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.

March 25

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 25, 1768).

“May be supplied with the NEW HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE &c. &c. for NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.”

Today’s advertisement provides a relatively rare glimpse of the subscription rates for an eighteenth-century newspaper. While a few printers inserted both subscription and advertising rates in the colophon on the final page, transforming the publication information into a final advertisement that appeared in each issue, most did not. Printers rarely mentioned the subscription rates in the pages of their newspapers, even as they frequently published notices calling on subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts.

An advertisement in the March 25, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included the subscription and delivery costs for residents of “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Rochester, Dover, Durhan, Newmarkett, and … Stratham.” In it, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the newspaper, informed readers that “a Carrier or Post Rider” would begin delivering newspapers in those towns the following week. Those who wished to subscribe would be charged “NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.” They were expected to pay “at Entrance” rather than later become the subjects of subsequent notices calling on subscribers to pay their overdue accounts. While this notice indicated the total fees charged to subscribers serviced by the carrier who covered this route, it still obscured the base rate for subscriptions. The Fowles listed a fee with “Carriage included.” Was it the same rate as residents of Portsmouth paid for their annual subscriptions? Or had it been topped off to cover delivery expenses? Either way, the notice revealed the price of a subscription for residents of towns in Portsmouth’s hinterland, information that did not frequently appear in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

This notice also testified to the current and continuing dissemination of the newspaper beyond Portsmouth. Dated March 25, a Friday, and appearing in an issue of the same date, it advised that “FRIDAY next” the carrier would begin making deliveries along the proposed route. The Fowles invited “Those who incline to encourage so useful and advantagious a Person as a Carrier” to submit their names for a list “at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.” The printers expected that readers in those towns already had sufficient access to the New-Hampshire Gazette that they would see this notice and respond in less than a week. Even before the Fowles employed “a Carrier or Post Rider” for this particular route the news and advertising contained in the pages of their newspaper had wide distribution beyond Portsmouth. Establishing this new route only extended their efficiency and reach in disseminating information in the era of the American Revolution.

December 27

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

Dec 27 - 12:24:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 24, 1767).

“MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement for an almanac, “MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768,” in the final issue published in 1767. More than any other aspect, the typography of this notice distinguished it from news items and advertisements that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the newspaper. It appeared as a single line that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the second page. Another short advertisement, that one calling on the owner to retrieve a boat recently found adrift, mirrored the position of the Fowles’ advertisement on the facing page, running across all three columns at the bottom of the third page. Had they been set into columns, each advertisement would have consisted of three lines.

Why did the Fowles choose to deviate from the usual format in this issue of their newspaper? They may have wished to draw particular attention to the almanacs for 1768 as the first day of the new year approached. In that case, they might have inserted the notice concerning the boat on the opposite page in order to provide balance. Alternately, they may have received the notice about the boat too late to integrate it into columns that had already been set, but found a creative way to include it in the issue. In that case, the advertisement for the almanac provided balance (though they exercised their privilege as printers to place it first in the issue) and supplemented their lengthier advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack” and “Bickerstaff’s curious Almanack” on the final page.

Measuring the length of the columns on each page would aid in determining the viability of either of these options as explanations for what occurred. That, however, requires access to the original copies rather than digital surrogates. Digitized editions standardize the size of every page to the dimensions of the screen on which they appear. Although metadata, including measurements, could be included in the process of producing digital editions, that would significantly increase the time and cost, ultimately further limiting access to a format intended to broaden access for historians, other scholars, and the general public. Even as librarians and archivists and the communities they serve celebrate new opportunities presented by evolving technologies, they also acknowledge that digital surrogates supplement rather than replace original sources.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:20:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“Prevent the Money’s going out of the Province to the Detriment of every Individual.”

Advertisements for almanacs usually began appearing, sporadically, in colonial newspapers in September, allowing readers plenty of time to acquire their own copy before the new year commenced. As January approached, the variety of titles and the number of advertisements increased. By the end of November, just about every newspaper throughout the colonies included at least one advertisement for almanacs each week. Many printers testified to the accuracy of the calculations in the almanacs they published and sold. Some promoted them by listing an extensive table of contents, informing prospective customers of the entertaining anecdotes and valuable reference material.

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, took a rather unique approach when they marketed “AMES’s Almanack For the Year 1768.” They did acknowledge that “particular Care will be taken to have it correct,” but most of their advertisement focused on the advantages of purchasing their imprint rather than the same title printed in Boston. They first asserted that they provided an important public service that merited reciprocation from readers (not all of whom would have been subscribers) of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The Fowles took on “very great Expence” in publishing the colony’s only newspaper and informing “their Customers [of] every Occurrence Foreign and Domestick, that they thought worthy of public Notice.” They suggested that this should predispose readers to purchase their almanacs rather than any printed by their competitors.

