June 24

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 24, 1773).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by I. THOMAS the printer and publisher.”

Near the end of May 1773, Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, placed a notice in his own newspaper to announce that the following week he would publish “PROPOSALS for printing by Subscription, The ROYAL American MAGAZINE.”  He may have meant that he would distribute the proposals as as a broadside or handbill separate from the newspaper or he may have meant that they would appear in the next issue of the Massachusetts Spy.  Perhaps he did print separate subscription papers, though none have survived.  I frequently argue that newspaper notices provide evidence of a greater number of advertising ephemera circulating in eighteenth-century America than have been preserved in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.  On the other hand, the busy printer may have delayed publishing the proposals by several weeks.  When they did appear in the Massachusetts Spy on June 24, they ran on the front page.  The savvy printer gave the proposals a privileged place.

Extending nearly two columns, the proposals included Thomas’s purpose for publishing the new magazine, a “PLAN” for the contents, and the “CONDITIONS” or details about the price, the paper, the type, and delivery options.  Subscription proposals for books, newspapers, and magazines usually included all those elements, though not necessarily at such great length.  Thomas, however, exerted significant effort in convincing readers to subscribe.  In explaining his purpose for publishing the magazine, for instance, he declared that “Newspapers are known to be of general utility, but not so fit to convey to posterity the labours of the learned, as they are, most commonly, only noticed for a day and then thrown neglected by.”  In contrast, “Monthly Publications are preserved in the libraries of men of the greatest abilities in the literary world.”  In the last decades of the eighteenth century, many magazine subscribers in America saved each issue for six months and then had them bound into a single volume to display on the bookshelves of their permanent libraries.  Thomas acknowledged how subscribers treated magazines and their specialized content differently than newspapers in that regard.

In outlining the “PLAN,” Thomas described how he would go about acquiring items to publish in the Royal American Magazine.  He declared that he “has engaged all the British Magazines, Reviews, &c. and all the Periodical publications in America” and “from those will be selected whatever is new, curious, and entertaining.”  He did not intend merely to reprint content from those “British Magazines.”  Instead, he emphasized a process of discernment in “selecting from the labours of our European brethren,” but promised prospective subscribers that he “shall not fail of making the strictest searches after curious anecdotes, and interesting events in British America.”  To that end, he engaged in an eighteenth-century version of crowdsourcing: “the publisher now requests the assistance of the learned, the witty, the curious, and the candid of both sexes, throughout this extensive continent, and hopes they will favour him with their correspondence for the public benefit.”  Although the magazine would carry some European content, Thomas aimed to produce a distinctively American publication.

In addition, Thomas offered a premium or gift to subscribers “to complete this PLAN,” a free copy of “Governor HUTCHINSON’S History Of the MASSACHUSETTS-BAY.”  That book alone “will be worth the cost of the magazine.”  However, subscribers would not receive a copy at the outset.  Instead, they would receive a portion of the book with each issue of the magazine, “printed in such a manner as to be bound up by itself, and on a larger type than the magazine.”  Thomas planned to insert the first pages of Hutchinson’s History “at the end of the first number” or issue and continue “until the whole is finished.”  To make the premium even more enticing, subscribers would also receive, gratis, “copper plate prints, exclusive of those particularly for the magazine.”  Thomas hoped that the free gift would make subscribing to the magazine even more attractive.

Although the subscription proposals for the Royal American Magazine included many of the same elements as proposals for books, newspapers, and magazines that circulated in the colonies in the eighteenth century, Thomas introduced innovative methods of encouraging colonizers to subscribe.  Among those, he pledged to make pieces written in America a priority for publication.  He also promoted a premium for subscribers, asserting that the free gift alone covered the cost of a subscription.  Even with these marketing efforts, it took some time for Thomas to launch the magazine.  He published the first issue in January 1774.

April 12

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 12, 1773).

“He intreats those who are so obliging as to intend advertising in the first Number of the New-York Gazetteer, to favour him with their Advertisements as soon as convenient.”

As he prepared to launch his New-York Gazetteer, James Rivington placed a notice in the April 12, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he published and distributed “AN ADDRESS TO THE SUBSCRIBERS” for his newspaper.  He worried, however, that not every subscriber actually received their copy.  He arranged for each of them to “have the Address left at their Houses,” but discovered that “thro’ Inadvertency, [some] may have been hitherto neglected.”  To remedy the situation, he offered that they “may be furnished sans Expence with as many Copies of it as may be required for themselves or for their Friends” upon sending a request to the printing office.

