August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:27:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 27, 1770).

They have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street.”

Colonial printers adopted various strategies when it came to inserting advertisements in their newspapers.  Some reserved advertisements for the final pages, appearing only after news items, editorials, lists of prices current, shipping news from the custom house, poems for amusement or edification, and other content selected by the editor rather than paid for inclusion by advertisers.  Others placed advertisements on the first and fourth pages, with other content on the second and third pages.  Doing so reflected practical aspects of producing newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  That meant the first and fourth pages were printed with one pull of the press and the second and third pages with another.  Advertisements, often repeated from week to week, could be printed first on the first and last pages, allowing for any breaking news to be set in type as late as possible before the second and third pages went to press.  Both of those methods kept advertisements clustered together, either at the end of an issue or bookending it.  Another method more evenly distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing advertisement on every page, often, but not always, at the bottom or in the final column.

For the August 27, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill included advertising on each of its four pages.  Advertisements constituted the first of three columns on the first page, but only a few short advertisements appeared at the bottom of the third column on the second page.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page, but, like the second page, they ran after news content, sequestered at the bottom of the second column and in the third.  The fourth page consisted entirely of advertising, with the exception of the colophon at the bottom of the final column.  No matter which page they perused, readers encountered advertising in this edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In the midst of all those paid notices, Edes and Gill reserved a privileged place for an advertisement concerning their own business.  In the first item in the first column on the first page, “THE PUBLISHERS of this Paper” placed an advertisement to “hereby inform their Customers and others, That they have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street, to the House formerly improv’d by Messieurs Kneeland & Green, directly opposite the new Court-House.”  Edes and Gill exercised their power as printers of the Boston-Gazette and their access to the press to increase the chances that readers would see and take note of their advertisement.  Other advertisers paid for access to the press, but they usually had little control over where their advertisements appeared in the newspaper.  When it came to the placement of advertisements within newspapers, printers had an advantage that “their Customers and others” did not.

August 10

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

Aug 10 1770 - 8:10:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 10, 1770).

“A Settlement with the Customers is become necessary.”

In eighteenth-century America, printers, like other entrepreneurs, sometimes had to resort to publishing advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or else face legal action.  For those who published newspapers, the anniversary of the first issue provided a convenient milestone for attempting to collect debts.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted such notices on various occasions, not only the anniversary of their newspaper’s first edition, though that event did often prompt them to remind customers to send payment.

In August 1770, the Fowles noted that it would be “Fourteen Years, next Month, since this Paper was first publish’d.”  That being the case, they reasoned that “a Settlement with the Customers is become necessary, as soon as possible.”  Those who did not comply “with so reasonable a Request” could expect to face the consequences.  The Fowles would put their subscriptions on hold instead of sending new editions, plus they would initiate legal action.  The printers argued that they provided sufficient notice for everyone who intended to pay, whether they lived in “Town or Country,” to visit the printing office or send a note.  At the very least, they requested that subscribers pay for “at least half a Year.”

Yet it was not only subscribers who were delinquent in paying.  Advertisers apparently submitted notices to the printing office and then did not pay for them in a timely manner.  For many printers who published newspapers, advertisements generated far greater revenue than subscriptions.  The Fowles asked “Those who are Indebted for Advertisements” to pay immediately.  They simultaneously informed all readers that in the future “those who send Advertisements for this Paper” must “send the Pay for them at the same time.”  Those who did not do so “must not take it amiss, if they are not publish’d.”  The printers may or may not have intended to follow through on this threat.  At one point they warned that they would publish a list of customers who owed money if they did not settle accounts in the next couple of weeks.  That list never appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It seems unlikely that everyone paid, but perhaps cajoling by the printers yielded sufficient results that they did not take the most extreme measures.

Advertisements calling on subscribers, advertisers, and other customers to settle accounts provide insights into the business practices of printers in eighteenth-century America.  They reveal that printers, like others who provided goods and services during the period, extended credit to their customers, sometimes finding themselves in difficult positions as a result.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 16, 1770).

“A choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines.”

As was a common practice for colonial printers, Timothy Green often inserted multiple advertisements in the newspaper that he published.  The February 16, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements placed by Green.  One announced that he sold the “Connecticut Colony Law-Book.”  The other advised prospective customers of a “choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines, Just come to Hand, and TO BE SOLD” by the printer. Green aimed to supplement revenues generated in his printing office.

