March 24

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

Essex Gazette (March 24, 1772).

“Yesterday was published in Boston … An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

As soon as Benjamin Edes and John Gill informed readers of the Boston-Gazette that they published an oration that Joseph Warren delivered to commemorate the second anniversary of the “BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770,” the printers of the Essex Gazette ran their own advertisement.  “Yesterday was published in Boston, and now to be sold by Samuel Hall, in Salem,” the notice announced, “An ORATION, delivered March 5th, 1772, at the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY of the Fifth of March, 1770.  By Dr. JOSEPH WARREN.”  That advertisement did not include the lengthy excerpt from the address that Edes and Gill included in their notice, but it did encourage consumers to participate in commemorating the Boston Massacre by purchasing their own copy of Warren’s remarks.

Not surprisingly, given its location, the Essex Gazette engaged in the most extensive remembrances of “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street … In which Five Persons were killed, and Six wounded” of any newspaper published outside of Boston.  On the occasion of the second anniversary, the Halls devoted the entire first page of their newspaper to a memorial that honored the patriots who gave their lives and listed grievances against the “British Ministry” that “contrived and effected the Establishment of the late Standing Army” in Massachusetts.  In addition to such memorials, the Essex Gazette carried advertisements for commemorative items connected to the Boston Massacre.  Nearly a year before promoting Warren’s address, the Essex Gazette carried an advertisement for “A few of Mr. Lovell’s ORATIONS on the Massacre in Boston, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  Residents of Salem and surrounding towns had an opportunity to purchase the same commemorative pamphlet printed and sold in Boston.  The commodification and marketing of the Boston Massacre helped to create a culture of commemoration of the Boston Massacre throughout the colony.  Colonizers who did not live in the busy port and could not witness Warren’s oration themselves read the Essex Gazette and the various newspapers printed in Boston.  When they did so, they read coverage of the commemorative events and encountered invitations to purchase their own copies of orations and other items related to the Boston Massacre, opportunities to partake in civic participation through consumption even if they could not attend in person.

March 10

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

Essex Gazette (March 10, 1772).

“The Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”

A subscription notice for a “second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay” ran in several newspapers in New England in 1772.  The version that appeared in the March 10 edition of the Essex Gazette carried a familiar appeal, asserting that “most of these Papers will, probably, be irrevocably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing” so many copies that “the Public” would always have access to important documents about the history of the colony.  Prospective subscribers, the advertisement argued, had a duty to assist in “the Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”

Readers of the Essex Gazette encountered this subscription notice in the context of commemorating recent history, “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston” on March 5, 1770.  Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette, devoted the entire first page of the March 10 edition to commemorations marking the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  They enclosed a lengthy memorial within thick mourning borders, a convention usually reserved for death notices but frequently deployed for political purposes during the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.

In the memorial, the Halls called on the public to seek “the Restoration and Preservation of AMERICAN LIBERTY,” advocating that “the destructive Consequences of Tyranny in general may be properly and truly realized” and that “the Memory of the fatal Effects of the late military Tyranny in this Province, in Particular, may never be obliterated.”  They invoked “that invincible Fortitude and Intrepidity which so eminently distinguished the venerable Founders of this Colony” as they encouraged “every American SON OF LIBERTY … to defend, with the last Drop of Blood, any future Attempts to subjugate this people to the despotic Controul of Military Murderers.”  As they commemorated the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, the Halls encouraged colonizers to consider 150 years of history and their role in shaping events.  They rehearsed recent events in a list of grievances against “Servants of the King,” the “British Ministry,” and the “Soldiery … taught to look upon themselves as Masters of the People.”  Those grievances had greater impact when considered in relation to the founding of the colony and subsequent events chronicled in the proposed volume of “Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay” advertised on another page.  The advertisement listed the Halls as local agents who accepted subscriptions for the project.  Between the memorial on the first page and the subscription notice on the final page, they tended to the recent and distant past by presenting readers with opportunities to prevent “the Memory” of significant events from being “obliterated” but instead “transmitted to Posterity.”

