November 14

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

Nov 14 - 11:14:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 14, 1769).

The Last Solemn Scene, will be ready to be delivered to the Subscribers To-Morrow Noon.”

Compared to many other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the Essex Gazette contained relatively little advertising. Compare the November 14, 1769, edition to the South-Carolina and American General Gazette published on the same day. Only six advertisements, filling only a portion of a column, ran in the Essex Gazette. In contrast, more than fifty advertisements filled nearly six of the sixteen columns in the standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. That still was not enough space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing office. A two-page supplement comprised exclusively of advertisements accompanied the November 13 edition; nearly fifty more advertisements filled six columns. Admittedly, Charleston was a larger and busier port than Salem, where Samuel Hall published the Essex Gazette, but the difference in the contents of the two newspapers was stark all the same.

Of the six advertisements that appeared in the Essex Gazette on November 14, two promoted Hall’s own business interests. He divided the advertisements into two sections; three ran at the bottom of the last column on the third page and the other three ran at the bottom of the last column on the final page. In both instances, Hall exercised his prerogative as the printer to place his advertisements first. As readers transitioned from perusing the news to advertisements, Hall increased the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisements, even if they switched to skimming the remainder of the column in search of more news.

Both of Hall’s advertisements concerned books. One informed readers of a book “Just Publish’d, and sold at the Printing-Office.” The other announced the successful outcome of a proposed book published by subscription. Hall had called on interested readers to reserve a copy of “The Rev. Mr. Murray’s Sermon, entitled, The Last Solemn Scene,” in advance. As with other printers who published by subscription, he gauged the market and did not commit the book to press until he knew sufficient demand existed to make it a viable enterprise. His advertisement in the November 14 edition of the Essex Gazette informed subscribers that the book would be ready “To-Morrow Noon.”

Printers frequently inserted advertisements for their own goods and services in the newspapers they published. In Hall’s case, doing so was important not only to generate more business for his other ventures but also to encourage additional advertising from members of the community. He did not have the advantage of pages overflowing with advertising that Robert Wells experienced with the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. As a result, his own advertisements had to serve as a model for prospective advertisers, implicitly encouraging them to submit their own notices for dissemination in the public prints.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 24, 1769).

All of the above BLANKS are … suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.”

Colonial printers often used the pages of their own newspapers to advertise other goods they sold at their printing offices. Advertisements for blanks (what we would call forms today) regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia, suggesting that supplying blanks for various purposes to colonists engaged in commercial transactions and legal agreements comprised an important source of revenue for printers. Most advertisements for blanks were fairly short, extending only a few lines. In addition to informing colonists that printers had blanks on hand, those shorter advertisements also allowed compositors to complete columns of text that fell just shy of having enough content. Yet not all advertisements for blanks were mere announcements. Some were rather lengthy, listing the many different kinds of blanks that printers had on hand.

Such was the case for Samuel Hall’s advertisements for blanks that ran in the Essex Gazette on several occasions in the fall of 1769. After its initial publication, Hall even expanded his advertisement to provide a more comprehensive list of blanks as well as describe them in greater detail. He added “Bills of Cost, and Complaints” to the list (with “Complains” inexplicably in a much larger font than anything else in the advertisement). Most advertisements for blanks simply listed the various kinds available, such as “Bills of Lading,” “Apprentices Indentures,” and “Short Powers of Attorney.” Hall, however, supplemented his list with a note that “All of the above BLANKS are neatly printed, on good Paper, and most of them suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.” He did not elaborate on that “particular Manner,” but this note did suggest to prospective customers that he had not produced generic forms drawn from templates produced by other printers in other towns. Instead, he adapted his blanks to suit the legal and commercial landscape of his community. He likely intended to make his blanks more attractive to local customers than any they could have purchased from other printers, including the many printers in nearby Boston whose own blanks may have been “suited, in a particular Manner” for use in that city. The Essex Gazette offered an alternative source of news to the several newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s. Its printer offered an alternative source for other printed items produced in the printing offices in Boston.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 5, 1769).