Patent medicines might seem like unlikely merchandise for a printer to peddle, but after job printing, blanks, books, and stationery wares printers throughout the colonies advertised such nostrums and elixirs more than any other kind of goods and services.  Selling patent medicines seems to have been a side business frequently associated with printers.  In addition to advertising patent medicines in the newspapers they published, some printers also listed them in the book catalogs they distributed and in advertisements in the almanacs they printed.

Stocking and selling patent medicines may have been a relatively easy endeavor for printers.  Green marketed “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Anderson’s Pills,” “Hooper’s Female Pills,” “Daffy’s Elixir,” “Dr. Hill’s Essence for Sore Eyes.” “Bateman’s Drops,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” and several other familiar medicines that purported to alleviate or eliminate specific symptoms.  Many consumers already knew the advantages of “Stoughton’s Elixir” versus “Locker’s Pills,” so Green did not have to play the role of apothecary in making recommendations.  Many patent medicines came in packaging with printed directions; Green did not have to offer instructions when he sold those items.  Printers who sold patent medicines did not take on the responsibilities associated with apothecaries.  Instead, they invited customers to participate in the eighteenth-century version of purchasing over-the-counter medications.  Selling patent medicines did not require much additional time or labor, making them attractive as an alternate source of revenue for printers who ran busy printing offices.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s.”

How much did it cost to place an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper? That question does not always yield ready answers. Most printers did not regularly publish their advertising rates. Those that did publish them usually did so in one of two places: the plan in the first issue of a new publication and the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page of each issue. Some printers commenced publication of their newspapers with a plan or overview of their purpose and the kinds of information they intended to publish as well as details that included the quality of the paper and type and subscription and advertising rates. Other printers treated the colophon as a place for recording more than just their names and place of publication. They used the colophon as a mechanism for marketing the various operations at the printing office. There they sometimes indicated subscription fees, advertising rates, or both.

Such was the case in the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catharine Green and William Green in Annapolis in 1770. The colophon listed the costs of both subscribing and advertising. The Greens declared that “all Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s. 6d. a Year.” In addition, “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance. Long ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.” The Greens followed standard practices, yet also introduced one modification. Most printers who published their advertising rates had both an initial fee and then an additional fee for “each Week’s Continuance.” However, for most printers that initial fee included publishing the advertisement for several weeks, usually three or four, before incurring additional costs. The Greens did not offer any sort of package deal that included multiple insertions. This had the benefit of lowering the initial cost, but may have prevented prospective advertisers from feeling as though they got a bargain on the second and third insertions. Still, the fee structure suggests that the Greens charged four shillings for setting type and another shilling for the space the advertisement occupied the first time. After that, they charged only a shilling for each additional insertion, the type having already been set. Like other printers, they increased the rates for lengthy advertisements that took up more space. Prices for advertisements much larger than a “square” were assessed “in Proportion to their Number of Lines” rather than by the number of words.

That the Greens published the price of an annual subscription, twelve shillings and six pence, allows for comparison of the relative costs of subscribing and advertising. At five shillings for the first insertion, an advertisement cost 40% of a subscription. Advertisements that ran for multiple weeks steadily gained on the price of subscriptions, only needing to run for nine weeks for the former to exceed the latter. The financial viability of many colonial newspapers often depended much more on their ability to attract advertisers rather than subscribers.

August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 11, 1769).

Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”

During the summer of 1769, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, cooperated with other printers to incite demand for “a Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay,” a work frequently advertised in newspapers in Boston and other parts of New England. To that end, the Fowles inserted a subscription notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Printers had dual purposes in circulating such “PROPOSALS” as newspaper advertisements and, sometimes, separate subscription papers. They aimed to stimulate demand, but they also conducted market research by assessing demand. They did not move forward with projects if consumers did not express sufficient demand. Such was the case with this “Volume of curious Papers.” The subscription notice starkly stated that the “Work will begin as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” Those who wished to reserve a copy needed to submit their names to T. and J. Fleet in Boston, Bulkeley Emerson in Newburyport, or the Fowles in Portsmouth.