Essex Gazette (March 10, 1772).

February 18

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

Essex Gazette (February 18, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”

How much did advertising cost?  How much did advertising cost compared to subscriptions?  These are some of the most common questions I encounter when discussing eighteenth-century advertising at conferences and public presentations.  The answer is complicated, in part because most eighteenth-century printers did not list advertising rates or subscription fees in their newspapers.  A significant minority, however, did regularly publish that information in the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page.

Such was the case with Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  Over the course of two lines, the colophon in their newspaper announced, “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 4s. 6d. if sent by the Post) to be paid at Entrance.  ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  The colophon revealed how much the Halls charged for subscriptions and advertising as well as other business practices.

Subscribers paid six shillings and eight pence per year, but that did not include postage for delivering the newspapers.  The printers expected subscribers to pay half, three shillings and four pence, in advance.  Like many other eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, the Halls extended credit to their customers.  Newspaper subscribers were notorious for not paying for their subscriptions, as demonstrated in the frequent notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts placed in newspapers throughout the colonies, prompting the Halls to require half from the start.  They asked for even more, four shillings and six pence, from subscribers who lived far enough away that they received their newspapers via the post, though the colophon does make clear if the additional shilling covered postage.  The Halls may have charged a higher deposit because they considered it more difficult to collect from subscribers at a distance.

Short advertisements, those “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” cost three shillings or nearly half what an annual subscription cost.  Other printers specified that they adjusted advertising rates “in proportion” to length.  The Halls likely did so as well, making the cost of an advertisement that extended twenty lines about the same as a subscription.  They did not specify in the colophon that they required payment before running advertisements.  Some printers made that their policy but apparently made exceptions.  When they inserted notices calling on subscribers to send payment, they sometimes addressed advertisers.  For many eighteenth-century printers, advertising generated significant revenue. Considering that a single advertisement could cost as much or more as an annual subscription in the Essex Gazette, the Halls had good reason to cultivate advertisers as well as subscribers.

August 20

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

Essex Gazette (August 20, 1771).

“Strips of Paper are printed off, containing a List of every Rateable Article.”

Throughout the colonies, printers produced, advertised, and sold “BLANKS” or printed forms that facilitated legal and commercial transactions.  Samuel Hall listed a “general Assortment of Blanks … particularly fitted for the County of Essex” in the August 20, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Among that assortment, he reported that he had “neatly and accurately” printed “Apprentices Indentures,” “Bills of Lading,” “Powers of Attorney,” “Sheriffs Bail Bonds,” and “Justices Writs, Summonses, Executions and Recognizances.”  The template on each blank aided colonists attending to their affairs in the marketplace and the legal system.

In a separate advertisement, Hall promoted another product intended to assist colonists in meeting their obligations, in this case their obligation to enumerate their property for the purposes of paying taxes.  Hall described this helpful device as “Strips of Paper … containing a List of every Rateable Article” that contributed toward the overall tax assessment.  Like the blanks more familiar to many colonists, these “Strips of Paper” included empty space to fill in with the appropriate details; in this case, “to set down the Number and Value of Articles in the Columns left Blank for the Purpose.”  Such organization then made it that much easier to achieve a final tally.  Hall promoted these “Strips of Paper” in terms of the convenience they bestowed on prospective customers who might otherwise experience greater difficulty with this task.  He intended them “FOR the Easement of People, in preparing Lists of their Polls & Rateable Estates.”  Customers who used them did not need to worry about inadvertently overlooking anything that should be included, Hall suggested, since they could simply proceed down the list.

The printer conveniently placed this advertisement immediately below a notice to the “Inhabitants of the Town of SALEM” that they were “to give in to the Assessors Accounts of their Polls and Rateable Estates, according to the Tenor of an Act passed the last Session of the Great and General Court.”  That notice also threatened penalties for “every Person … refusing or neglecting to give into the Assessors in writing, and on Oath if required, a true Account of his or her Rateable Estate” by September 20.  Hall seized an opportunity to make current events work to his advantage in creating and marketing a product that made the assessment process easier and more convenient for prospective customers.

