October 29

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

Maryland Gazette (October 29, 1772).

“I now propose to publish, by Subscription, … a Weekly News-Paper.”

Maryland had only one newspaper in 1772.  William Goddard aimed to change that.  To aid his efforts, he inserted a proposal in the October 29 edition of the Maryland Gazette, the publication that would be his competitor if he managed to launch “THE MARYLAND JOURNAL, AND BALTIMORE ADVERTISER.”  Printed in Annapolis, the Maryland Gazette served the entire colony, but Goddard believed that a market existed, or would exist after some savvy advertising, to support two newspapers in the colony.  In addition, he underscored the political utility of newspapers to prospective subscribers.  “IT is the Sentiment of the wisest and best Men that adorn our Age and Nation,” Goddard declared in the first sentence of his proposal, “that the Liberty of the Press is so essential to the Support of that Constitution under which we have hitherto derived the Blessings of Freedom, that it becomes every one to consider, in the most reverential Light, this Palladium of our Rights.”  The printer further explained that “well conducted News-Papersdispel Ignorance, the Parent of Slavery, give a Taste for Reading, and cause useful Knowledge to be cultivated and encouraged.”  Accordingly, he called on “every Friend to Liberty and his Country” to support his proposed project.

Goddard’s proposal filled nearly an entire column in the Maryland Gazette.  In addition to expounding on the philosophy that prompted him to consider publishing a newspaper in Baltimore, he advised potential subscribers that he was indeed prepared to launch the venture “as soon … as I shall obtain a sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence of the Work.”  Already in correspondence with “many Gentlemen of the most respectable Characters” in Baltimore, Goddard had “engaged a suitable Printing-Apparatus, which will be speedily here.”  In addition, as printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle he had already “established an extensive Correspondence, and shall not only receive all the different Weekly American Papers, but also the best News-Papers, political Pamphlets, Registers, Magazines, and other periodical Publications of Great-Britain and Ireland.”  In addition to printer and publisher, Goddard assumed the responsibilities of editor, drawing the news from the letters, newspapers, and periodicals sent to him.  Every American newspaper printer-editor reprinted extensively from other publications. Goddard even acquired “the most valuable Papers of German Advices” in order to provide news of interest to the growing German population in the backcountry.

The proposal also outlined the particulars of the publication and how to subscribe.  The newspaper would be “printed in four large Folio Pages, equal in Size to any of the Pennsylvania Papers” that, along with the Maryland Gazette, operated as local newspapers for Baltimore and the region.  Goddard intended to print and distribute the newspaper “regularly every Saturday Morning, unless another Day should appear more agreeable to the Subscribers.” Subscriptions cost ten shillings per year, with half to be paid immediately and the other half at the end of the year. Goddard briefly mentioned advertisements, noting they would be “accurately published, in a conspicuous Manner, with great Punctuality, at the customary Prices.”  He did not list those prices.  Colonizers interested in subscribing could leave their names “at the Coffee-Houses in Baltimore-Town and Annapolis” or with “several Persons with whom Subscription Papers are left.”  Like other printers attempting to launch new projects, Goddard relied on a network of local agents who assisted in recruiting subscribers.

Beyond the particulars, Goddard emphasized that he pursued a higher purpose than merely generating revenues or turning a profit on the publication.  He promised to publish news about every “remarkable Occurence, extraordinary Phenomemon, curious Invention, or New Discovery in Nature or Science” as well as “judicious original Essays … on political and other Subjects.”  In selecting material to include in the Maryland Journal, Goddard pledged that “the Freedom of the Press shall be maintained, the utmost Impartiality observed, and every well written Piece admitted, without Scruple, that does not tend to destroy or impair our excellent Constitution, injure the Cause of Liberty, disturb the Repose of Society, give Offence to Modesty, or, in any Shape, reflect Scandal on a News-Paper.”  In an era of upheaval as Parliament turned unwanted attention to the colonies, Goddard framed publishing a newspaper as a civic duty that served the commercial and political interests of the community.

