August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:24:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (August 24, 1770).

Send the Subscription Papers, to the Printing Office.”

An advertisement for A Treatise on Regeneration by Peter Van Mastricht ran in the August 24, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green announced that the book was “In the Press, and a few Days will be published.”  The Greens had multiple audiences in mind when they composed their advertisement.  They hoped to attract new customers, but they also addressed existing customers as well as associates who collected subscriptions on their behalf.  A manicule drew attention to a short note at the conclusion of the advertisement: “Those Gentlemen that took in Subscriptions for printing the above Piece, are desired to send the Subscription Papers, to the Printing Office, in New Haven, the first Opportunity.”

Publishing by subscription, a popular practice prior to the American Revolution, meant taking orders in advance of printing a proposed book.  This allowed printers to gauge interest so they could determine if sufficient demand existed to merit moving forward with the project.  If so, this also gave them a good sense of how many copies to print in order to meet demand and have a small surplus for additional customers, but not so many that any that did not sell caused the venture to be a financial failure rather than success.  Printers did not always take advance orders themselves.  Instead, they distributed subscription papers to networks of associates who collected names on their behalf.  Those subscription papers included an overview of the proposed book, the conditions, an enumerated list of what subscribers could expect in terms of the material qualities of the publication, and space for subscribers to sign their names.  Prospective subscribers could also see which of their friends and neighbors had already subscribed.

When the Greens called on the “Gentlemen that took in Subscriptions” to return their subscription papers, they did so because they needed to determine a complete count of how many customers had already committed to purchasing Van Mastricht’s Treatise on Regeneration.  They could then print an appropriate number of copies to fulfill the subscriptions and still have a reasonable number for new customers.

October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 20, 1769).

Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried significantly less advertising than its counterparts printed in the largest port cities. Newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising, sometimes prompting printers to issue supplements in order to include all of the paid notices. The Connecticut Journal, on the other hand, rarely had enough advertising to fill an entire page.

On occasion, however, printers Thomas Green and Samuel Green found themselves with too many advertisements to fit in the standard issue. That was the case during the week of October 20, 1769. Advertisements comprised the entire final page of the newspaper’s standard four-page issue. The Greens had more advertisements, but they opted not to distribute a supplement with the issue. Instead, they inserted a note at the bottom of the third page: “(The new Advertisements are in the last Page. Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.)” A headline on the final page proclaimed, “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” (not unlike the headline Peter Timothy inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette two days earlier), though not every notice that appeared below it ran for the first time in the October 20 edition. The Greens alerted readers to the presence of new content, an important service considering that most advertisements usually ran for several weeks, but the “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” headline did not provide much assistance in navigating the notices on the final page.

The note that “Advertisements omitted, will be in our next” invited readers to peruse the next issue of the Connecticut Journal, but it also served another practical purpose for the printers. Rather than correspond with each advertiser whose notice did not appear in that issue, the Greens issued a blanket statement to reassure their clients that their advertisements had not been overlooked or forgotten. This note also encouraged prospective advertisers to consider placing their own paid notices in the Connecticut Journal or else find themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who already submitted so many advertisements that the Greens did not have space to feature all of them. Many colonial printers depended on revenue generated by advertising to make publishing newspapers viable enterprises. Brief notices like this one from the Connecticut Journal demonstrate some of the practices adopted by printers in managing that aspect of the newspaper business.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 6, 1769).

Just Re-printed, and to be sold by T. & S. GREEN … The Connecticut Colony LAW-BOOK.”

Compared to many other colonial newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried relatively few advertisements. Thomas Green and Samuel Green founded the publication in 1767. Two years later, advertising remained sparse, comprising less space than in many other newspapers. In that regard, the Connecticut Journal was not much different than other newspapers published in smaller towns in the late colonial era. While newspapers in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia – overflowed with advertising and even those in places like Portsmouth, Providence, and Savannah usually filled at least an entire page with advertising, the Connecticut Journal, the Essex Gazette, and the New-London Gazette regularly devoted less space to advertising than their counterparts in larger cities and towns.

Consider the October 6, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Only ten advertisements appeared in that issue, all of them on the final page. They did not even fill that page. Of the three columns, two consisted of advertising. One short advertisement ran at the bottom of the first column. Revenues from advertising, rather than subscriptions, often made publishing newspapers viable business ventures for colonial printers. The Greens, however, did not cultivate the same culture of advertising in the Connecticut Journal that emerged in other publications. On the other had, they did pursue a strategy that put their business practices in line with those of other printers: they took advantage of their access to the press to promote their own wares. Newspaper printers frequently inserted one or more advertisements for books, pamphlets, blanks, and other merchandise, simultaneously seeking to stimulate demand for other segments of their operations and attempting to convince prospective advertisers of the advantages of advertising. Of the ten advertisements in the October 6 issue, two announced that the Greens sold books at their printing office. Not all of the advertisements in that issue were paid notices that generated revenues for the Connecticut Journal; the Greens used that space to bolster their business in other ways. With relatively few advertisements submitted by others, they resorted to publishing their own.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 8, 1769).

“A Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven by Thomas Green and Samuel Green, carried significantly less advertisements that most newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies. Such was the case for some of the newspapers from smaller towns. For instance, the September 8, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal contained only four advertisements. The printers placed two of those advertisements themselves. In one, they announced “A Plan of Exercise, fro the Militia of the Colony of Connecticut” for sale at their printing office. In the other, they promoted two tracts concerning religion, one that would be available soon and the other already in stock.

