May 26

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

May 26 - 5:26:1769 Detail New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 27, 1769).

“Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.”

The May 26, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concluded with a notice quite familiar to readers: “Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.” The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, frequenlty inserted some sort of call for linen rags for use in making paper. The format of the May 26 issues suggests that the Fowles’ regular supply of paper had been disrupted, making it even more important that colonists turn over their rags. This was not the first time something of the sort had happened that year. The Fowles opened the first issue of 1769 with a notice explaining why they printed it “on so small a Paper.” They had not been able to acquire the usual size, but they were determined to print their newspaper “on Paper made in New-England … some of it out of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” The printers explicitly stated that they refused to purchase imported paper due to the duties leveled by the Townshend Acts and “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.”

In late May, they did not print on smaller sheets but instead on larger. A standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other newspapers published in the colonies in 1769, consisted of four pages of three columns each (created by folding in half a broadsheet with two pages printed on each side). The May 26 edition, as well as the next seven, had only two pages of four columns. Although the metadata for digital surrogates does not include the dimensions of the sheets, examining the masthead and colophon clearly reveals that the substituted paper was wider. The masthead ran across only three of the four columns on the front page. Other content ran the entire length of the page in the fourth column. Similarly, the colophon ran across three of the four columns on the other side of the broadsheet, with other content again extending the entire length of the fourth column. This format suggests that the Fowles made the masthead and colophon, used from week to week and from issue to issue, fit the available paper rather than setting new type to conform to a different size.

This significantly changed the appearance of the New-Hampshire Gazette for two months in 1769 as the Fowles and others collected rags to transform into paper of the usual size for the publication. This time around the Fowles did not offer an explanation about the change, perhaps assuming that since they had so recently undertaken another substitution that subscribers would readily recognize the cause this time. Even without additional comment in late May, their offer to exchange books “for clean white Linen RAGS” reverberated with political meaning.

[Note:  After working exclusively with the digital surrogates, I had an opportunity to examine the originals at the American Antiquarian Society.  As the visual evidence suggested, the Fowles did temporarily print the New-Hampshire Gazette on a paper of a different size.  Usually a page measured 15 inches by 9.75 inches, with each column 2.75 inches across.  The substitute paper measured 15 inches by 15.5 inches, allowing enough space for a fourth column also 2.75 inches across.]

May 26 - 5:26:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
Note that the colophon runs across only three of four columns. (New-Hampshire Gazette, May 26, 1769).

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 12, 1769).

“BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKS sold at the Printing-Office.”

Three advertisements placed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette rounded out the final page of the May 12, 1769, edition. Each appeared at the bottom of a column, immediately above the colophon that listed Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in Portsmouth as the printers. Each notice testified to a different aspect of the printing business.

The notice in the first column warned that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printers, for News-Papers, &c. are NOW desired to make payment, if ever they design it, and would avoid unnecessary Trouble and Expence.” Colonial printers frequently inserted such appeals into their newspapers, but the Fowles did so more regularly than most others in the 1760s. Some printers incorporated their calls to settle accounts into annual messages that commemorated the completion of one year of publication and the beginning of another. Such messages to subscribers and other readers often outlined improvements to be made in the coming year, but also earnestly requested that customers pay their debts. The Fowles used some of the most creative and colorful language, once even threatening to publish the names of any who did not settle accounts within a short time, though they never followed through on that strategy for public shaming.

The advertisement in the second column informed readers that “BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKs [are] sold at the Printing-Office.” Operating the newspaper was not the extent of how the Fowles earned their livelihood. They also sold books, some that they had printed but most imported from Britain. In addition, they did job printing and produced “BLANKS of all Kinds,” better known to day as printed forms. Colonists used these blanks for a variety of commercial and legal transactions, relying on the standardized language. A similar advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette provided a list of the various sorts of blanks available at the local printing office: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, indico certificates.” Some, such as the indigo certificates, were specific to local usage, but most were used throughout the colonies.   Like advertisements, blanks supplied an important revenue stream for printers.

Finally, the third column concluded with an advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack, for 1769, to be Sold at the Printing Office, in Portsmouth.” This was incredibly late for an advertisement for an almanac to appear; some of the contents certainly remained useful for the remainder of the year, but more than one-third of 1769 had already elapsed. By and large, printers, booksellers, and others had ceased advertising almanacs for quite some time. The appearance of this notice indicates that the Fowles still had surplus almanacs in stock. They hoped for some sort of return on their investment if they could sell any of them at that point. Its position as the last item in the May 12 issue, with the exception of the colophon, tells another story. The Fowles needed to fill the space to complete the column and the issue. This advertisement may have been just as valuable for that purpose as for any sales that resulted from it.

Indeed, the placement of all three advertisements from the printers suggests that they served dual purposes. Each tended to some aspect of operations at the printing office in Portsmouth while simultaneously completing a column and contributing to the tidy appearance of the final page of the May 12 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

February 17

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 17, 1769).

“ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers hereof are desired to make immediate payment.”

