in every mind, / Like odours wasted by the wind, / Its sweetest incense raise.”  The second celebrated the monarch and the strength of the British Empire, both points of pride for most colonists despite disputes with Parliament about attempts to regulate commerce and other aspects of imperial administration.  “May GEORGE in his extensive reign, / Subdue the pride of haughty SPAIN / Submissive to his feet. / Thy princely smiles our ills appease; / Then grant that harmony and peace / The dawning year may greet.”  The third stanza requested a boon for the carrier on the occasion of the Christmas season and the new year: “Kind Sirs! your gen’rous bounty show, / Few shillings on your Lad bestow, / Which will reward his pains. / Who piercing Winter’s cold endures, / And to your hands the SPY secures, / And still his task main[t]ains.”  In other words, the bonus sheet both extended greetings to subscribers and asked them to give holiday tips to the boys who diligently delivered their newspapers throughout the year, especially in harsh winter weather.  The Massachusetts Spy was not the only newspaper to produce and distribute such bonus sheets to subscribers.  They were a traditional part of marking the new year among newspaper printers, carriers, and subscribers in eighteenth-century America.

As the Adverts 250 Project concludes its fifth year and embarks on exploring advertising from 1771 throughout 2021, we wish our readers a Happy New Year with many grateful omens.  Thank you for supporting this project over the past five years.  Please continue to visit in the coming year.  No tips necessary!