April 16

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 16, 1772).

Last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Advertisements accounted for important revenue for colonial printers.  That was certainly the case for Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  So many colonizers submitted advertisements for inclusion in the April 16, 1772, edition, that he resorted to distributing a half sheet supplement devoted almost exclusively to paid notices.  That helped, but still did not provide enough space for all of the advertisements that he should have published that week.  That prompted him to insert a brief note to address the situation.  “A Number of Advertisements,” Draper stated, “are omitted for want of Room.”  He then tried to convince advertisers that they did not need to be concerned because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road, (where we have a great many Customers)” so that meant that “last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Would that mollify advertisers who expected to see their notices in print?  Draper did the best he could to give a favorable impression of the situation, assuring advertisers that readers would indeed see their notices that week even if they did not happen to appear in the most recent edition or its supplement.  He did not, however, attempt to explain why they should not be concerned that delivery of the previous edition had been delayed by a week, perhaps because everyone understood he had less control over the post than his press.  He simply expected advertisers to accept that their notices had not been distributed as widely as they anticipated as soon as they intended.  What truly mattered, he sought to convince them, was that their advertisements were now before the eyes of readers.  Interestingly, Draper’s note explicitly addressed advertisers, not subscribers.  He made no apology to subscribers outside of Boston that they had to wait a week to receive either news or notices.  Through that omission, he once again positioned delivery as further beyond his control than the contents of his newspaper.  In this instance, maintaining good relationships with customers and safeguarding an important revenue stream meant focusing on the concerns of advertisers.

January 13

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 13, 1772).

A Mahogony Desk and Book-Case.

This advertisement presents a conundrum.  It attracted my attention because someone made manuscript notations on the copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy that has been preserved in an archive and digitized for greater accessibility.  They crossed out “FRIDAY” in the portion of the headline that gave the date of an auction, crossed out “a Mahagony Desk and Book-Case” midway through the advertisement, and placed three large “X” over most of the rest of the content.  I suspected that either Joseph Russell or John Green, the partners who published the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, made those notations to guide the compositor in setting type for a revised version of the advertisement to appear in a subsequent issue.  Russell, the auctioneer who placed the advertisement, focused primarily on operating the “Auction Room in Queen-Street” while Green oversaw the newspaper and the printing office.

A revised version did not appear in a subsequent edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  The same advertisement did run in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Gazette on Monday, January 13, 1772, the same day it appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those newspapers ran the same copy, but with variations in line breaks because the compositors made their own decisions about format.  I also looked for revised versions of the advertisement in other newspapers published in Boston between January 13 and the day of the sale.  The Massachusetts Spy published on Thursday, January 16, the day before the say, did not carry the advertisement, but the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter distributed on the same day did feature a slightly revised version.  Only the first line differed from the original version, stating that the auction would take place “TO-MORROW” rather than “On FRIDAY next.”

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 16, 1772).

The rest of the advertisement was identical to the one that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy earlier in the week.  The copy was identical and the format (including line breaks, spelling, and capitals) was identical.  Even the lines on either side of “FRIDAY next, TEN o’Clock” on the final line were identical.  Both advertisements lacked a space between “by” and “PUBLIC VENDUE” on the third line.  The manuscript notations on the original advertisement may have directed someone in revising the first line, but not the remainder of the notice.  Even more puzzling, it looks as though Green and Russell shared type already set at their printing office with Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This is not the first time that I have detected such an instance in newspapers published by these printers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  It raises questions about both the logistics and the business practices of those involved, questions that merit greater attention and closer examination of the contents, both news and advertising, in the two newspapers.

December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.

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.

April 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 25, 1771).

“Many other Advertisements for want of Room must be deferred till next Week.”

On April 25, 1771, Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, faced the same conundrum that Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General, navigated the previous day.  He had more content than would fit in the standard four-page issue of his newspaper.  Wells opted to distribute a supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  To conserve resources and minimize expenses, he printed that supplement on a smaller sheet.  Draper, on the other hand, inserted a note alerting readers (and advertisers who expected to see their notices in that issue) that “Many other Advertisements for want of Room must be deferred till next Week.”