In their efforts to encourage colonists to subscribe to the work, the printers vowed that “No more Books will be printed than what are subscribed for.” This created a sense of urgency for prospective subscribers, warning that if they did not make a commitment soon that eventually it would be too late to acquire a copy so they better not waver. The printers also presented a challenge that made colonists responsible for preserving the history and heritage of New England. The subscription notice concluded with a short paragraph that outlined their duty: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public, as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.” The printers did not envision carefully storing the original documents as a means of safeguarding them for future generations. Instead, the best form of preservation occurred through multiplication. Taking the volume to press would guarantee that the contents of those “curious Papers” would survive long beyond the originals becoming “irrecoverably lost” through deterioration or mishap over the years. Colonists had a civic duty, “a regard to the Public,” to play a role in preventing that loss, according to the printers. Rather than thinking about purchasing and reading the “Volume of curious Papers” as a form of “particular Entertainment” only for themselves, the subscription notice challenged colonists to think of it as a service to their community. Consumption need not be frivolous; it could also serve a purpose in the interests of the greater good.

January 8

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (January 5, 1769).
“Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrevocably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”

An advertisement concerning a proposed companion volume to a well-known publication appeared in the January 5, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. In 1764, Boston bookseller Jeremiah Condy published the first volume of The History of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay by Thomas Hutchinson, lieutenant governor of the colony at the time. Thomas Fleet and John Fleet printed the book, which covered the period “from the first settlement thereof in 1628 until its incorporation with the colony of Plimoth, province of Main, &c. by the Charter of King William and Queen Mary, in 1691.” Three years later, Condy published the second volume, also printed by the Fleets. It extended the narrative “from the charter of King William and Queen Mary, in 1681, until the year 1750.” Both volumes were widely advertised in Boston’s newspapers and beyond.

Condy had been working on a related project when he died in 1768. As the Fleets explained, “THE late Mr. CONDY intended to have published a Volumne of curious Papers, to have served as an Appendix to the Lieutenant-Governor’s HISTORY of the MASSACHUSETTS-BAY, but Death prevented.” Not to be deterred, the Fleets issued a subscription notice “to encourage the Printing of the same Collection.” The proposed volume would be the same size and approximate length as the other two in the series, “about 600 Pages in Octavo.”

The Fleets deployed several strategies to convince readers to purchase the companion volume. They declared that they would publish it only “as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” If not enough buyers made a commitment in advance, the book would not go to press. Furthermore, the Fleets warned that “No Books will be printed for Sale.” This suggested a limited edition. They would print only enough copies to fulfill the orders placed by subscribers and no additional copies for subsequent retail sales. The printers attempted to maneuver prospective customers into reserving a copy for fear of missing out if they delayed. This may have been an especially effective strategy targeting those who acquired the first and second volumes as they contemplated completing the series with the companion volume.

In addition, the Fleets called on a sense of civic pride among prospective subscribers. They painted a stark portrait of what might happen if the proposed volume did not garner sufficient interest to go to press. “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear.” According to the Fleets, the survival of the original documents mattered less than the proliferation of copies produced on the press. Any single document or copy could be lost or destroyed, but the proliferation of copies guaranteed that subsequent generations would continue to have access to the important documents that comprised the history of the colony. In that regard, subscribers practiced a significant public service. Those who subscribed to the companion volume did so not only “for the sake of their particular Entertainment” but also “from a regard to the Public.” The printers layered the act of purchasing this book with social meaning. Acquiring this volume, the Fleets argued, fulfilled a civic responsibility that would benefit the entire community, both now and in the future.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1768 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (November 28, 1768).

“Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.”

As November came to an end and a new year drew even closer, printers and booksellers in Boston and throughout the colonies placed advertisements for almanacs for the year 1769. Almanacs were big business for eighteenth-century printers. From the most humble to the most elite households, customers of assorted backgrounds purchased these slender and inexpensive volumes, creating a broad market. As a result, printers and booksellers considered almanacs an important revenue stream, one that justified extensive advertising.

Compared to many other advertisements for almanacs, William McAlpine’s notice in the November 28, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle was short and simple. In its entirety, it announced, “Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.” Other printers and booksellers sold other titles by other authors, but some also sold “Ames’s Almanack.” Indeed, more than one version of that popular almanac circulated in the fall of 1768.

The same day that McAlpine advertised in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette ran identical notices that warned readers that “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy.” That notice implied that the counterfeit contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts,” making that important reference information included among the contents of many almanacs useless to anyone who purchased the counterfeit. The notice also advised prospective buyers how to recognize the counterfeit: “the Name of William MAlpine” appeared in the imprint at the bottom of the title page. Anyone wishing to acquire “the true genuine correct Ames’s ALMANACKS” needed to “take Notice” of the imprint and select only those “that at the Bottom of the Outside Title, is ‘BOSTON, Printed and sold by the Printers,’ &c. and no particular Name thereto.”