July 23

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

Essex Gazette (July 23, 1771).

“Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield, deceased.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, inserted several of his own notices in the July 23, 1771, edition, interspersing them among other advertisements.  In so doing, he promoted additional revenue streams and filled space that could have been devoted to other content.  Like many printers, he offered “CASH … for RAGS” to use in making paper.  Most of his notices were fairly short, but he devoted two longer advertisements to “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT of Stationary” and “A general Assortment of Blanks” or printed forms for legal and financial transactions.  Most of his other notices featured books, including one for “Dr. Watts’s young Child’s first Catechism” and another for “A Set of Dean Swift’s Works, neatly bound.”  Hall also stocked “Rev. Dr. Pemberton’s Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Story” and “The Lawfulness, Excellency and Advantage of INSTRUMENTAL MUSICK in the Publick Worship of GOD.”  When it came to individual titles, Hall primarily focused on religious works, yet that was not the only way that the printer engaged religion in his marketing.

Hall inserted one additional advertisement that hawked an item less commonly included among the notices placed by printers.  “Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield, deceased, to be sold at the Printing-Office in Salem,” he advised readers.  That medal commemorated George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Whitefield died at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, less than a year earlier.  Almost immediately following the minister’s death, printers and others began marketing commemorative items, mostly books, pamphlets, and broadsides.  Hall first informed the public that he would soon offer medals on May 14.  More than two months later, he apparently still had some on hand and reminded prospective customers that they could honor Whitefield by purchasing medals that bore his likeness.  Like others who sold commemorative items, Hall provided an opportunity for colonists to mourn the minister through acts of consumption.  The medals the printer advertised not only memorialized Whitefield but also transformed him into a commodity following his death.  However sincere Hall’s regard for the minister may have been, he also aimed to generate revenues in the wake of his death.

July 2

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

Essex Gazette (July 2, 1771).

“To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, frequently supplemented the news accounts, letters, and paid notices in his newspaper with advertisements of his own.  In doing so, he simultaneously promoted various enterprises undertaken at his printing office in Salem and generated content to fill otherwise empty space.  Throughout the colonies, printers adopted similar strategies in their newspapers.

Consider the July 2, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Hall interspersed three of his own notices among the paid advertisements.  The first announced, “A good Assortment of PAPER, by the Ream or Quire, as cheap as at any Shop or Store in Boston; together with most other Sorts of Stationary, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  Extending only four lines, this notice appeared near the bottom of the second column on the third page.  Another of Hall’s notice ran at the top of the final column on that page.  That one advised prospective customers that Hall sold copies of “the Rev. Dr. Pemberton’s Sermon in the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Story of Marblehead.”  It also listed related items “annexed” to the sermon in the pamphlet.  Like many other printers, Hall pursued multiple revenue streams at his printing office, selling books and stationery to supplement the proceeds from newspaper subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing.

Essex Gazette (July 2, 1771).

In his third notice, Hall declared, “CASH given for RAGS, at the Printing Office in Salem.”  Printers frequently collected rags, a necessary resource for the production of the paper they needed to pursue their occupation.  Even more than his other notices in the July 2 issue, the placement of Hall’s call for rags suggests that it also served as filler to complete the page.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column.  The compositor also inserted decorative type to fill the remaining space, furthering testifying to the utility of running that particular notice.  Access to the press meant that printers could run advertisements promoting their own endeavors whenever they wished, but that was not the only reason they inserted notices into their publications.  Sometimes they sought to quickly and efficiently fill remaining space with short notices already on hand.  The type remained set for easy insertion whenever necessary, a strategy for streamlining the production of newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 25, 1771).

“Said Gazette has an extensive Circulation.”