Did the subscription proposal help Goddard to obtain that “sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence” and commence publication?  Perhaps, but it took some time.  The first issue appeared on August 20, 1773, ten months after Goddard initially proposed publishing the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser.  The newspaper continued publication, under the guidance of various printers and proprietors, throughout the American Revolution and into the 1790s, transitioning from weekly to semi-weekly to tri-weekly to daily as newspaper publishing expanded throughout the new nation.

February 26

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

Essex Gazette (February 26, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by I. Thomas, Printer and Publisher … M.J. Hiller, Watch-maker in Salem.”

As Isaiah Thomas prepared to relaunch the Massachusetts Spy after a brief hiatus, he placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston.  On February 18, 1771, he inserted a notice in all three newspapers published that day, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In that notice, he revised the plan of publication he previously outlined.  Instead of publishing the Spy on Tuesdays, the day after new editions of the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Gazette and Post-Boy, he moved the day to Thursdays in order to take advantage of the post arriving from Hartford with newspapers and letters on Wednesdays.  That would allow him to disseminate whatever news arrived from the west.

With his original plan, he would have been the only printer in Boston who circulated a newspaper in Boston on Tuesdays.  The revised plan, however, put him in direct competition with the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Despite that fact, the Gazette and News-Letter carried Thomas’s advertisement for the Spy on February 21.  That notice featured copy identical to the advertisements in the other three newspapers except for the additions of a headline that labeled it “ANOTHER THURDAY’S PAPER” and “Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgwater” as a local agent who collected subscriptions on Thomas’s behalf.

Thomas did not confine his marketing of the revamped Spy to Boston’s newspapers.  The day after it first appeared, the printer inserted the advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  The notice about the Spy ran for several weeks in each newspaper that carried it, a strategy likely intended to create momentum in acquiring subscribers leading up to the relaunch on March 7.  Thomas carefully coordinated that advertising campaign.  Notices usually ran for three weeks for a set fee, with an additional charge for each subsequent insertion.  Thomas planned the appearance of his advertisements to occur in the three weeks prior to commencing publication of the improved Spy.  Those advertisements did not appear in other newspapers again on or after March 7.  Instead, new issues of the Spy did the work of advertising the newspaper as they circulated in Boston and beyond.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 13, 1769).

“The Printer of the PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE … is very desirous to extend its Utility.”

On May 13, 1769, William Goddard published “PROPOSALS For continuing and improving the PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE AND UNIVERSAL ADVERTISER” not in that newspaper but instead in the Providence Gazette. At the same time, he inserted the same advertisement in the Newport Gazette (May 8), the New-York Journal (May 18), Connecticut Journal (May 19), and the Connecticut Courant (May 22). While it was unusual for printers to advertise their newspapers in faraway markets, Goddard’s vision for his publication explains why he thought colonists in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and other places beyond Philadelphia and its hinterlands would be interested in subscribing to the Pennsylvania Chronicle. He billed it as both “a REGISTER of the BEST INTELLIGENCE” and “a Repository of ingenious and valuable Literature, in Prose and Verse.” He aimed to collect news and editorials concerning current events from correspondents in the colonies, Europe, and other locales, newspapers he received via exchange networks created by fellow printers, and political pamphlets published on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet the Pennsylvania Chronicle delivered more than just news and editorials. “Literature, in Prose and Verse,” was such a significant component of the publication that Goddard hoped “to incite Persons to preserve their Papers, which will grow into a Family Library of Entertainment and Instruction.” As part of that plan, Goddard promoted the size of the sheets, the quality of the paper, and the “beautiful” type. He also promised that subscribers would annually receive “two elegant Copper Plates … executed by the most ingenious Artists; one to serve as a Frontispiece and the other to close the Volume,” as well as an attractive title page and “a copious and useful INDEX.” After they gathered the issues, the plates, the title page, and the index, Goddard encouraged subscribers to have them bound together into a single volume to become an important part of home libraries.