The other two advertisements merit particular notice. Both offered enslaved people for sale. One described “a healthy, strong NEGRO FELLOW, 22 or 23 Years old” who had “had the Small-Pox” and thus was not at risk of contracting it again. The other listed “a likely Negro Wench, aged about 23 Years” and also “a Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.” Nicholas Street, the colonist who held them in bondage, described the woman as “strong and healthy,” not unlike the “NEGRO FELLOW” in the other advertisement, and specified that she was “well-skilled in all Business suitable for a Wench.” He did not indicate the relationship between the woman and the girl, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about whether Street compounded the violence being done by separating family members. He certainly did not express any compunction about selling the woman and girl separately.

Advertisements were an important source of revenue for printers. Paid notices made newspapers viable ventures; they funded the circulation of the news far and wide during the era of the American Revolution. Advertisements concerning enslaved people, whether offering them for sale or seeking the capture of those who attempted to seize their liberty by escaping, accounted for a significant portion of the paid notices that made it possible for printers to continue publishing newspapers. These two advertisements in the Connecticut Journal are especially striking because they represent the only advertising revenue the Greens accrued for the September 8 edition. Even in New England, enslavement was enmeshed in print culture. The two served as bulwarks for each other. Newspapers perpetuated slavery through the frequent publication of advertisements concerning enslaved people, while the advertising fees collected from enslavers contributed to the continuing operations of every newspaper published in colonial America.

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 9, 1768).

“Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier.”

True Crime! In early September of 1768, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, sold a pamphlet about an execution of a burglar that had just taken place. “Just published, and to be sold by the Printers hereof,” the Greens announced, “Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier, (Who was executed at Fairfield, on the 7th of September, 1768) penned from his own Mouth, and signed by him, a few Days before his Execution.” This advertisement first ran in the September 9 issue, just two days after the execution and presumably less than a week after the infamous thief had dictated his life’s story.

The Greens marketed memorabilia about an event currently in the news. To help sustain the attention Frasier and his trial and execution had generated, they ran a short article about the burglar, offering prospective customers a preview of the pamphlet. “Last Wednesday,” the Connecticut Journal reported, “Isaac Frasier, was executed at Fairfield, pursuant to the Sentence of the Superior Court, for the Third Offence of Burglary; the lenitive Laws of this Colony, only Punishing the first and second Offences with whipping, cropping, and branding. He was born at North-Kingston, in the Colony of Rhode-Island. It is said, he seem’d a good deal unconcerned, till a few Hours before he was turn’d off—and it is conjectured, by his Conduct, that he had some secret Hope of being cleared, some Way or other.” The Greens likely intended that this teaser provoke even more interest in Frasier, stimulating sales of the pamphlet.

To that end, all of the news from within the colony focused on thieves and burglars who had been captured and punished. Two days before Frasier’s execution, David Powers had been “cropt, branded and whipt” in New Haven after being discovered “breaking open a House.” He had previously experienced the same punishment in Hartford, where James Hardig was “whipt ten stripes at the public whipping post … for stealing.” The Greens described Hardig as “an old offender, as it appears he has already been cropt, branded and whipt.” If they did not change their ways, Powers and Hardig would find themselves “Candidate[s] for a greater Promotion” at their own executions. Frasier’s case offered a cautionary tale for anyone who chose to purchase and read his pamphlet.

Although Frasier was executed upon his third conviction for burglary, he recorded more than fifty burglaries and thefts in the Brief Account. According to Anthony Vaver, Frasier had “toured all over New England and into New York, covering hundreds of miles at a time and committing burglaries all along the way.” Vaver provides and overview of Frasier’s case at Early American Crime, including the circumstances of all three burglaries that led to his execution and a map of the route he followed on his crime spree.

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:13:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1767).

“Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green launched a new newspaper, the Connecticut Journal; and New-Haven Post-Boy, on October 23, 1767. Like many other colonial printers, they used the colophon not only to provide the particulars concerning publication but also as an advertisement for the newspaper itself: “All Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Six-Shillings a Year.”

Yet colonial newspapers rarely had sufficient subscribers to make them sustainable business ventures. In addition to subscriptions, advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream. To that end, the Greens also issued a call for advertisers in the colophon. In the process, they provided a relatively rare indication of the costs of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.

How much did it cost Michael Todd to place an advertisement for the “GOOD Assortment of Winter Goods” at “his Store in New-Haven” in the November 13 issue? According to the colophon, “Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, and Six-Pence each Week afterwards; and long Ones in Proportion.” Todd’s advertisement was approximately half again as long as it was wide. He would have paid four shillings and six pence to run it for the first three weeks and then another nine pence for each week thereafter. (Todd and other advertisers received a discount for subsequent insertions because the labor of setting the type had already been completed.) If Todd ran his advertisement for only three weeks the cost would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a yearly subscription. Running it for a fourth week would have raised the shopkeeper’s cost (and the printers’ revenue) to the same as a subscription.

Advertisements were indeed good for business, especially the printing business. The amount of space devoted to advertising in the Connecticut Journal gradually expanded during its first month of publication, a development the Greens welcomed and sought to further cultivate in order to improve the prospects for their new publication. They met with some success. The Connecticut Journal continued publication for more than fifty years, issuing its final edition in December 1820. Advertising filled one-third of the space in that issue.