In the end, Draper did print a supplement.  Like Wells, he printed it on a smaller sheet.  His supplement, however, did not include any advertising.  Instead, it relayed “Fresh London Articles,” news that just arrived in Boston via theThomas from London.  The placement of Draper’s notice about the delayed advertisements suggests the sequence of events.  Like other printers, het set the type and printed the first and fourth pages first, leaving the second and third pages for later.  As a result, the most current news usually appeared on the second page, inside the standard four-page issue, rather than on the front page.  For the April 25 edition, the first page included news from “BOSTON, April 19” as well as news from other towns from earlier in April.  The fourth page contained advertisements.  The second page included news from “BOSTON, April 25,” the same day Draper printed the issue, as well as shipping news from the customs house news from Hartford, an item reprinted from a London newspaper, and advertisements.  Like the fourth page, the third page consisted entirely of paid notices, with the addition of the printer’s note about delayed advertisements at the bottom of the final column.

When news from London arrived via the Thomas, however, Draper decided to print a supplement rather than get scooped by his competitors.  Most newspapers published before the American Revolution appeared weekly rather than daily, meaning that waiting for the next issue to print breaking news meant a significant delay.  Draper managed to take news from London to press first.  Four days later, the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy each carried the same news, but in both cases that news ran on the front page as a result of the printers having it in their possession longer.  The introductory comments in the Post-Boy explained, “Monday last arrived here the ShipThomas, Capt. Davis, from London, by whom we have Papers to the 1st of March; from which we have the following Advices.”

The Thomas arrived in port on Monday, April 22.  Either it took a couple of days for Draper to come into possession of the London newspapers that Davis delivered or the printer decided to create a supplement to call special attention to that news, underscoring that the News-Letter reported it before any competitors.  In both scenarios, Draper selected a smaller sheet and devoted the entire supplement to the “freshest advices,” as so many printers described the news in their publications.  Advertising, Draper determined, could wait a week.  News from London could not.  Given that newspaper printers depended on advertising revenue, Draper could not always make the same call.  After all, colonists who submitted paid notices were familiar with advertising supplements, a regular feature of many newspapers.  In this instance, however, Draper apparently figured that advertisers would be forgiving of the delay, provided it did not continue indefinitely.  Like other printers, he sought a balance between news and advertising that would satisfy both subscribers and advertisers.

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.

October 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 11, 1770).

“AN Elegiac POEM, on the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD … By PHILLIS.”

On October 11, 1770, coverage of George Whitefield’s death on September 30 continued to radiate out from Boston with news appearing in the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death intensified as well.  Both newspapers printed in Boston on that day, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and the Massachusetts Spy, carried advertisements for “AN Elegiac POEM, on the Death of that celebrated Divine, and eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the reverend and learned GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Phillis Wheatley, now recognized as one of the most significant poets in eighteenth-century America, composed the poem, though in the advertisements she was known as “PHILLIS, A servant girl of seventeen years of age, belonging to Mr. J. Wheatley, of Boston.”  Referring to the young woman as a “servant girl” obscured the fact that she was enslaved by the Wheatley family.  The advertisements further explained that she “has been but nine years in this country from Africa.”  This event brought together Whitefield, the influential minister following his death, and Wheatley, the young poet near the beginning of her literary career.  Although both are well known to historians and others today, much of Wheatley’s acclaim came after her death at the age of thirty-one in 1784.  Arguably, Wheatley is more famous than Whitefield in twenty-first-century America, reversing their relative status compared to the eighteenth century.

In addition to the novelty of an African poet, Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles also promoted the image that adorned the broadside, proclaiming that it was “Embellished with a plate, representing the posture in which the Rev. Mr. Whitefield lay before and after his interment at Newbury-Port.”  Examine the Library Company of Philadelphia’s copy of Wheatley’s “Elegiac Poem,” including an introduction that doubled as the copy for the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy, the woodcut depicting Whitefield, and black borders that symbolized mourning in the eighteenth century.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 11, 1770).

Wheatley’s poem sold by Russell and Boyles was not the only one advertised on October 11.  In a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, Richard Draper announced that he published “An Elegy to the Memory of that pious and eminent Servant of JESUS CHRIST The Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  Exercising he prerogative as printer of that newspaper, Draper placed his advertisement before the one for the broadside with Wheatley’s poem and the woodcut of Whitefield.