If that were not enough to convince readers, the Fowles made another practical argument, one founded on the collective economic welfare of the colony’s inhabitants. When readers purchased almanacs from printers in Boston, they did so “to the Detriment of every Individual at this scarce Season for Cash.” The Fowles cautioned against “the Money’s going out of the Province” that way, warning that readers could prevent that situation. The printers balanced their civic service in publishing the newspaper with the civic duty of readers to also act on behalf of their community’s shared interests. The Fowles assumed that readers planned to purchase almanacs; they developed marketing aimed to funnel existing demand to their product.

August 7

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

The Printers in this Town would without Charge publish such Accounts.”

Aug 7 - 8:7:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 7, 1767).

Daniel and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly interspersed their own announcements among the other advertisements published in their newspaper. They inserted three such announcements in the August 7, 1767, edition. Two related notices had previously appeared, once requesting that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them” and the other calling on “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette, Advertisements, &c. … to make immediate Payment” or risk going to court. Both of these announcements addressed the financial operations of the publication.

The third, on the other hand, sought to enhance the content of the newspaper to better serve its subscribers, though the Fowles likely figured that new content of particular interest to readers would also enhance sales. Looking to their counterparts published in other cities, especially Philadelphia and New York, the Fowles noted that “the Publishers by some Means obtain Accounts from the Masters of Vessels on their Arrival of what Vessels they meet with on their Passage.” Such information was valuable to “those in the Mercantile Business” as well as the families of sailors who otherwise heard much less about the “Welfare of their Friends.”

The Fowles wished to include such information in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but they had difficulty collecting it. They called on the “Gentlemen Merchants” of Portsmouth to devise a method of reporting these accounts to the printing office, promising to publish them gratis as a service to the community. Their efforts to obtain these reports amounted to what would be described today as crowdsourcing, accepting and collating contributions of data or information from multiple participants to achieve a cumulative result. The process of crowdsourcing (as well as the term itself) became especially popular in the digital age, but new technologies improved and expanded a method already in practice much earlier. In their advertisements, the Fowles encouraged readers to participate in the production of the news via crowdsourcing the late 1760s.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 10, 1767).

“All Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted this notice in the final column of the July 10, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In it, they instructed that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press” should “at the same Time send pay with them.” In making this request, the Fowles addressed two common questions about eighteenth-century newspaper advertising. Who wrote the advertisements? Did printers make money from advertising?

By comparing text and typography in advertisements published in multiple newspapers, it appears that advertisers wrote the copy and printers took primary responsibility for format and layout (though some exceptional advertisers also participated in designing the visual aspects of their own notices). The Fowles seem to confirm that advertisers composed the text, though they do not address the question of layout. Advertisers possibly sent along instructions, though the printers would have preferred payment instead.

This notice does not definitively answer whether advertising turned profits for printers, but it does cast light on some of their standard practices and challenges. The Fowles threatened not to insert any advertisements delivered without payment. They were “determined not to Charge any more” because extending credit was more hassle than it was worth. They had learned through unfortunate experience “the Trouble of keeping a great number of small Accounts which but few ever think worth Discharging.”

Historians of eighteenth-century printers have long argued that newspapers did not make money from subscriptions, that profits derived from advertising. This notice, however, suggests that in some cases – or “a great number” of cases, to borrow the Fowles’ phrase – advertising was no more likely to turn a profit than selling subscriptions. Colonists purchased advertising on credit, just as they participated in the consumer revolution by buying on credit. Sometimes they paid in a timely manner, but, if the Fowles were to be believed, quite often they were delinquent in settling their accounts. Historians of print culture cannot assume that advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers always generated revenues for the printers.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:22:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 22, 1767).

Fraught with Entertainment.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, also sold books that they imported from England or exchanged with other printers in the colonies. Their advertisement filled an entire column and nearly half of another on the final page of the May 22, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Such lengthy advertisements were not uncommon for printers and booksellers, but the length of this one resulted from an innovative format not featured in most newspaper notices. Printers and booksellers usually followed one of two standard practices when advertising books. Either they provided a list of titles for sale, a catalog of sorts, or they marketed a single volume via lengthy explications of the contents and their practical usefulness for readers.

The Fowles did a little bit of each but more in this advertisement. They included a short list of additional titles at the conclusion, but first they described several books in chatty blurbs that took a very different tone than most advertisements for books inserted in newspapers in the 1760s. The Fowles aimed to entertain readers rather than strictly instruct them (though a heavy dose of instruction was still embedded in their marketing), offering an alternate rationale for why consumers should purchase their wares.