Like many colonial printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted their own notices in the newspaper they published. The February 17, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included three advertisements placed by the printers. One announced, “RAGS Taken in at the Printing-Office as usual, in case they are white and clean.” The Fowles collected linen rags to manufacture into paper. For several weeks earlier in the year they had printed the New-Hampshire Gazette on smaller sheets because their paper supply had been disrupted. They refused to purchase imported paper because doing so would have required paying duties levied by the Townshend Act. Instead, the Fowles waited on supplier in New England to produce more paper, choosing temporarily to print their newspaper on smaller sheets. By February the New-Hampshire Gazette had returned to its usual size, but the Fowles continued to advertise for rags in order to maintain access to paper produced in New England.

In another advertisement the Fowles marketed goods they offered for sale: “BLANKS of all sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, are sold at the Printing-Office.” Selling books and job printing for blanks (or printed forms) supplemented the revenues gained from newspaper subscriptions and advertising fees, especially when subscribers and advertisers did not settle their accounts in a timely manner. The Fowles’s third advertisement addressed that situation: “ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers hereof are desired to make immediate payment.—Some of those whose Accounts are of long standing will very soon be put in Suit, unless speedily Settled.” This was a constant refrain for many colonial printers, especially the Fowles. Three months earlier they had published a similar message, though they had been much more strident in their threats of legal action. They also made another threat, one that went beyond the usual means of cajoling recalcitrant subscriber to pay their bills. The Fowles declared that would “publish a List of those Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing, with the Sum due.” The printers did not follow through on this extraordinary plan. Perhaps it convinced a sufficient number of customers to settle their accounts, or maybe the Fowles decided that such a public shaming of their customers would have a significant negative impact on their business.

Either way, they soon found themselves once again placing a notice in their newspaper to instruct their subscribers to make payment or else face the consequences. Their advertisements not only looked to the future of their business, such as their call for rags to make paper or the books and blanks they provided for sale, but also played an important role in concluding transactions previously initiated.

January 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 6, 1769).

Printed on Paper made in New-England.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, found themselves in a predicament at the beginning of 1769. They could not acquire paper of the same size as they usually printed the newspaper, forcing them to publish it on smaller broadsheets. As a result, the first issue of the new year consisted of two columns per page rather than three, significantly reducing space available for news and advertising.

The Fowles could have avoided this inconvenience if they had been willing to print the New-Hampshire Gazette on paper imported from England. They explained the situation to readers in a notice that appeared as the first item in the January 6 edition. First, they extended an apology for distributing an issue “on so small a Paper.” Then they noted that “For some Time past it has not only been printed on paper made in New-England, but some of it our of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” At various times, the Fowles had encouraged colonists to donate, barter, or sell rags for the purpose of making paper. Their efforts paralleled those of others who manufactured paper in the colonies, including an emphasis on the politics of domestic consumption. The Fowles declared that they were “determined to make use of as little as possible on which the Duties must be paid,” referring to indirect taxes imposed by Parliament via the Townshend Act. In their own act of resistance, they “declined sending to London for any, for some Time” and instead “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.” They anticipated that supplies of larger broadsheets produced locally would soon become available once again, but for the moment they once again apologized and extended “the Compliments of the Season” to their subscribers and other readers.

This notice implicitly reminded colonists of an important role they could play in opposing the Townshend Act: turning their linen rags over to printers and paper manufacturers. Those who already did so likely read issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette printed on paper produced from some of their own rags. More explicitly, the Fowles linked the production of their newspaper to the politics of the period, asserting that even their choice of paper had ramifications. They boycotted imported paper in order to avoid paying the duties, choosing instead to join the movement for the production and consumption of domestic goods. Each time colonists read or placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette, they indirectly participated in that movement as well.

December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 2, 1768).

“AMES’s Almanack will be publish’d in a few Days.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, frequently inserted advertisements for books, pamphlets, stationery, and other items they sold. In the December 2, 1768, edition, they ran a short notice to encourage readers to purchase almanacs: “JUST PUBLISHED, And to be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Portsmouth; Bickerstaff’s & West’s Almanacks for the Year 1769.” Like other printers and booksellers, they offered several titles, realizing that customers developed loyalties for their favorites.

In addition to listing the two almanacs they already stocked, the Fowles concluded with a nota bene about another that would soon be available: “N.B. AMES’s Almanack will be publish’d in a few Days.” They did not provide any additional information about this almanac. Readers who also perused any of the newspapers from Boston that week may have known about an altercation among printers who sold Ames’s almanac. William McAlpine published legitimate copies, but Richard Draper, Edes and Gill, and T. and J. Fleet collaborated to print, market, and sell a pirated edition. Their marketing efforts included inserting notices in the newspapers they published – the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Evening-Post, respectively – that had the appearance of news items warning consumers against purchasing a “counterfeit Ames’s ALMANACK” that contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts” and bore William McAlpine’s name in the imprint.