Why might subscribers have been interested in obtaining multiple free copies of this address and sharing them with others?  It was not an extended subscription proposal.  Instead, Rivington explained that it “contains the Speeches in Parliament, subsequent to that from the Throne at the opening of the present Session,” made by nearly twenty politicians and other dignitaries, including “the truly eloquent Mr. Edmund Burke, Agent for our Colony.”  Those speeches elaborated on “the most important Subjects, in which the Inhabitants of this Continent are very materially interested.”  Rivington devised a premium or gift that he gave to subscribers before the first issue of his newspaper went to press.  He likely hoped that any of the additional copies that subscribers ordered to share with their friends might also induce others to subscribe as well.

The printer had another purpose, however, in placing this notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Between his offer to distribute additional copies of the “ADDRESS TO THE SUBSCRIBERS” and his explanation of the contents, he made a pitch to prospective advertisers.  Rivington “intreats those who are so obliging as to intend advertising in the first Number of the New-York Gazetteer, to favour him with their Advertisements as soon as convenient.”  He explained that advertisements “will be inserted on the usual terms,” though he did not specify the rates, and promised that the newspaper “will have a very extensive Circulation.”  Colonizers familiar with the full name of the newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, already anticipated that would be the case.  Furthermore, Rivington previously disseminated subscription proposals in New York, Pennsylvania, and New England.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others could depend on prospective customers near and far glimpsing their advertisements as they perused Rivington’s newspaper.

This notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury ten days before Rivington published the first issue of his new newspaper on April 22, 1773.  He presented a gift to his subscribers and offered additional free copies of speeches delivered in Parliament in hopes of inciting more interest among prospective subscribers.  At the same time, he positioned a call for advertisers in the middle of his description of the premium his subscribers and their friends received.  When the first issue went to press, advertising filled five of the twelve columns.  Through his various efforts, Rivington convinced advertisers to take a chance on placing notices in his new publication.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 18, 1768).

“THE Publisher of this Paper … shall ever esteem it his Duty to serve and oblige them.”

As was his privilege as the printer and publisher, William Goddard placed his advertisement first among those inserted in the January 18, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, which happened to be issue “NUMB. 53” of its publication. The newspaper had just completed its first full year! Goddard used the occasion for reflecting on publication and distribution during the previous year and promoting the newspaper, especially certain improvements, as he continued to supply the public with new issues.

Goddard opened his advertisement with an expression of gratitude to subscribers and other readers for their “generous Encouragement,” especially recommendations for “the Improvement of his Paper.” He pledged to continue serving them “to the utmost of his Ability” and offered “Proof” that he listened to their suggestions. He pledged to continue publication “upon the same extensive Plan” in terms of content and schedule, but planned to alter the dimensions of each issue to “Quarto Size … which will render it much more convenient … to his kind Readers and Friends.” Goddard suggested that the smaller size would make the issues much more manageable for reading than the broadsheet issues distributed by competitors. He requested that potential subscribers enthusiastic about this modification “transmit their Names and Places of Abode, as soon as possible” so he could print sufficient copies to meet demand for future issues.

Goddard also acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had faltered at various times during its first year of publication. He noted that he had experienced difficulty “obtaining faithful and capable Journeymen” to work in his printing office. As a result he had hired “the most inartifical of the Profession … which made it impossible for him to execute or dispatch the Paper in the Manner he could have wished.” Goddard resolved to improve on that. He had just hired, “at a great Expence, a regular and valuable Set of Hands” with the necessary skill and experience that would allow him to publish and deliver the newspaper “with much greater Regularity and Expedition.”

The publisher concluded by offering premiums to his customers. Realizing that some had “preserved the Paper for binding” rather than discarding issues after reading them, he promised to issue a title page and print a notice “when it is ready to be delivered.” He also proposed, but did not promise, a table of contents, “if Time permits.” He also offered back issues for free, allowing anyone who had misplaced one to complete the set before sending it off to the binder. In making it possible for readers to compile complete runs of the first year of publication Goddard also encouraged them to continue to purchase subsequent issues in order to maintain their collections.

All in all, Goddard proclaimed that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had experienced a good first year. Yet he also proposed improvements that would allow his newspaper to compete with the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both of which had been published in Philadelphia for decades. He acknowledged some of the difficulties that had an impact on serving customers to the best of his ability, but bookended that portion of his advertisement with plans to publish a more convenient size at the start and premiums, both title pages and back issues, at the conclusion. Goddard knew that colonists passed newspapers from hand to hand, sharing issues beyond just the subscribers. As he commenced a new year of publication, he worked to retain his initial subscribers as well as attract new subscribers who previously read copies acquired from others.