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.

January 3

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

Essex Gazette (January 3, 1768).

The Declaration and Confession of Ruth Blay will be printed To-morrow.”

Infanticide and a public execution: read all about it! When compiling the contents for the first issue of the Essex Gazette for 1769, printer Samuel Hall devised one item that was part news and part advertisement. “We hear from Portsmouth,” the notice began, “That last Friday the unfortunate Ruth Blay was executed there, pursuant to her Sentence.” Hall did not go into great detail about the sequence of events, likely assuming that most readers were already familiar with the infamous case of an unmarried schoolmistress who had been convicted of concealing the birth of an illegitimate child in southern New Hampshire. The printer did report that Blay “behaved in a very penitent Manner, but denied … Murdering her Infant Child.” Before her execution, the schoolmistress “sign’d a Declaration and Confession.” Hall reprinted a portion of that document, both to inform readers and to entice them to purchase a copy of their own. The notice ended with an announcement, printed in italics and larger type to garner attention, that “The Declaration and Confession of Ruth Blay will be printed To-morrow.”

Hall leveraged current events in the service of earning revenues. He stoked interest in the Blay case by providing a teaser from the “Declaration and Confession” in advance of publishing his own edition. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, had already published Blay’s appeal early in the morning on the day of her execution, at “2 o’clock Friday morning December 30, 1768” according to the imprint. Hall apparently acquired a copy, perhaps from the same messenger who brought news that Blay’s execution had finally occurred after she had received a series of reprieves. No known copy of an edition printed by Hall survives, but the Peabody Essex Museum and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin both have copies of the broadside attributed to the Fowles. The promised edition advertised in the Essex Gazette may never have gone to press, but Hall certainly could have printed copies of the broadside to offer for sale shortly after prospective customers saw the notice in the newspaper. He certainly would not have been the only printer who marketed memorabilia related to crimes and executions. First Thomas Green and Samuel Green and later printers in Boston printed and advertised a pamphlet about “the Life and Abominable Thefts” of Isaac Frasier in the wake of his execution for burglary in September 1768. Hall’s notice, part news and part advertisement, suggests that he also saw an opportunity to profit from print culture that entertained readers with the story of an infamous criminal.

For more on Ruth Blay, see Sharon L. Jansen’s “Ruth Blay and the Crime of Concealing the Birth of a ‘Bastard’ Child,” which includes an image of the Portsmouth Athenaeum’s photocopy of the “Declaration & Confession of Ruth Blay” printed by the Fowles.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1768 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 2, 1768).

Marblehead, July 25, 1768. Edward Griffiths, Taylor and Habit-maker from LONDON.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement from the Essex Gazette for the first time, an advertisement from the first issue of that newspaper. Samuel Hall commenced publication of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1768. Hall offered an address “To the PUBLICK” on the first page, explaining the purpose of establishing a printing office and, especially, publishing a newspaper to the residents of Salem and other readers: “there can be no doubt that every Inhabitant is sufficiently sensible that the Exercise of this Art is of the utmost Importance to every Community, and that News-Papers, in particular, are of great publick Utility.” That was because newspapers collected together “miscellaneous Productions, and the Advices from different Parts of the World” in order that “the most useful Knowledge to Mankind, tending to preserve and promote the Liberty, Happiness and Welfare of Civil Society, is, at a trifling Expence, imperceptibly diffused among the Inhabitants of an extensive Country.”

Although Hall assumed primary responsibly for compiling those “miscellaneous Productions” and “Advices from different Parts of the World,” other colonists did play a part in shaping the contents of the Essex Gazette, just as they did newspapers published throughout the colonies, through the advertisements they paid to have inserted alongside news, editorials, prices current, poetry, and other items. Hall did not solicit advertising in his address “To the PUBLICK,” but the colophon at the bottom of the final page did states that “SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper” at the printing office “a few Doors above the Town-House.” Hall reported that he had issued proposals for publishing the Essex Gazette a month earlier. Those proposals likely included a call for colonists to submit advertisements in advance of the first issue going to press.

Five advertisements, filling, one and a half of the twelve columns, did appear in the inaugural issue. Andrew Oliver,a prominent colonial official, requested that “WHOEVER has borrowed” two books from his library either return them or contact him. The other four advertisements all promoted consumer goods and services. William Vans peddled a “Great Variety of English Goods” at his shop on the “Corner leading from the main Street to the North-River Bridge.” Edward Griffiths, a “Taylor and Habit-maker from LONDON” used a list of prices for suits, jackets, and breeches to attract prospective clients to his shop in Marblehead. William Jones invited travelers and others to the “King’s-Head Tavern, in Danvers, on the Road from Boston to Salem.” In an advertisement that filled an entire column, Philip Godfrid Kast listed and described various patent medicines available at his apothecary shop “at the Sign on the Lyon and Mortar” in Salem. Kast regularly advertised in newspapers published in Boston, but the new Essex Gazette provided an opportunity for him and the other entrepreneurs who inserted notices in the first issue to more directly target local readers who could become customers. That certainly enhanced the “publick Utility” of the newspaper for advertisers.