“BLANKS.”

Like printers in other towns and cities in the colonies, Samuel Hall sought to generate revenue by taking advantage of his access to the press to promote his own enterprises in the Essex Gazette. In addition to publishing a newspaper, Hall also produced “BLANKS” at his printing office in Salem. Colonists used blanks (or printed forms, as they would be described today) for a variety of common commercial and legal purposes. They saved significant time compared to writing out the same transaction repeatedly. In some instances, resorting to blanks allowed colonists to sidestep hiring a conveyancer or lawyer to draw up documents.

Most printers simply announced that they stocked blanks of all sorts at their printing offices. On occasion, however, some printers listed the different kinds of blanks, providing a better glimpse of how purchasing them could increase efficiency and streamline all variety of transactions. In his advertisement, Hall listed sixteen different blanks for purposes that ranged from “Apprentices Indentures” to “Bills of Lading” to “Short Powers of Attorney.”

Through his typographical choices, he made sure that readers of the Essex Gazette would notice his advertisement. Many eighteenth-century advertisements that listed goods for sale, especially those that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s, clustered the items together in dense paragraphs. Hall’s advertisement, on the other hand, listed only one type of blank per line, making it easier to read and identify forms of particular interest. Hall also selected a larger font for his advertisement than appeared throughout the rest of that edition of the Essex Gazette. His notice occupied nearly twice as much space as any other in the same issue. The combination of white space incorporated into Hall’s advertisement and the oversized type made it one of the most striking items on a page that included both news and paid notices. Another advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a ship at sea, but it appeared immediately above Hall’s advertisement for blanks, leading directly into it.

Hall promoted other aspects of his business in the Essex Gazette, hoping to generate revenue beyond subscriptions and advertising fees. In the process, he effectively used graphic design to draw attention to other products from his printing office, an array of blanks for commercial and legal purposes. His access to the press gave him opportunities to experiment with the format of his own advertisements to an extent not available to other colonists.

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 22 1769).

Such Kind of Pieces … ought to be accompanied with some Cash.”

The shipping news from the customs house in Salem usually preceded advertisements in the Essex Gazette. That was the case in the August 22, 1769, edition, but the printer also inserted a brief notice immediately before the shipping news. “Before the Printer hereof published the Piece from A Lover of Impartiality,” Samuel Hall stated, “he should be glad to speak with the Author.—Such Kind of Pieces, whether in Vindication of Clergy or Laity, ought to be accompanied with some Cash.” With this notice, Hall revealed an important aspect of his business model. Apparently subscriptions and advertisements were not the only means of generating revenue for the Essex Gazette. The printer apparently also accepted payment for certain editorials as well.

Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to shape the contents of newspapers, injecting their own views on politics and society into publications otherwise edited by printers. Advertisements that included news or opinion appeared among other paid notices, usually with the name of the advertiser appended. This made it clear to readers that advertisers paid to have such content circulate via the public prints. Editorials or letters, on the other hand, did not include devices indicating that they may have been placed only after authors made payment rather than as the result of printers selecting content they considered important or interesting for readers. Any such items reprinted from one newspaper to another almost certainly did not specify that someone had originally paid to see it in print. To what extent did colonial readers realize this was the case? Hall did not attempt to hide it, but neither did he nor other printers regularly indicate that some items (other than advertisements) ran in newspapers as a result of financial transactions in the printing office. Even if colonists did realize that some editorials appeared because authors paid for the space, how did they go about distinguishing which items fit that description? In an age of accusations about “fake news” shaping public discourse, Hall’s notice about authors paying to insert editorials in the Essex Gazette demonstrates that those who consume information – no matter which media deliver it – have been challenged to cultivate good practices for information literacy since the founding of the nation.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 15, 1769).

“Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office.”

