November 21

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

Massachusetts Spy (November 18, 1773).

“Humbly requesting the Favour of their LUCUBRATIONS, which he promises to convey to the World with the greatest Care and Attention.”

Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy, advertised widely in his efforts to launch the Royal American Magazine.  On November 18, 1773, he once again published a notice calling on “gentlemen, in this and the other provinces, who have subscription papers in their hands … to return them as soon as possible.”  As readers very well knew, taking the magazine to press depended on generating a sufficient number of subscribers in advance to make it a viable endeavor.  Fortunately for both the printer and the “generous Patrons and Promoters of useful KNOWLEDGE, throughout AMERICA” who supported the project, that critical number of subscribers did present themselves by the middle of November.

Thomas inserted an update to inform subscribers and the public “that the first Number will undoubtedly appear on the first of January next.”  Now he needed another sort of assistance, “the Favour of their LUCUBRATIONS” or essays to publish in the magazine.  An American magazine needed content contributed by Americans.  In the proposals, Thomas acknowledged that he would select some pieces “from the labours of our European brethren,” but “shall not fail of making the strictest searches after curious anecdotes, and interesting events in British America.”  He requested “the assistance of the learned, the witty, the curious, and the candid, of both sexes, throughout this extensive continent” in sending their correspondence “for the public benefit.”  In his latest update, Thomas solicited those “LUCUBRATIONS” and “promises to convey [them] to the World with the greatest Care and Attention” after submitting them to a “Society of Gentlemen, for their Inspection and Approbation.”  In other words, Thomas would not publish every essay he received, but did intend to print those that earned the approval of an informal editorial board.

The printer also took the opportunity to make another appeal to “Gentlemen and Ladies who incline to encourage theRoyal American Magazine” who had not yet subscribed to submit their names as soon as possible.  If they did not do so, they ran the risk of “be[ing] disappointed of the first Number” when Thomas distributed the inaugural issue to subscribers.  He also inserted a note to “PRINTERS of all the Public Papers in America,” knowing that they perused newspapers for material to reprint and that many already served as local agents for the magazine so updates that appeared in the Massachusetts Spy would catch their attention.  Thomas requested that printers of other newspapers “insert this Advertisement as soon as may be, for which they shall be fully satisfied by their humble servant.”  Rather than expecting fellow printers to run his advertisement as an in-kind favor, Thomas indicated that he would send payment.  From recruiting subscribers to soliciting essays to publish to coordinating a marketing campaign, Thomas’s advertisements revealed several aspects of establishing the Royal American Magazine.

February 25

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

Connecticut Courant (February 25, 1772).

No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid.”

Colonial printers frequently inserted notices into their newspapers to advise subscribers to make payments or face legal action.  Usually those were empty threats.  After all, printers depended on subscribers, even those who did not actually pay, to bolster circulation and, in turn, make their newspapers attractive places to run advertisements.  Many historians assert that the most significant revenues associated with publishing newspapers in colonial America came from advertising rather than subscriptions.  That has prompted some to assume that printers required advertisers to pay upfront even though they extended credit to subscribers.  That may have often been the case, but in many of their notices printers did call on subscribers and others indebted to the printing office (perhaps including advertisers) to settle accounts.

Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, inserted a notice that directly addressed paying for advertising in the February 25, 1772, edition.  He advised the public that “No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid, unless it be for such persons as have open accounts with The Printer.”  In so doing, he did not invoke a blanket policy.  New advertisers, perhaps colonizers unknown to Watson prior to placing advertisements in his newspaper, had to submit payment at the same time that they provided the printing office with the copy for the advertisements.  Existing customers, however, those advertisers who “have open accounts,” could apparently continue to publish advertisements with the intention of paying later.

Such business practices likely differed from newspaper to newspaper.  Notices published in newspapers reveal some of the particulars, but printers’ records still extant likely help to tell a more complete story.  Like Watson’s notice in the Connecticut Courant, however, account books require careful examination to reconstruct relationships to determine how printers actually put policies into practice.  Further investigate should incorporate working back and forth between ledgers and newspapers to compare dates advertisers made payments and dates their notices appeared in the public prints.

December 8

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

Providence Gazette (December 7, 1771).

“(T. b. c.)”

Did printers require advertisers to pay for their notices in advance?  They frequently extended credit to subscribers and regularly placed their own notices threatening to sue subscribers who had not paid for months or years, though they rarely seemed to follow through on those threats.  Did printers offer such leeway to subscribers because they more strictly enforced policies that advertisers had to pay before seeing their notices in print?  After all, advertising had the potential to generate significant revenue, eclipsing subscriptions.

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, included his policy in the colophon at the bottom of the last page: “ADVERTISEMENTS) of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”  Did he enforce his own policy?  Some evidence suggests that he did not always do so, especially for advertisements placed by customers who established good relations with the printing office.

Last week, I examined a notation, “(T. b. c.),” that appeared on the final line of George Olney’s advertisement.  That advertisement ran for eight weeks, for the first four weeks without the notation and for the final four weeks with the notation.  I suggested that “(T. b. c.)” meant “to be continued,” a signal to the compositor to continue inserting the notice until instructed otherwise by the advertiser.  How did that correlate with paying for advertisements in advance?  I hypothesized that since the notation did not initially appear in Olney’s advertisement that he paid for several weeks and then Carter extended credit for the remainder of the advertisement’s run.