Consider, for example, the description of “The Clandestine Marriage, A COMEDY: As it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.” According to the blurb, the play was “fraught with Entertainment. Some of the Scenes are truly comic, others inculcate the strictest Morality.” It also included a description of the characters, including “the conceited, infirm, and antiquated yet generous Lord Ogleby – the vulgar, money loving Sterling – the sensible Lovewell – the sycophant Canton – the impudent Brush – Mrs. Heidelberg the Dutch Widow, an ignorant Pretender to Quality Mannersthe pert, spiteful Miss Sterling, displaying in reality the modern fine Lady, and the amiable, gentle, and delicate Miss Fanny – who altogether form a Group that must afford greta [sic] Entertainment to every Reader.” In addition, the Epilogue, in particular, was “very remarkable for its Singularity and Humour.”

This shift in tone, telling readers that they would be entertained as well as receive moral instruction, made sense as part of the reading revolution that took place in the eighteenth century. Reading habits experienced a transition from intensive reading of the bible and devotional literature to more extensive reading of works of all sorts for entertainment. The Fowles demonstrate that one mode of reading did not simply replace the other. Instead, they framed several of their books to appeal to whichever purpose their customers wished to achieve in their reading habits.

February 8

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

feb-8-261767-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1767).

“Said Carrier will begin to Ride as soon as sufficient Number of Subscribers can be had.”

Like other colonial printers, Daniel and Robert Fowle inserted advertisements for their own business endeavors in the newspaper they published (though they did not use the colophon as a standing advertisement for the various services provided at their printing office in Portsmouth). The Fowles were responsible for four of the advertisements that appeared in the February 6, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Three of those advertisements were fairly short: four lines each. Two of them peddled leftover almanacs for 1767 and the third informed readers that the Fowles supplemented the revenues from newspaper subscriptions and advertisements by selling “BLANKS of all sorts – and a variety of Books, Pamphlets, &c.”

The fourth advertisement took up considerably more space on the page. It advertised the newspaper itself, the title appearing in a larger font and on a line by itself in the middle of the notice. The Fowles outlined a plan to have a rider continue to deliver newspapers to subscribers in towns and villages beyond Portsmouth. The proposed route included “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Dover, Durham, Newmarket, [and] Stratham.” The Fowles offered this as a service to subscribers, though they also indicated that demand already existed among “some Persons who live at the Heads of the Rivers” who were “desirous of having a Carrier continue to Ride.”

The printers placed this notice to gauge interest in this plan, stating that “Said Carrier will begin to Ride as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers can be had.” Yet interest was not sufficient to bring the plan to fruition: subscribers needed to demonstrate their commitment by paying half of the delivery in advance. The printers also requested that current subscribers “in Arrears” pay up “before the Carrier begins to Ride, in order to prevent any future Disputes.”

This advertisement made clear that the rider would provide a continuation of an existing service, delivery to the local town (if not directly to each subscriber’s home). In so doing, it demonstrated the geographic reach of colonial newspapers beyond the cities where they were printed and into the towns and villages in the hinterland. Certainly some copies were disseminated even further afield, but the success (or even the continuation) of newspapers depended on cultivating local and regional customers and readers.

December 5

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

dec-5-1251766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 5, 1766).

“The NEW-HAMPSHIRE ALMANCK, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1767.”

With only four weeks remaining until the first day of the new year, it was time for readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to procure almanacs for 1767. Printers and booksellers in some colonial towns had been advertising their almanacs since early September, giving customers plenty of time to purchase one of the most widely distributed types of publication in colonial America.

Some readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette had apparently already acquired their almanacs by the time today’s advertisement appeared. “Those who are not already supplied,” Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle warned, “must apply speedily, as but few remain unsold, and no more will be printed this Year.”

In making such a statement, the Fowles simultaneously deployed three appeals to potential customers. They made an appeal to scarcity, noting that “but few remain unsold.” The printers had limited stock to offer to those who had not yet bought their almanacs for the new year. They made an appeal to popularity, implying that the scarcity had been caused by the large volume of purchases on the part of customers (rather than the printers producing too limited a quantity). Many other readers apparently trusted David Sewall’s calculations and the other content of the almanac; they had already acquired their copies. Finally, the Fowles made an appeal to potential customers’ sense of urgency. Not only was the new year quickly approaching, those who wanted their own copy of the New-Hampshire Alamanack for reference needed to “apply speedily” because “no more will be printed this Year.” The Fowles had printed enough copies to sell the almanac both “Wholesale and Retail,” but they did not print so many that they would end up with leftover stock that could never be sold. This helped to create a sense of urgency as they cautioned potential customers that they risked being shut out if they waited too long to shop for this particular item.

Almanacs were certainly popular reading and reference material in colonial America. It would be hard to deny that latent demand for them existed. However, the Fowles’ advertisement did more than simply notify the public that they offered a product already in demand. Instead, the Fowles various appeals – scarcity, popularity, sense of urgency – to incite greater demand for the New-Hampshire Almanack for 1767.