February 8

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

Feb 8 - 2:8:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (February 8, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

In addition to the masthead on the first page, most eighteenth-century newspapers also included a colophon that listed publication information on the final page. At the very least the colophon usually indicated the name of the printer and the place of publication, but many printers inserted much more extensive information in their colophons, often transforming them into advertisements for the goods and services they provided. For instance, in the colophon for the February 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy James Parker announced that he accepted “Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper” at his printing office on Beaver Street. On the same day, Peter Timothy similarly invited readers of the South Carolina Gazette to submit subscriptions and advertisements, but his colophon also stated that “all Kinds of useful Blanks sold, and all Sorts of Printing-Work is done with Accuracy and Dispatch” in his shop.

Like Parker and Timothy, many printers frequently solicited advertisements in their colophons. After all, advertising generated greater revenues than subscriptions. Far fewer printers, however, indicated how much they charged advertisers to have their notices inserted in the newspaper. In the colophon of the Newport Mercury Samuel Hall did publish such rates: “ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, lawful Money, and Six Pence for each Week after.” This schedule indicates how much advertisers paid for both space in the newspaper and the time and labor involved in setting the type. Each advertisement required a minimum payment of three shillings (or thirty-six pence). Hall determined that the space taken up by an advertisement was worth six pence per week. Since the original order had to cover three weeks, that meant that eighteen pence went toward the space the advertisement occupied on the page. The remaining eighteen pence then covered the time and labor involved in setting the type. This sort of payment structure was common among printers who revealed advertising rates in their colophons. Once an advertiser made it worth their time to set the type (usually three weeks, but occasionally four), they continued to publish an advertisement for just the cost of the space. Running an advertisement for even a short time often exceeded the cost of a subscription to the newspaper, making paid notices lucrative for printers.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:11:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 11, 1766).

“DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES.”

Advertisements associated with the potash industry appeared quite regularly in colonial newspapers. Some advertisers wanted to buy it, offering a good price in exchange for potash. Others supplied some of the equipment, such as oversized kettles, necessary for producing potash. Although not necessarily directly involved in potash production, printers also published advertisements that indicated they stood to profit from it all the same. Some sold “Justices Blank Certificates” used in the packing and regulation of potash, while others peddled instruction manuals to those who wanted to participate in the industry or improve on their previous efforts.

Such was the case with a short pamphlet (less than twenty pages) devoted to “DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES, As practised in Hungary, &c.” Samuel Hall, the printer of the Newport Mercury, sold the pamphlet at his shop “on the North Side of the Parade,” but the imprint on the pamphlet itself indicated that it was “Printed for and sold by JOHN MEIN, at the London Book-store” in Boston. Both printers (and quite likely others throughout New England that exchanged stock with Mein) looked to make a profit from indirect involvement in the potash trade through the sale of ancillary products.

Aug 12 - Potash Pamphlet
Directions for Making Calcined or Pearl Ashes, as Practised in Hungary, &c. with a Copper-plate Drawing of a Calcining Furnace (Boston:  John Mein, 1766).  Boston Public Library.

Both the advertisement and the title page of the pamphlet underscored that it included “a Copper-Plate Drawing of a calcined Furnace.” This would have certainly increased the expense of producing the pamphlet and, ultimately, the cost to the customer, but such an investment could be readily justified. The accompanying image likely offered valuable insight into the text, making it more comprehensible. Art historian Nancy Siegel has argued that engraved images that accompanied eighteenth-century cookbooks were imperative in demonstrating the meaning of the text to readers. The same would have been true for an instruction manual detailing equipment and processes for producing potash, especially for readers not already well versed in the subject. After all, the directions in the pamphlet were “founded on the most extensive Knowledge of Pearl Ashes—a Knowledge acquired by long Practice, Experience and Success. The advertisement warned readers that this was “the only Means to establish Matters of Fact.” It concluded by jeering that “plausible Theories” were “little better than ingenious Amusements.”

In other words, both the text and the engraved copperplate drawing merited attention from anybody serious about potash production. Both were worth the expense.