Providence Gazette (December 7, 1771).

Today, I am testing that theory against two other advertisements that featured the “(T. b. c.)” notation, one for a “compleat assortment of English and India GOODS” placed by Edward Thurber and the other for “DRUGS and MEDICINES” placed by Amos Throop.  Thurber’s advertisement ran without the notation for three weeks (November 2, 9, and 16, 1771) and then ran for ten weeks with the notation.  In addition, Thurber ran a different advertisement for three weeks in October that did not have the “(T. b. c.)” notation as well as other advertisements earlier in the year that similarly did not include the notation.  If Thurber did indeed pay for inserting those advertisements in advance, then Carter very well could have extended credit for his “(T. b. c.)” advertisements.

Throop’s advertisement ran for six weeks in November and December 1771, each time with “(T. b. c.)” on the final line.  That deviates from Olney and Thurber first running their advertisements without the notation and then with it.  However, Throop had recently inserted another advertisement that ran for three weeks (September 28 and October 5 and 12) without the “(T. b. c.)” notation.  He also ran other advertisements earlier in the year, establishing a recent history with Carter.  That may have been sufficient for the printer to extend credit when Throop submitted an advertisement to appear for the first time on November 23.  It made its final appearance on December 28, perhaps as part of an agreement that credit would not extend into the new year.

Newspapers were important vehicles for disseminating information (via news accounts, letters, editorials, advertisements, and other features) in the era of the American Revolution, so much so that the business practices of printers merit scrutiny.  Notices placed by printers make clear that they extended credit to subscribers, but sometimes those notice made more general references to “customers” instead.  Those customers may have purchased advertisements, job printing, books, stationery, or a variety of other goods and services commonly available at printing offices.  Even though some printers declared that advertisements must pay in advance, it seems likely that they extended credit to some advertisers that they knew well.

November 30

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

Providence Gazette (November 30, 1771).

“(T. b. c.)”

For eight weeks in the fall of 1771, George Olney ran an advertisement for a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette.  His advertising campaign commenced on October 12 and concluded on November 30.  From week to week, an identical notice appeared in the public prints, with one exception.  The last four insertions included an additional line with a notation, “(T. b. c.),” that was not part of the original advertisement.  Readers likely passed over that notation, realizing that it was intended for the compositor and other workers in John Carter’s printing office.

Similar notations appeared at the end of advertisements in many colonial newspapers, many of them listing issue numbers that corresponded to the first and last appearance so compositors could easily determine whether to include advertisements when preparing the next edition.  Other notations require more systematic attention to multiple advertisements published over the course of weeks or months to decode.  What did “(T. b. c.)” mean?  Perhaps it meant “to be continued” until the advertiser decided to discontinue the notice.  In that case, Olney likely initially paid to have his advertisement run for four weeks and then requested that it continue until he instructed otherwise.  That, however, would have run contrary to the policy that Carter stated in the colophon: “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”  Carter did not seem inclined to extend credit to advertisers, but the notation on Olney’s advertisement suggests that the printer may have exercised some discretion for those who paid for an initial run.

Consulting ledgers and account books might reveal practices in the printing office that deviated from the policy in the colophon, but in their absence an examination of other advertisement with the same notation might establish a pattern.  Other advertisements in the Providence Gazette bore the “(T. b. c.)” notation.  Next week, the Adverts 250 Project will examine another of those advertisements to determine when in its run it acquired the notation.  That may help to outline some of the likely business practices adopted by Carter as he managed advertising in his newspaper.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 1, 1767).

“The printer of this paper entreats his customers to pay their subscription monies.”

In the period before the American Revolution, printers regularly inserted notices asking newspaper subscribers to “pay their subscription monies,” as James Johnston did in the July 1, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. His notice was particularly short; others went into greater detail in their attempts to get customers to settle their account, some suggesting that many subscribers were in arrears not for weeks or months or rather for years. If colonial readers did not make timely payments for their newspapers, that helps to explain why advertising was considered such an important means of generating revenues for newspapers.

This raises a question about printers and their business practices. Did advertisers pay for their notices before they were inserted in the newspaper? Or, did printers extend credit to advertisers as well as subscribers?

Printers certainly encouraged newspaper advertising. The colophon of the Georgia Gazette indicated that it was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.” This was fairly standard for publications that included colophons that ran across all the columns at the bottom of the final page. That same week, several printers included similar language in their colophon, including Sarah Goddard and Company (Providence Gazette), William Goddard (Pennsylvania Chronicle), John Holt (New-York Journal), James Parker (New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy), Alexander Purdie and John Dixon (Virginia Gazette), and Robert Wells (South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal). Two of them, Holt and Purdie and Dixon, even indicated the costs of advertising, but neither indicated that they needed to be paid in advance.

Although printers frequently advertised that subscribers needed to settle accounts, they did not make similar requests of advertisers. There are at least two possibilities to explain this. Possibly advertisements had to be paid in advance. Alternately, printers may have considered advertising valuable content that helped to attract readers who would (eventually, hopefully) pay for their subscriptions. They may have been more lenient with advertisers who fell behind with their accounts as a result. This is a question that I would like to pursue in greater detail the next time I have a chance to consult printers’ records.