Sometime during the week between publishing the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette and the August 15 edition, Samuel Hall altered the colophon. The new colophon simply stated: “SALEM: Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House.” Except for the period instead of a semicolon after “Town-House,” this read the same as the first line of the former colophon. However, Hall eliminated the second line: “where Subscriptions for this GAZETTE, at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, are taken in;–3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” Hall had been using the colophon as advertising space to promote subscriptions for the newspaper, hoping to attract new customers who read copies that passed from hand to hand. Not every colonial printer deployed the colophon as a final advertisement, but the practice was not uncommon either. Several used the space to solicit subscriptions or advertisements or to peddle handbills, stationery, printed blanks, or printing services.

This was not the first time that Hall altered the colophon for the Essex Gazette. Although he had been publishing the newspaper for only a little over a year (the August 15 edition was issue number 55), he had revised the colophon on several occasions, adding and removing a second line that served as advertising. In the first issue published in 1769, for instance, the second line informed readers of the price of subscriptions and announced that Hall sought advertisements. It read: “where SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper.” A couple of months later, Hall eliminated that second line and slightly altered the first, listing his name as “S. HALL” rather than “Samuel Hall.” That version eventually gave way to the one that appeared until August 8, the one in which Hall used the second line to encourage readers to become subscribers and specified that those who di so were expected to pay half of the subscription fee “at Entrance.”

Hall’s colophon for the Essex Gazette varied from issue to issue much more often than the colophons that appeared in other American newspapers in the 1760s. The publisher moved back and forth between using the colophon as space for advertising aspects of his own publication – subscriptions and advertisements – and a pared down notation limited to publisher and location. Why? What prompted Hall to make these changes? Does the elimination of the second line indicate that it had not achieved the purposes Hall intended? It took up so little space that Hall did not have to sacrifice other content when including it. Why did he choose to refrain from using the colophon to encourage subscriptions and advertising?

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 25, 1769).

“THIS Day’s Paper (No. 52) compleats the first Year of the ESSEX GAZETTE.”

Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, participated in a familiar ritual. In the July 25, 1769, edition, he inserted a notice that announced, “THIS Day’s Paper (No. 52) compleats the first Year of the ESSEX GAZETTE.” Colonial printers often marked such occasions in the pages of their newspapers. They marked the first year but also commemorated subsequent years as a means of demonstrating the importance of newspapers to the community and promoting them to new subscribers and advertisers. These notices usually occupied a privileged place on the page, serving as a bridge between news items and advertisements. Part news, part marketing, they served more than one purpose.

Hall expressed his “sincere Thanks to the Publick” for supporting the Essex Gazette. He also promised “his Customers,” subscribers and advertisers, that he would “make it his invariable Study and Endeavour to render his Publications as agreeable to his Customers in general as he possibly can.” Unlike some other printers, he did not take the opportunity to outline proposed improvements to the newspaper in the coming year.

Before thanking “the Publick” and “his Customers,” Hall first made a pitch to prospective subscribers. It commenced with a report that some readers already experienced disappointment in their attempts to acquire “a compleat Sett” of issues of the Essex Gazette “from the Commencement of the first Volume.” A new year and a second volume of the Essex Gazette presented an opportunity for prospective subscribers, but only if they acted quickly. Hall requested that they “speedily … send in their Names to the Printer.” For the moment, he intended to print a few additional copies, starting with the “Beginning of Vol. II.” the following week. He did not mention the cost of subscribing in this notice, but the colophon running across the bottom of the following page stated that subscriber paid six shillings and eight pence, half “at Entrance.”

When the Essex Gazette survived its first year and continued into a second, the printer commemorated the occasion with a notice that informed the public of this significant milestone. Yet he did not confine his message to relaying this news and thanking those who had supported his endeavor. Instead, Hall also used the occasion to drum up more business for his newspaper, warning prospective subscribers not to repeat the mistakes of others who hesitated to subscribe during the newspaper’s first year of publication.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 18, 1769).

“John Prince HAS a Quantity of the best Isle of May SALT.”

