November 8

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

Maryland Gazette (November 5, 1772).

“Intend shortly to exhibit Proposals for publishing a NEWS-PAPER.”

Robert Hodge and Frederick Shober took to the pages of the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis, in the fall of 1772 to advise prospective customers that they did “PRINTING In all it’s DIFFERENT BRANCHES … with the greatest neatness, accuracy and dispatch” at their “NEW PRINTING-OFFICE” in Baltimore.  At the time, the Maryland Gazette was the only newspaper published in the colony, so it served Baltimore as well as Annapolis.

Hodge and Shober, however, had plans for establishing their own newspaper in Baltimore.  They declared that they “intend shortly to exhibit Proposals for publishing a NEWS-PAPER, which shall be justly entitled to the Attention and Encouragement of this FLOURISHING TOWN and PROVINCE, both for ENTERTAINMENT and ELEGANCE.”  They were not the only entrepreneurs to decide that Baltimore seemed ready for its first newspaper.  A week earlier, the Maryland Gazette carried an extensive subscription proposal in which William Goddard announced his plans to publish “THE MARYLAND JOURNAL, AND BALTIMORE ADVERTISER … as soon therefore as I shall obtain a sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence of the Work.”  In a market that did not yet have one newspaper, Hodge and Shober competed with Goddard in their efforts to launch two newspapers simultaneously.

Neither met with immediate success.  Goddard, who was already printing the Pennsylvania Chronicle at the time he published his subscription proposal, did not manage to take the Maryland Journal to press until August 20, 1773, ten months after he announced his plans for the newspaper.  Hodge and Shober never published a newspaper.  In his monumental History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas notes that the partners purchased “printing materials” in 1772 and “began business in Baltimore, where they intended to have published a newspaper; but, not meeting with the encouragement they expected, before the end of the year they left Baltimore, and settled in New York.”[1]  A variety of factors likely contributed to their decision to relocate.  Competing with Goddard for subscribers to Baltimore’s first newspaper probably did not help their prospects in the city.

After Goddard commenced publication of the Maryland Journal, Baltimore did gain a second newspaper less than two years later.  John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, established Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette; or the Baltimore General Advertiser on May 2, 1775.  James Hayes, Jr., seems to have operated the publication on Dunlap’s behalf for three years before acquiring it for himself and changing the name to the Maryland Gazette, and Baltimore General Advertiser on September 15, 1778.  Hodge and Shober were just a few years too early in their efforts, though the war almost certainly played a role in inciting interest to establish more than one newspaper in Baltimore.  Under those difficult circumstances, however, Hayes removed to Annapolis just four months later.  Baltimore did not have a second newspaper of any longevity until after the war.[2]

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers & an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 480.

[2] See entries in Clarence Brigham S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947) and Edward Connery Lathem, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Barre, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972).

October 29

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

Maryland Gazette (October 29, 1772).

“I now propose to publish, by Subscription, … a Weekly News-Paper.”

Maryland had only one newspaper in 1772.  William Goddard aimed to change that.  To aid his efforts, he inserted a proposal in the October 29 edition of the Maryland Gazette, the publication that would be his competitor if he managed to launch “THE MARYLAND JOURNAL, AND BALTIMORE ADVERTISER.”  Printed in Annapolis, the Maryland Gazette served the entire colony, but Goddard believed that a market existed, or would exist after some savvy advertising, to support two newspapers in the colony.  In addition, he underscored the political utility of newspapers to prospective subscribers.  “IT is the Sentiment of the wisest and best Men that adorn our Age and Nation,” Goddard declared in the first sentence of his proposal, “that the Liberty of the Press is so essential to the Support of that Constitution under which we have hitherto derived the Blessings of Freedom, that it becomes every one to consider, in the most reverential Light, this Palladium of our Rights.”  The printer further explained that “well conducted News-Papersdispel Ignorance, the Parent of Slavery, give a Taste for Reading, and cause useful Knowledge to be cultivated and encouraged.”  Accordingly, he called on “every Friend to Liberty and his Country” to support his proposed project.

