March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 25, 1771).

“Said Gazette has an extensive Circulation.”

In the eighteenth century, some newspaper printers used the colophon on the final page to promote subscriptions and advertising, but not every printer did so.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, regularly updated his colophon.  In March 1771, the colophon informed readers of the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage),” and the advertising rates, “Three Shillings” for notices “not exceeding eight or ten Lines.”  Printers often inserted notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts or face legal action, but they rarely advertised their own newspapers to prospective subscribers or potential advertisers.

That made Hall an exception.  He began in his own newspaper, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, with a brief notice on March 12, 1771.  Hall informed “Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers” that Thomas Walley accepted subscriptions at his store on Dock Square.  Two weeks later, Hall placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, hoping to reach a greater number of readers.  He once again listed Walley as his local agent in Boston.  He also explained that he printed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays and instructed subscribers that they could “apply for their Papers” at Walley’s store “every Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Hall did not limit his advertisement to seeking subscribers this time around.  He devoted eight of the thirteen lines to soliciting advertising for the Essex Gazette.  Addressing “Those Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise,” Hall proclaimed that his newspaper had “an extensive Circulation, particularly in every Town in the County of Essex.”  Furthermore, he declared that the Essex Gazette was “universally read in the large Sea Port Towns of Salem, Marblehead, Glocester and Newbury-Port” as well as “many other considerable Towns in that County.”  That was not the extent of the newspaper’s dissemination, according to the printer.  He noted that it also “circulated in most of the Towns on the Eastern Road as far as Casco-Bay” (today part of Maine).

In his efforts to increase the number of advertisers (and enhance an important revenue stream) for the Essex Gazette, Hall focused on the circulation of his newspaper.  After all, prospective advertisers knew that placing notices in any newspaper was a good investment only if a significant number of readers actually saw their advertisements.  Hall carefully delineated the reach of the Essex Gazette to reassure “Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise” that his newspaper had established a significant readership in the region.

March 10

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 7, 1771).

Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”

On March 7, 1771, John Stavers and Benjamin Hart inserted an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform thew public that the “POST-STAGE from and to Portsmouth in New-Hampshire” had a new location in Boston.  Formerly at the Sign of the Admiral Vernon on King Street, the stage now operated from “Mrs. Bean’s at the Sign of the Ship on Launch” on the same street.  It arrived on Wednesdays and departed on Fridays, carrying passengers, packages, and newspapers between the two towns.

Stavers and Hart’s advertisement included two notes that Richard Draper, printer of the Weekly News-Letter, likely added, perhaps after consulting with the stage operators.  Both appeared in italics, distinguishing them from the rest of the contents of the advertisement.  One note called on “Customers to this Paper, on the Eastern Road and at Portsmouth, that are indebted more than one Year … to send the Pay by the Carriers.”  In other words, Draper asked any subscribers who lived along the circuit traversed by Stavers and Hart to submit payment to them for delivery to his printing office in Boston.  The other note proclaimed that “Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”  Colonial newspapers depended on revenues generated by advertising.  In this note, Draper sought to assure prospective advertisements that placing their notices in his newspaper would be a good investment because the Weekly News-Letter reached audiences well beyond Boston.  He also encouraged prospective advertisers who lived outside the city, both to the north and the west, to place notices in the Weekly News-Letter in order to reach readers in their own communities.

Draper seems to have piggybacked messages concerning his own business on an advertisement placed by clients who operated a stage between Boston and Portsmouth.  He likely figured that a notice about transporting passengers and packages between the two towns would attract the attention of current subscribers in arrears with their accounts.  He also seized the opportunity to tout the circulation of the newspaper in order to promote it as a vehicle for disseminating advertising.  An advertisement for the “POST-STAGE” ended up doing a lot of work in the interests of the printer.

December 12

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

Boston Chronicle (December 12, 1768).

The peculiar advantage of having most of their Advertisements preserved and generally in view.”

The masthead of the December 12, 1768, Boston Chronicle proclaimed that it was “VOL. I. NO. 52.” John Mein and John Fleeming, the publishers acknowledged the milestone in a notice that they inserted immediately before the other advertisements at the end of the issue. “THE first year of the Publication of the BOSTON CHRONICLE being now concluded,” the publishers proclaimed, “we take this opportunity of returning our thanks to all the Gentlemen and Ladies, who have contributed to support it.” Partly out of appreciation and partly out of enthusiasm for commencing another year of publication, Mein and Fleeming then outlined several “Amendments and Additions” to the plan for their newspaper.

Each of the six enumerated “Amendments and Additions” marketed the Boston Chronicle in one way or another. The first, for instance, stated that they would enlarge the size of the newspaper by half “without any additional expence to the Subscribers.” The change would commence with the first issue of 1769. This change would make space for the third, fourth, and fifth improvements to the newspaper: reviews of “every New Book of Note, published in Great-Britain,” more comprehensive reporting of “Religious Disputes,” and, most ambitiously, “Every piece of history, politics, entertainment, agriculture, or poetry, &c. &c. that shall be judged worthy of inserting.” Space constraints and “the length of the historical and political articles” had previously prevented Mein and Fleeming from including all the content they considered valuable to subscribers, but enlarged editions would remedy that. If all of this was not enough, the publishers also offered a premium to subscribers: “an elegant copper-plate [map], the size of a folio page.” The second of the “Amendments and Additions” stated that subscribers would receive this gift gratis sometime within the coming year. Mein and Fleeming envisioned it as an annual tradition.

The sixth and final improvement addressed advertising: “Advertisements will be inserted at a very reasonable price.—The Advertisers will enjoy the peculiar advantage of having most of their Advertisements preserved and generally in view, as the Papers are calculated to be bound up at the conclusion of the year.” Mein and Fleeming imagined that subscribers collected every issue of the Boston Chronicle throughout the year, with the intention of taking them to bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. Subscribers could then consult the “historical and political articles” later, but that was not the only content they would peruse. They would also encounter advertisements as they once again consulted the pages of the Boston Chronicle. According to Mein and Fleeming, the newspaper was not disposable. The advertisements were not ephemeral. Instead, both would continue to inform, educate, and influence people long after first published.

When they announced their “Amendments and Additions” to mark the first complete year of publishing he Boston Chronicle, Mein and Fleeming focused primarily on the benefits to subscribers, but not exclusively. They also promoted their newspaper as a mechanism for distributing advertisements, aiming to increase the number of paid notices as well as the number of subscribers.