The number of advertisements and the amount of space devoted to advertising varied significantly from newspaper to newspaper in colonial America. Some newspapers operated as delivery mechanisms for advertising, often giving as much or more space to paid notices than to news items, editorials, and other content. Other newspapers featured far less advertising on their pages.

Consider the Essex Gazette, published by Samuel Hall in Salem, Massachusetts. The July 18, 1769, edition included only four advertisements. Three ran at the bottom of the final column on the last page. John Prince hawked salt and wine, David Britton announced the sale of the late John Dampney’s real estate, and John Simnet promoted himself as a watchmaker of note. The fourth advertisement, a runaway notice concerning “an indented servant Lad, named Robert Kilby,” appeared near the bottom of the last column on the previous page, sandwiched between the shipping news from the customs house for the port of Salem and Marblehead and the shipping news from the customs house in Boston. Unlike the advertisements that filled the pages of many other newspapers, these had the appearance of filler that occupied the space necessary to complete the issue. In total, they accounted for less than a column of that issue.

Hall certainly did not operate the Essex Gazette on revenue generated from advertising, though many other colonial printers found selling advertising space more lucrative than selling subscriptions. In addition, Hall did not use one common method of cultivating advertising for his newspaper. Other printers concluded each issue with a call for advertisements (as well as subscriptions and news items) in the colophon. However, the colophon for the Essex Gazette failed to invite colonists to submit advertisements for the newspaper; instead, it focused on selling subscriptions, making clear that subscribers were expected to pay half in advance.

The masthead for the Essex Gazette proclaimed that it contained “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic.” Many other newspapers invoked the same claim in their own mastheads. For some, those “Advices” included advertisements. Legal notices updated readers on local events. Advertisements for consumer goods and services were indicators of both commerce and changing fashions. Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands told of marital strife among friends and neighbors. Advertisements about runaway servants or enslaved people who escaped bondage put the community on alert and drafted readers into providing surveillance on behalf of the advertiser. The Essex Gazette, however, featured far fewer advertisements. Instead of having some of the news filtered through the notices placed by fellow colonists, readers of the Essex Gazette encountered “Advices” selected almost exclusively by the editor.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 23, 1769).

“3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.”

Eighteenth-century newspaper printers often treated the colophon as advertising space, promoting the goods and services they provided at the printing office. They encouraged readers to purchase subscriptions and place advertisements, though most remained silent about the costs for doing so. In May 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, updated his colophon to indicate the price for subscriptions: “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.” Previously the colophon simply stated that the Essex Gazette was “Printed by S. HALL, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House” in Salem.

When he updated his colophon, Hall actually reverted to the style that more closely resembled what had been in place at the beginning of the year. This time, however, instead of simply listing the yearly subscription fee he also specified “3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” In other words, subscribers had to pay half of the subscription fee up front; Hall extended credit for a portion of the subscription, but he did not assume the risk for it entirely. Given how frequently printers throughout the colonies published notices calling on debtors to settle accounts, Hall may have wished to avoid some of that difficulty as well as the somewhat unseemly practice of threatening legal action against customers.

Consider also that he commenced publication of the Essex Gazette less than a year earlier. He managed to attract advertisers, but not nearly as many as placed notices in the several newspapers published in Boston. The number of advertisements in some even overflowed into half sheet supplements. Like other printers who understood the market for newspapers, Hall realized that he would likely attract more advertisers and revenue to sustain his enterprise if he expanded his roster of subscribers. After all, greater circulation meant a better return on investment for advertisers who placed their notices in front of more prospective customers. Hall likely sought to balance several concerns when he required only partial payment from subscribers: he enticed subscribers with credit, simultaneously took in some revenue and reduced his own risk, and made his newspaper more attractive to advertisers who would supply even more revenue.

February 7

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

“Subscriptions are taken … by S. Hall in Salem.”

Essex Gazette (February 7, 1769).