Rather than a public service, this notice was actually an act of sabotage. A cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of McAlpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almakack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 and, adding insult to injury, accused McAlpine of introducing multiple errors into a counterfeit that he printed and distributed. Charles Nichols estimates that printers annually sold 50,000 copies of Ames’s almanac by the time of the Revolution, making it quite tempting for printers to seek their own share of that market. Not coincidentally, the notice warning against McAlpine’s supposed counterfeit ran in newspapers published by printers responsible for the pirated edition. T. & J. Fleet printed the Boston Evening-Post and Edes and Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. Richard Draper, printer of the Boston Weekly News-Letter, operated the third printing office involved in the conspiracy. His newspaper ran the same notice that week, but it also included an advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack for 1769” that bore the imprint “Sold by the Printers and Booksellers in Town, and Traders in the Country.”

Quite simple in appearance, McAlpine’s advertisement for Ames’s almanac provides a window for a much more complicated story of competition, piracy, and sabotage committed by printers in eighteenth-century Boston. The notice about a counterfeit inserted in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette had the appearance of a news item. In each instance it appeared at the end of news content and the start of advertising, blurring the distinction. The marketing strategy deployed by the printers of the pirated edition went far beyond fair dealing.

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 18, 1768).

“Preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, meant business. They placed a notice in their own publication to inform subscribers, advertisers, and other customers that they needed to settle their accounts or else face the consequences. The Fowles periodically placed such notices, but they ratcheted up the rhetoric in November 1768. The printers were exasperated and they made that clear to readers.

The Fowles declared that they were “determined in a few Weeks, to publish a List of Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing.” With this warning, they offered a grace period. Those subscribers delinquent in settling their accounts could avoid public embarrassment by resolving the matter soon after this notice appeared in the newspaper. If they chose, however, not to take advantage of the grace period then they could expect to have their public shaming compounded by having “the Sum due” printed alongside their name. The printers aimed “to show how injuriously they are treated” by customers who refused to pay their bills.

Furthermore, the Fowles made it clear they were aware of some of the stratagems used by those who owed them money. “Many Customers who live in the Country,” they observed, “are often seen in Town, but if possible avoid coming to the Printing Office.” To add insult to injury, those who did visit often informed the Fowles “how they are involved in such and such a Law Suit, and that they have just paid all their Money to such a Lawyer.” The printers reasoned that two could play that game: “Therefore as they fancy paying Money to Attorneys best, we have left, and are preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.” The Fowles would not hesitate to take legal action if it became necessary.

They made that threat, however, only after publishing gentle reminders for customers to submit payments. Less than two months earlier, they inserted a notice that celebrated the twelfth anniversary of the New-Hampshire Gazette but also called on “a considerable Number of our Customers” to settle accounts. They considered doing so a “great Service.” Several weeks later they abandoned the language of service in favor of legal obligation. Rather than flaunting the money they spend on lawsuits against others, it was time for customers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to invest those funds in paying the printers.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 30, 1768).

“This Day’s Paper compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.”

The masthead of the September 30, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included all of the usual information. It gave the full name of the newspaper, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.” It also included information specific to that issue, including the date, “Friday, Sept. 30, 1768,” and volume and number. It was “Vol. XII” and “Numb. 625 Weeks since this Paper was publish’d.” Only in the advertisements did Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, reveal the significance of “Numb. 625.”

“This Day’s Paper,” the Fowles announced, “compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.” Daniel Fowle had commenced publication on October 7, 1756. Unlike many other colonial newspapers, the New-Hampshire Gazette did not suspend publication during the Stamp Act was in effect, though the Fowles did remove the colophon that identified them as the printers. The New-Hampshire Gazette endured for a dozen years, through both paper shortages and political crises.

Yet the printers did not mark the occasion solely to celebrate their achievement and the impending thirteenth year of publication. They also noted that the current issue “compleats the Year also with a considerable Number of our Customers, especially those in Portsmouth, who are earnestly called upon to pay the same, which will be of great Service at this Time.” Colonial printers frequently placed notices in their own newspapers to encourage both subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts. The Fowles had done so many times before, sometimes at much greater length and with greater ferocity. They had previously advised delinquent customers that by paying their bills they could “prevent unnecessary Trouble,” hinting that legal action was the next step in resolving the situation. They were not so strident when they commemorated a significant milestone in September 1768, perhaps because they did not want to overshadow that event. Still, their livelihood – and the continuation of the New-Hampshire Gazette for another issue or another 625 issues – depended on subscribers and advertisers paying their bills.