June 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 20, 1771).

Those who advertise in this Paper … are requested to send them … on Wednesdays.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, made a last-minute addition to the June 20, 1771, edition before taking it to press.  In a brief note, he declared, “Those who advertise in this Paper which circulates so extensively, are requested to send them in Season on Wednesdays:  whereby the Paper may be published earlier on Thursdays.  See SUPPLEMENT.”  The supplement that accompanied that issue did not include additional instructions for submitting advertisements.  It did contain several notices that did not appear in the standard issue as well as news items from New York, Hartford, Newport, and Providence.

The printer’s note to advertisers ran in the right margin of the third page of the June 20 edition, marking it as something inserted only after preparation of the rest of the issue had been completed.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The printer began with the first and fourth pages, placing news and advertisements received in advance on those pages.  That left space for recent news and other advertisements on the second and third pages, printed only after the ink on the first and fourth pages dried.  For instance, the second and third pages of the June 20 edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter included multiple items from Boston and Cambridge dated that day.  Draper’s note to advertisers in the margin almost certainly was the last type set for the standard issue, perhaps in exasperation that some advertisers submitted their notices so late as to delay distribution of the newest edition while Draper and others who worked in the printing office produced the supplement to accompany it.

Draper tended to the interests of his subscribers and other readers in his note.  He aimed to make the newspaper available as early in the day as possible.  This also served his own interests since Isaiah Thomas published the Massachusetts Spy, a competing newspaper, on the same day.  He also angled for additional advertising, even as he clarified the right time to submit advertisements.  In asserting that the Boston Weekly News-Lettercirculates so extensively,” he not only testified to the time required for printing each edition but also assured prospective advertisers that significant numbers of readers would see their notices.  The success of his newspaper depended on attracting sufficient subscribers and advertisers.  Draper attempted to cultivate positive relationships with both constituencies, in the process offering instructions intended to facilitate the production of the newspaper while simultaneously attracting more business.

May 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 23, 1771).

“The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”

The Adverts 250 Project has recently examined examples of printing in the margins of eighteenth-century newspapers, a strategy for increasing the amount of space available when printers had more content than would otherwise fit in an issue.  On May 17, 1771, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Gazette, placed three advertisements describing enslaved men who liberated themselves and offering rewards for their capture and return in the margins of their newspaper.  They did not have enough additional content to justify publishing a supplement, another common means of creating space for material that did not fit in a standard issue.  To make those advertisements fit in the margins, the Greens took type that had already been set in a single column and divided it into several shorter columns.  The previous day, John Holt took a different approach when he inserted an advertisement in the margins of the New-York Journal.   His notice about a new “Carrier of this Paper” appeared for the first time, running the entire length of the rightmost column on the third page rather than separated into multiple shorter columns positioned side by side.  In each case, appearing in the margins may have enhanced the visibility of the advertisements.

Not every printer and compositor resorted to this strategy, but many did so frequently enough that additional content in the margins became a familiar sight to eighteenth-century readers.  Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, placed two brief items in the margins of the May 23, 1771, edition.  One notice advised, “The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”  The other provided instructions to readers to “See Supplement, for other News and Advertisements.”  A two-page supplement accompanied the standard issue.  Draper likely could have made space there for the notice about the postponed sale, but may have chosen not to do so.  Such a short notice would not have been nearly as visible among the other contents of the supplement as it was in the margin on the third page of the standard issue.  Its placement there also suggests that the information arrived too late to develop a more complete advertisement.  For a standard four-page issue, compositors set type for the third page last, making the notices in the right margin of the third page the last items incorporated into the issue.

Given the amount of advertising in the supplement, all of it previously published in other issues in recent weeks, and the dates listed for the news items, the supplement may have gone to press before the second and third pages of the standard issue.  Draper knew in advance that he would need to distribute a supplement, but he likely did not have much notice that “The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”  As a result, he adopted both strategies for publishing content that did not fit in the standard four-page edition:  issuing a supplement and printing in the margins.  The latter was a clever adaptation prompted by the limits and possibilities of the printing technology available in the eighteenth century. It was a practical solution that had the added benefit of drawing attention to the items that appeared in the margins.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 29, 1768).

“Many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

In a brief notice in the August 29, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, William Moor advertised “a great Number of School Books” as well as “A large Assortment of Bibles, Testaments, Psalm Books, Psalters and Primers, with a great Variety of other Books on Law, Physick, and Divinity.” In addition, he stocked “a large Assortment of Saddles, Carpets, and many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

That Moor designated some of his merchandise “too tedious to mention” rather than publishing an extensive list of goods (an alternate strategy adopted by several other retailers whose advertisements appeared on the same page) had the unintended effect of influencing the placement of his advertisement in that issue. Moor’s entire notice extended only eight lines, making it short enough that the compositor could divide it into columns of four lines each, both printed perpendicular to the rest of the content on the page.

Compositors sometimes deployed this strategy as a means of squeezing more items, especially paid advertisements, into current issues rather then delay publication until the following week. Even though a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising accompanied this particular issue, it did not offer space to insert all of the advertising. Not so much remained to justify adding an additional page to the supplement. Instead, the compositor looked to the margins.

The standard issue consisted of four pages, each with three columns. The compositor converted the outer margin, away from the fold, of the first, third, and fourth pages into advertising space by dividing short notices into multiple columns of no more than four lines each and then positioning them perpendicular to the columns that ran the length of the page. In addition to Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page, a sixteen-line advertisement for a runaway servant appeared on the first page, divided into four columns of four lines each and positioned along the outer margin to the right of the masthead and essay that comprised the rest of the page. A bankruptcy notice, eight lines divided into four columns, ran in the outer margin of the third page. A short estate notice divided into two columns ran alongside Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page.

Moor likely had no choice concerning the unusual placement of his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. All the same, the compositor’s efforts to find more space for paid notices may have served Moor’s interests by producing the unconventional format since readers may have been especially curious to see what sorts of items had been consigned to the margins. Rather than becoming marginal, the advertisements in the margins may have evoked additional notice.