This subscription notice for “The WORKS of the celebrated John Wilkes, Esquire, in Three VOLUMES” ran in the February 7, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, yet that was not the first place that colonial readers encountered it. The “PROPOSALS” had previously appeared in at least two newspapers, the New-York Journal in December 1768 and the New-London Gazette in January 1769. The Essex Gazette and the New-London Gazette both reiterated the copy exactly, except for the final paragraph indicating where prospective customers could reserve their copy. The notice in the New-York Journal stated that “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.” The version in the New-London Gazette updated the list to include “at New London in Connecticut” after listing the four largest port cities in the colonies. Rather than add his name to a growing list, the printer of the Essex Gazette instead substituted “and by S. Hall in Salem” for “at New London in Connecticut.” Perhaps Hall was not aware that Timothy Green also took in subscriptions. Both printers may have received copies of the original advertisement accompanied by requests to join the network of subscription agents, but the coordination may have ended there.

The revisions to the lists of subscription agents testify to ongoing attempts to create an imagined community of readers throughout the colonies. In addition to reading many of the same news items reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, readers also encountered the same advertisement encouraging them to purchase and read the same book. In the process, geographically dispersed colonists had similar experiences as they perused the same information in the public prints – and imagined their counterparts in distant colonies simultaneously perusing the same information. Yet creating a sense of an imagined community did not require extending the list of locations whenever possible. The original notice depended on just the four most significant urban ports. Subsequent notices in the Essex Gazette and the New-London Gazette added their own location, but did not add others that also participated. Making connections to the largest cities was sufficient for envisioning an imagined community, even if compiling more extensive lists would have been even more effective. That would have required additional coordination. By the end of the century, some publishers did attempt to harness lengthy lists of subscription agents in their marketing efforts. For instance, Mathew Carey listed dozens of local agents who sold his magazine, the American Museum, in the late 1780s and early 1790s. Doing so required overseeing an extensive network of colleagues and associates. The efforts to promote the works of Wilkes in the late 1760s did not benefit from that level of coordination, though the inclusion of additional agents in more locations may have played a role in inspiring others to take a more systematic approach in subsequent marketing campaigns.

January 10

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

Essex Gazette (January 10, 1768).

“THE Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Salem would be glad to bind out a Number of poor Children.”

Colonial newspapers tended to be regional rather than local, as the names sometimes indicated. Consider the newspapers published in 1769. The Georgia Gazette (published in Savannah), the Massachusetts Gazette (published in Boston), the Pennsylvania Gazette (published in Philadelphia), the South-Carolina Gazette (published in Charleston), and the Virginia Gazette (published in Williamsburg) all served their respective colonies and beyond. Other newspapers with names that specified their places of publication also circulated far beyond the towns and cities that appeared in their mastheads. Such was the case for the Boston Evening-Post, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette. The title of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette summed up the extensive communities served by colonial newspapers. They were simultaneously local and regional publications.

That was the case for advertising as well as news. The majority of paid notices that appeared in any newspaper concerned local affairs, yet a smaller number of advertisements from beyond the city or town where a newspaper was published were interspersed. Artisans and shopkeepers in Albany, for instance, placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York. Colonists in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as towns in Pennsylvania beyond Philadelphia placed advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, estate notices, and other sorts of notices in the newspapers published in Philadelphia. In each instance, they depended on the extensive circulation across a vast geography to place their notices before the eyes of readers in their own communities.

By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the number of newspapers increased dramatically. Especially after the American Revolution, printers established newspapers in smaller cities and towns, eliminating some of the need for newspapers to serve regional audiences. Those new publications allowed advertisers to target local readers more effectively. The process began prior to the Revolution. When Samuel Hall commenced publication of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in August 1768, he offered his community more than just “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic.” As the colophon indicated, he took in subscriptions and advertisements at the printing office. Not just for news but also for advertising, residents of Salem and the surrounding towns now had a local alternative to the several newspapers published in Boston. Residents of Salem could continue to insert advertisements in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Post-Boy, and their competitors as a means of placing them before larger audiences, yet some advertisers likely considered the local alternative more appropriate and more effective for their purposes, whether selling goods or keeping the community informed about local affairs.