Both poems celebrated Whitefield’s life and ministry.  Both gave colonial consumers an opportunity to mourn for Whitefield and feel better connected to his ministry, even if they had never had the chance to hear him preach.  Especially for those who had not witnessed Whitefield deliver a sermon, purchasing one of these broadsides allowed them to have an experience closely associated with Whitefield’s life by commemorating his death.  The printers who produced, marketed, and sold these broadsides simultaneously honored Whitefield’s memory and commodified his death, merging mourning and making money.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:24:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 24, 1770).

The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”

John Crosby, who sold citrus fruits “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons,” and George Spriggs, “Gardner to JOHN HANCOCK,” were fortunate.  Their advertisements were the last two that appeared in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  At the bottom of the third column on the final page, Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a brief notice that “The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”  Unlike Crosby and Spriggs, some advertisers did not see their notices in print in that issue.

Draper had too much content to include in the standard four-page edition that week.  He may have considered producing a two-page supplement, as eighteenth-century printers often did in such situations, but perhaps he did not have sufficient advertisements to fill the space.  Alternately, lack of time or other resources may have prevented him from distributing a supplement that week.  Compared to other issues, the May 24 edition contained relatively few advertisements.  They comprised just over two columns, less than an entire page in a publication that often delivered just as much advertising as news.

Like other newspaper printers, Draper had to strike a balance between news and advertising.  Subscribers expected to receive the news, not just advertising, but advertisers contributed significant revenue to the operation of colonial newspapers.  Advertisers expected to put their notices before the eyes of readers.  They wished to reach as many readers as possible, which meant that printers could not alienate subscribers by skimping on the news or else risk their newspapers becoming less attractive venues for placing advertisements because subscription numbers decreased.  This was especially true in the larger port cities where printers published competing newspapers.  When it came to attracting both subscribers and advertisers, Draper contended with the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in 1770.  Delaying advertisements by a week on occasion was unlikely to convince his advertisers to post their notices in other newspapers, but it was not something that Draper could do on a regular basis and expect to maintain his clientele of advertisers and attract new ones.

December 31

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

Dec 31 - 12:28:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 28, 1769).

“Induce those Gentlemen who have long been Customers, to renew their Subscription.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, marked the end of 1769 with a notice to subscribers in the final edition of the year. He did not so much mark the imminent start of a new calendar year as much as he noted that “This Paper concludes the Year of many of the Subscribers to it.” He took the opportunity to encourage “those Gentlemen who have ling been Customers, to renew their Subscription” for another year.

Draper made this appeal in a crowded media market, the most crowded in the American colonies. Boston, a bustling urban port, was among the largest cities, but others were larger. Despite that fact, printers in Boston published more newspapers in the late 1760s than their counterparts in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. As 1769 drew to a close, Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter competed with four other newspapers published in Boston: the Boston Chronicle (one of the few newspapers anywhere in the colonies published twice a week, but also noted for its Loyalist sympathies and tone), the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette (perhaps the most vocal in support of the Patriot cause, but certainly not the only newspaper that took that stance), and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

Given the competition, Draper asked subscribers to consider what distinguished his newspapers from others. “The Publisher hopes by the Carefulness in his Publications of giving Intelligence in the most authentic Manner,” he stated, “that the Paper will retain the Credit it always had of being as judicious … as any other Paper.” Draper suggested that he took his role as editor seriously, carefully selecting the contents of each issue to deliver accurate information rather than propaganda to his readers. An example of his editorial style appeared on the page following his notice to subscribers. He republished three letters from the Essex Gazette, providing a short explanation by way of introduction: “Having in our last published from the Essex Gazette, the Advertisement of the Committee of Merchants at Marblehead, wherein several Gentlemen’s Names were mentioned, Justice requires us to publish the Vindication of themselves, taken from the last Essex Gazette.” Having inserted a portion of the story in one edition, Draper continued coverage as more information became available. More partisan printers might not have been so generous or conscientious. In his monumental History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas praised Draper, declaring that he “was esteemed the best compiler of news of his day.”[1] That was the characteristic that Draper marketed to subscribers when he called on them to renew their subscriptions. They could depend on receiving a carefully curated newspaper that kept them well informed of the events of the day.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers, ed. Marcus A. McCorison (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 144.