What about the almanac advertised and sold by the Fowles? According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, the Fowles sold copies that bore these imprints: “Printed for, and sold by, D. and R. Fowle, at Portsmouth, New-Hampshire” and “Printed by William M‘Alpine, for D. and R. Fowle, at Portsmouth.” Both were typographically identical with those having an imprint stating “Printed and sold by William M‘Alpine.” The Fowles had not launched their own pirated edition to compete with the printers in Boston, nor had they joined the cabal that printed and distributed the actual counterfeit. Instead, they cooperated with McAlpine to distribute legitimate editions in their own market.

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.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 3 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

“BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”

Like almost every other colonial printer who published a newspaper, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly inserted advertisements for their own goods and services. Although they sometimes promoted books they sold at the printing office, including John Dickinson’s popular “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES,” they most often ran short notices that informed readers they sold printed blanks (better known as forms today). Blanks included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. They were stock-in-trade for printers throughout the colonies.

I have previously argued that advertisements for blanks in particular (and goods sold by printers more generally) had a dual purpose in colonial newspapers. Selling blanks certainly generated revenues for printers. In that regard, advertisements for blanks appeared for the same reason as advertisements for any other consumer goods and services. Advertisements for blanks, however, also served as filler when the rest of the issue fell short of content to fill the pages.

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 4 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

The October 21, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette makes this especially clear. It was a standard four-page issue created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first two pages consisted entirely of the masthead and news items, but the final two pages featured a mixture of news and advertising. A short advertisement, just five lines, appeared in the lower right corner of the third page: “BLANKS of most sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, Pamphlets, &c. sold at the Printing Office, which is kept near the State House, in the Street leading to the Market. And Ferry.—Where Isle Shoals and Newmarket Lottery Tickets are sold.” Another short advertisement, this one only two lines, appeared as the final item on the fourth page, immediately above the colophon. “BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth,” it starkly announced. In both cases, the placement at the bottom of the last column on the page indicates that the compositor inserted these advertisements only after including other content, both news and advertising. Advertising their own wares benefitted newspaper printers, but those short notices also played a role in meeting other goals in the publication process.

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.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 29, 1768).

“RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.”

Calls for rags regularly appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers, sometimes issued by printers and other times issued by proprietors of paper manufactories. Readers did not require any explanation that their used rags would be recycled into paper, perhaps even paper that would become issues of the very newspaper in which they encountered notices encouraging them to collect and contribute their rags.

Although they sometimes expected their fellow colonists to donate rags that had exceeded their usefulness, printers and papermakers often offered a variety of inducements to convince readers to send their rags. Sometimes they offered to pay cash. Other times they played on political sentiments, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, noting that local production of paper decreased dependence on imported paper while simultaneously bolstering the local economy. The success of such endeavors depended not only on readers acting as consumers of that paper but also as providers of the necessary supplies.

In their brief advertisement in the July 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, printers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle took a different approach. They offered to barter: “RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.” The Fowles did not elaborate on which sermons or other pamphlets they traded, but they likely considered this an opportunity to achieve two goals simultaneously. In the process of acquiring a commodity essential in producing paper they could also reduce their surplus stock of pamphlets that had not sold as well as they had hoped. Two weeks earlier Robert Fowle published a lengthy advertisement that listed dozens of books as well as “a very great variety of single Sermons and other Pamphlets.” If the printers could not convince colonists to purchase these wares then they might as well offer them in trade. Operating a printing office required such flexibility.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 15, 1768).

A large Assortment of BOOKS.

Although eighteenth-century booksellers sometimes issued book catalogs, either as broadsides or pamphlets, they much more often compiled catalogs for publication as newspaper advertisements. Booksellers who also happened to publish newspapers, like Robert Fowle, took advantage of their access to the press when they wished to promote their books, stationery, and other merchandise. Such printer-booksellers exercised the privilege of determining the contents of each issue, sometimes opting to reduce other content in favor of promoting their own wares. Alternately, inserting a book catalog, even an abbreviated list of titles, among the advertisements occasionally helped to fill the pages when printers lacked other content.

Fowle proclaimed that he stocked “A large Assortment of BOOKS” at his shop next door to the printing office in Portsmouth. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, his advertisement in the July 15, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette extended nearly an entire column and enumerated more than one-hundred titles. Such advertisements were part of a reading revolution that occurred in the eighteenth century as colonists transitioned from intensive reading of the Bible and devotional literature to extensive reading across many genres. Fowle’s list also included reference works as well as books meant for instruction. The printer-bookseller offered something for every interest or taste, including “small Books for Children.”

In some instances Fowle also promoted the material qualities of the books he sold. Some titles were “neatly bound & gilt,” making them especially attractive for display as well as reading. He offered “BIBLE of all sizes, some neatly bound and gilt.” Customers could choose whichever looked most appealing to them. If they did not care for the available bindings, they could purchase an unbound copy and have it bound to their specifications. Book catalogs and advertisements offered a variety of choices when it came to the physical aspects of reading materials, not just the contents.

Robert Fowle may have also published book catalogs in the 1760s, but his newspaper advertisements would have achieved far greater distribution. They alerted prospective customers to the “large Assortment” at his shop, introducing them to titles that they might not have previously considered but now wished to own (and perhaps even read) once they became aware of their availability.