Individual issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle were not ephemeral; instead, they were part of a larger publication with value that endured beyond delivering the “freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” The Providence Gazette, which carried Goddard’s subscription notice, incorporated that phrase into its masthead, as did many other newspapers printed in the American colonies. The masthead for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, however, advised that it contained “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic; with a Variety of other Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining.” The inclusion of that “other Matter” transformed the Pennsylvania Chronicle into more than just a vehicle for delivering news and advertising. It explained why Goddard believed he could cultivate a market for this publication beyond Philadelphia and the surrounding area. This was not merely a publication that fellow printers could scour for material to reprint or merchants could peruse for political and economic news and then lay it aside in coffeehouses. It was an anthology that merited preservation for the continued edification and entertainment of subscribers and their families.

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 12, 1768).

“To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE.”

When John Carter assumed control of the Providence Gazette as the sole publisher on November 12, 1768, the colophon dropped Sarah Goddard’s name and slightly revised the description of services available at the printing office. “Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper.” Carter added articles, indicated his willingness to accept news items from readers and others beyond the network of printers and correspondents that previously supplied content for the newspaper. In addition, he expanded on the previous description of the printing work done at the office. Where Goddard and Carter had proclaimed that they did job printing “with Care and Expedition,” Carter now stated that he did that work “in a neat and correct manner, with Fidelity and Expedition.” This may not have been commentary on work previously produced at the printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” but rather assurances that Carter took his new responsibilities seriously now that the partnership with Goddard had been dissolved and he alone ran the printing office.

In addition to updating the colophon, Carter placed a notice “To the PUBLIC” on the first page of his inaugural issue. He offered a brief history of the Providence Gazette following its revival after the repeal of the Stamp Act, an expensive undertaking given that the newspaper had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers. He thanked those friends, subscribers, and employers who had supported the Providence Gazette and the printing office over the years, but also pledged “that nothing shall ever be wanting, on his Part, to merit a Continuance of their Approbation.”

Carter also took the opportunity to assert the primary purpose of the newspaper, the principle that justified its continuation even when expenses overwhelmed revenues. “To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty,” Carter trumpeted, “and the inestimable Blessings derived from thence to Mankind … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE: This, with whatever else may contribute to the Welfare of America, in general, or the Colony of Rhode-Island in particular, will continue to be the principal Ends which it is intended to promote.” Carter further indicated that the newspaper daily increased its number of subscribers, suggesting that readers in Providence and beyond endorsed its purpose and recognized the necessity of a newspaper that kept them apprised of current events and attempts to inhibit the liberty of the colonists. Although it took the form of an editorial, Carter’s address to the public was also an advertisement intended to boost his business. He leveraged politics and patriotism in his effort to increase readership of the Providence Gazette, arguing that the press played a vital role in maintaining liberty.

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 9, 1767).

“ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES.”

Each issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a colophon that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the final page. Most colonial newspapers included a colophon on the final page, though they differed in length and content. The colophon for the October 8, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette simply stated “Printed by Richard Draper.” On the same day, the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy included a longer colophon: “New-York: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Parker used the colophon as an advertisement for his own newspaper. One of his local competitors did the same in a more elaborate colophon for the New-York Journal, but also promoted job printing and offered relatively rare information concerning prices for newspaper advertisements. “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”

Among this variation, Robert Wells devised one of the most elaborate colophons that graced the pages of colonial newspapers in the 1760s. Had the type been set in a single column and inserted among the advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the contents of the colophon would have been indistinguishable from the paid notices inserted by colonial entrepreneurs. It first indicated Wells’s location, “at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY,” and then mentioned specific services related to the newspaper, “Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS.” To entice potential advertisers to choose his newspaper rather than either of the other two printed in Charleston at the time, Wells underscored that the South-Carolina and American General Gazette “circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES.” Advertisers could reach broad markets of prospective consumers.

Yet Wells did not conclude the colophon there. He inserted two more lines about his work as a bookseller and stationer, invoking common appeals to prices, quality, and choice found in advertisements placed by retailers of all sorts. He also hawked bookbinding services, making the “Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY” a location for convenient one-stop shopping. Wells accepted “ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES,” but also promised that “a large Stock is constantly kept up.” He did “all Kinds PRINTING and BO[O]K-BINDING Work … executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.”

Robert Wells took advantage of the space allotted in his newspaper for a colophon by inserting what amounted to an advertisement for the goods and services he provided. Such was the privilege of operating the press that every issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a message to colonial consumers.