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.

December 26

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

Dec 26 - 12:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 26, 1769).

“Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770.”

During the final week of 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, continued to advertise that he sold several different almanacs for the coming year. The final issue of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs, a longer one for “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770: Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM” and a shorter one for two other almanacs. That one announced “Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Hall had been advertising An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 by Nathanael Low for a month, but had not previously advertised the popular Astronomical Diary: or Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1770 by Nathaniel Ames. John Kneeland and Seth Adams in Boston printed Low’s Almanack, but Hall may have acquired Ames’s Almanack from any of several different printers. Thomas Green and Samuel Green in New Haven issued an edition, as did Timothy Green in New London and Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson in Hartford. Beyond Connecticut, Daniel and Robert Fowle printed their own edition of the popular almanac in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Several printers and booksellers in Boston collaborated in printing and advertising an edition there. Hall most likely carried either the Boston or the Portsmouth edition of Ames’s Almanack. Like Low’s Almanack, it received little fanfare in the advertisement in the Essex Gazette. Although Hall made an additional option available to his customers just in time for the new year, he continued to focus his marketing efforts on Philo’s Essex Almanack, which had been “Just published and to be Sold” by Hall himself according to the lengthy advertisement he inserted in the Essex Gazette for several weeks. He struck a careful balance between offering several choices to customers, including the popular Ames’s Almanack and Low’s Almanack, and attempting to funnel interest toward his own venture, the new and less familiar Philo’s Essex Almanack.

December 12

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

Dec 12 - 12:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 12, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack … Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, also published “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.” Just days before it went to press, he inserted a notice in the Essex Gazette to inform readers of the almanac’s impending publication. A week later, he ran another advertisement that proclaimed he had “Just published” the almanac and now sold it “Wholesale and Retail.” That advertisement demonstrated an evolution in Hall’s marketing efforts.

The first advertisement filled a “square,” the unit some eighteenth-century newspaper printers used to describe the amount of space with length approximately matching column width. It provided a brief overview of the contents of the almanac to entice prospective customers.   Upon publication, Hall dramatically increased the size of the advertisement to include a much more extensive list of the almanac’s contents. He previously promised that in addition to the “usual astronomical Calculations” the almanac contained “Thirty Pieces” for reference and entertainment, offering general categories for the various items (“religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial, satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical”). The new advertisement did not list any of those categories; instead, Hall named almost all of the “Thirty Pieces” that accompanied the astronomical calculations. Those who purchased the Philo’s Essex Almanack would be amused or instructed by “The Sausage-Maker raised to be a Prime Minister,” “Rules for preserving Health in Eating and Drinking,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Husband,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Wife,” and “Some Lines written extempore on the Sea-Shore, by a Lady.” Despite the length of the advertisement, Hall did not have sufficient space to include all the contents of the almanac. He concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that customers would discover even more when they acquired their own copies of Philo’s Essex Almanack.

This was the first time Hall published an almanac “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.” Although he printed and advertised it fairly late compared to counterparts who had more experience publishing almanacs in other towns, he did adopt some of the standard marketing practices for almanacs in eighteenth-century America. He promoted Philo’s Essex Almanack with a preview before going to press and later published an extensive list of its contents when the almanac was available for sale. Hall did not publish an almanac the following year, suggesting that sales of “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” were not successful enough to merit investing time, labor, and other resources in the enterprise a second time. Although his advertising matched others in terms of copy, the timing may have played a role in hampering sales. Residents of Salem were accustomed to obtaining almanacs printed in Boston and Portsmouth. Some may have acquired their favorite titles before Hall even advertised that he planned to publish an almanac in Essex. The same advertising campaign launched a month or more earlier may have had different results.

December 5

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

Dec 5 - 12:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 5, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.”

The December 5, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs. A brief notice announcing that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof” ran once again on the final page. A more extensive notice about “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” appeared on the third page. It stated that the almanac would be published on the following Friday and sold by Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette. The advertisement also offered an overview of the almanac’s contents: “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, about Thirty Pieces, religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical,— interspersed with a Variety of instructive Sentences, excellent Cautions, and profitable Sayings.” In previewing the contents, Hall deployed a common marketing strategy intended to incite interest in almanacs. Printers, authors, booksellers, and other retailers did so in hopes of distinguishing their almanacs from the many others available in the colonial marketplace.

In Massachusetts alone, colonists could chose from among at least eight different almanacs for 1770 published by local printers, according to Milton Drake’s bibliography of early American almanacs.[1] (Reprints and variant titles brought the total to ten.) With the exception of Philo’s Essex Almanack printed in Salem by Samuel Hall, all were printed in Boston. Hall also printed the Essex Gazette, the colony’s only newspaper not published in Boston. This may help to explain the different treatment Philo’s Essex Almanack and Low’s Astronomical Diary, or Almanack for 1770 received in the advertisements in the Essex Gazette. When it came to selling the latter, Hall served as a retailer and local agent for Kneeland and Adams. He likely had less interest in giving over space in his newspaper to promoting that almanac, especially when he had his own publication soon to come off the press. He exercised his prerogative as printer to give the advertisement for his own almanac a privileged place in the Essex Gazette, placing it immediately after the shipping news from the customs house in the December 5 edition. It was thus the first advertisement of any sort that readers encountered if they began on the first page and skimmed through the contents in order.

Like most of the other advertisements that ran in the Essex Gazette, this one was relatively streamlined compared to some that appeared in other newspapers. The title page of Philo’s Essex Almanack indicated that it had been “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM, in NEW-ENGLAND, Lat. 42 D. 35 M. North,” making it the only almanac specific to that location … yet Hall did not acknowledge this in his advertisement as a means of capturing the local market.[2] Hall intended to sell the almanac “wholesale and Retail,” according to the advertisement, but he listed the prices on the title page rather than in the newspaper. While he certainly put more effort into marketing his own almanac over others, Hall still neglected to adopt strategies that other printers, authors, and booksellers sometimes included in their advertisements. Given that many other almanacs were well established in a crowded marketplace, this may help to explain why Philo’s Essex Almanack did not appear in a new edition the following year.

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[1] Milton Drake, Almanacs of the United States (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962), 306-307.

[2] Philo’s Essex Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1770 (Salem, Massachusetts: Samuel Hall, 1769).