In the eighteenth century, some newspaper printers used the colophon on the final page to promote subscriptions and advertising, but not every printer did so.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, regularly updated his colophon.  In March 1771, the colophon informed readers of the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage),” and the advertising rates, “Three Shillings” for notices “not exceeding eight or ten Lines.”  Printers often inserted notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts or face legal action, but they rarely advertised their own newspapers to prospective subscribers or potential advertisers.

That made Hall an exception.  He began in his own newspaper, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, with a brief notice on March 12, 1771.  Hall informed “Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers” that Thomas Walley accepted subscriptions at his store on Dock Square.  Two weeks later, Hall placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, hoping to reach a greater number of readers.  He once again listed Walley as his local agent in Boston.  He also explained that he printed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays and instructed subscribers that they could “apply for their Papers” at Walley’s store “every Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Hall did not limit his advertisement to seeking subscribers this time around.  He devoted eight of the thirteen lines to soliciting advertising for the Essex Gazette.  Addressing “Those Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise,” Hall proclaimed that his newspaper had “an extensive Circulation, particularly in every Town in the County of Essex.”  Furthermore, he declared that the Essex Gazette was “universally read in the large Sea Port Towns of Salem, Marblehead, Glocester and Newbury-Port” as well as “many other considerable Towns in that County.”  That was not the extent of the newspaper’s dissemination, according to the printer.  He noted that it also “circulated in most of the Towns on the Eastern Road as far as Casco-Bay” (today part of Maine).

In his efforts to increase the number of advertisers (and enhance an important revenue stream) for the Essex Gazette, Hall focused on the circulation of his newspaper.  After all, prospective advertisers knew that placing notices in any newspaper was a good investment only if a significant number of readers actually saw their advertisements.  Hall carefully delineated the reach of the Essex Gazette to reassure “Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise” that his newspaper had established a significant readership in the region.

March 12

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

Essex Gazette (March 12, 1771).

“Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers.”

In 1771, printers in Boston published more newspapers than in any other town or city in the colonies.  Mondays saw the distribution of three newspapers, the Boston Evening-Post printed by Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal printed by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy printed by John Green and Joseph Russell.  Two more newspapers came out on Thursdays, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter printed by Richard Draper and the Massachusetts Spy printed by Isaiah Thomas.  Residents of Boston had many options for reading the news.

In Salem, Samuel Hall printed and distributed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays.  He often reprinted news that previously appeared in the Boston newspapers, though that was a reciprocal relationship.  Boston printers apparently received copies of the Essex Gazette and reprinted items from its pages.  On March 11, for instance, Edes and Gill devoted the entire front page of the Boston-Gazette to reprinting a memorial occasioned by the “Anniversary of Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston” nearly a week earlier.  Printers participated in exchange networks that gave them access to newspapers from other cities, newspapers filled with content that they could choose to reprint in their own publications.  What about readers?  Did any residents of Boston subscribe to newspapers published elsewhere?  Or did they depend on local publications to print and reprint, as so many mastheads proclaimed, “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic”?

Despite the crowded newspaper market in Boston, Hall indicated demand for the Essex Gazette existed among prospective subscribers in the bustling port city.  He inserted a notice in the March 12 edition to inform “THOSE Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers for this Gazette … that Subscriptions are taken in at the Store of Mr. Thomas Walley, on Dock-Square, Boston.”  That some residents of Boston wished to subscribe to the Essex Gazette suggests that dissemination of newspapers did not only flow out from the city to other parts of the colony but that some readers received newspapers published in other places.  For some subscribers, the Essex Gazette may have been another “local” newspaper that happened to serve an entire region, not unlike those published in Boston.  Titles that included Massachusetts (rather than Boston) or and Country Journal testified to the reach of those newspapers.  According to Hall’s advertisement, the Essex Gazette had a similar reach that extended not only into Salem’s hinterlands but into Boston as well.

December 25

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

Essex Gazette (December 25, 1770).

The most judicious, sensible and learned Gentlemen … have already subscribed.”

Subscription notices were a common form of advertising in early American newspapers.  Printers managed the risk and expense associated with publishing books by first distributing subscription notices to incite demand and gauge interest in particular titles.  They announced their intention to print a book, but only if a sufficient number of subscribers indicated that they would purchase it.  Printers often asked subscribers to confirm their commitment by making a deposit, often half of the final price.  Those funds helped to defray expenses incurred in the production process.  If a proposed title achieved a sufficient number of subscribers, the printer took it to press.  If it did not, the printer abandoned the project before losing money on it.

Samuel Hall sought subscribers for “A Tract, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. JOHN NELSON, a Presbyterian Minister, late of Ballykelly in Ireland, in form of a Letter to his People” in 1770, aiming to reprint a book published in Belfast in 1766.  As the year drew to a close, Hall believed that he had almost enough subscribers “to commit this Piece to the Press.”  On December 25, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to advise prospective subscribers that “[t]he greater Part of the most judicious, sensible and learned Gentlemen in Salem and Newbury-Port have already subscribed for reprinting this Book.”  That being the case Hall requested “that those who are desirous of becoming Subscribers, and have not yet had an Opportunity, would not be speedy in sending in their Names.”  He suspected that this would generate enough advance orders to justify printing the book during the first week of January 1771.  Hall inserted the advertisement once again on January 1.  He apparently attracted the necessary number of subscribers to publish his American edition in 1771.

In noting that “the most judicious, sensible and learned Gentleman” in Salem and nearby towns had already subscribed for a copy of the book, Hall hoped to play on prospective subscribers’ sense of community and anxieties about being excluded.  Subscription notices often specified that books would include a list of subscribers, a roll call of supporters who made the work possible.  Even if prospective subscribers had little or no interest in a book, they might have wanted to see their name listed among the ranks of prominent subscribers and other members of their community.  In this case, Hall made it clear that those who did not subscribe might not be considered judicious or sensible or learned.  He suggested that not subscribing could be harmful to one’s reputation.  To keep in good standing or to improve their status in the community, those who had not yet subscribed need to remedy that oversight.

December 4

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

Essex Gazette (December 4, 1770).

“JUST PUBLISHED … Dr. Whitaker’s SERMON On the DEATH of the Reverend George Whitefield.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  The next day, articles appeared in newspapers published in Boston and the news radiated to other towns throughout the colonies over several weeks.  In addition to news items, many newspapers printed and reprinted poems that eulogized the minister.  Almost immediately, some printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items that commodified Whitefield’s death.  Through concentrated primarily in New England, such advertisements also ran in newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

As winter approached, printers and booksellers continued to produce and market new items related to Whitefield and his death.  On November 27, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, advertised that “On Thursday or Friday next will be published … The Rev. Dr. Whitaker’s SERMON, on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD.”  In the next issue, Hall inserted an updated advertisement that announced he had indeed “JUST PUBLISHED” the sermon and offered it for sale at the printing office.  This advertisement, unlike most others, included thick black bands at the top and bottom, a widely recognized symbol of mourning in eighteenth-century America.  Usually, black bands or borders were reserved for news articles or they adorned an entire page or issue.  By incorporating them into this advertisement, Hall elevated Whitaker’s sermon on Whitefield’s death and, by extension, his marketing of that item, to news.  In addition, he placed the advertisement at the top of the first column devoted to advertisements in the December 4 edition of the Essex Gazette, making it a transition between news and advertising.

In the year that saw the Boston Massacre and the repeal of most of the Townshend duties on imported goods, the death of George Whitefield was one of the most significant stories that circulated in the colonial American newspapers.  Yet coverage of the minister’s death was not confined to news alone.  Printers and booksellers seized opportunities to produce commemorative items and offer them for sale, simultaneously consoling the general public and seeking to profit from their grief.