Goddard’s proposal filled nearly an entire column in the Maryland Gazette.  In addition to expounding on the philosophy that prompted him to consider publishing a newspaper in Baltimore, he advised potential subscribers that he was indeed prepared to launch the venture “as soon … as I shall obtain a sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence of the Work.”  Already in correspondence with “many Gentlemen of the most respectable Characters” in Baltimore, Goddard had “engaged a suitable Printing-Apparatus, which will be speedily here.”  In addition, as printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle he had already “established an extensive Correspondence, and shall not only receive all the different Weekly American Papers, but also the best News-Papers, political Pamphlets, Registers, Magazines, and other periodical Publications of Great-Britain and Ireland.”  In addition to printer and publisher, Goddard assumed the responsibilities of editor, drawing the news from the letters, newspapers, and periodicals sent to him.  Every American newspaper printer-editor reprinted extensively from other publications. Goddard even acquired “the most valuable Papers of German Advices” in order to provide news of interest to the growing German population in the backcountry.

The proposal also outlined the particulars of the publication and how to subscribe.  The newspaper would be “printed in four large Folio Pages, equal in Size to any of the Pennsylvania Papers” that, along with the Maryland Gazette, operated as local newspapers for Baltimore and the region.  Goddard intended to print and distribute the newspaper “regularly every Saturday Morning, unless another Day should appear more agreeable to the Subscribers.” Subscriptions cost ten shillings per year, with half to be paid immediately and the other half at the end of the year. Goddard briefly mentioned advertisements, noting they would be “accurately published, in a conspicuous Manner, with great Punctuality, at the customary Prices.”  He did not list those prices.  Colonizers interested in subscribing could leave their names “at the Coffee-Houses in Baltimore-Town and Annapolis” or with “several Persons with whom Subscription Papers are left.”  Like other printers attempting to launch new projects, Goddard relied on a network of local agents who assisted in recruiting subscribers.

Beyond the particulars, Goddard emphasized that he pursued a higher purpose than merely generating revenues or turning a profit on the publication.  He promised to publish news about every “remarkable Occurence, extraordinary Phenomemon, curious Invention, or New Discovery in Nature or Science” as well as “judicious original Essays … on political and other Subjects.”  In selecting material to include in the Maryland Journal, Goddard pledged that “the Freedom of the Press shall be maintained, the utmost Impartiality observed, and every well written Piece admitted, without Scruple, that does not tend to destroy or impair our excellent Constitution, injure the Cause of Liberty, disturb the Repose of Society, give Offence to Modesty, or, in any Shape, reflect Scandal on a News-Paper.”  In an era of upheaval as Parliament turned unwanted attention to the colonies, Goddard framed publishing a newspaper as a civic duty that served the commercial and political interests of the community.

Did the subscription proposal help Goddard to obtain that “sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence” and commence publication?  Perhaps, but it took some time.  The first issue appeared on August 20, 1773, ten months after Goddard initially proposed publishing the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser.  The newspaper continued publication, under the guidance of various printers and proprietors, throughout the American Revolution and into the 1790s, transitioning from weekly to semi-weekly to tri-weekly to daily as newspaper publishing expanded throughout the new nation.

October 25

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

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 22, 1772).

“PROPOSALS For Re-Printing by Subscription … Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Spirit of Laws”

On October 22, 1772, Richard Draper distributed a two-page supplement to accompany the standard issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  That supplement consisted almost entirely of advertising, though it did include brief news items from London and Quebec.  A subscription proposal for an “American Edition of … Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Spirit of Laws” filled most of the second page of the supplement.  That subscription proposal would have looked familiar to colonizers who also read the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy since it appeared in that newspaper three days earlier.  It may have also looked familiar to those who had not perused the other publication.  As I argued when examining the first appearance of the subscription proposal in Boston’s newspapers, it likely circulated separately as a handbill or broadside.

Draper adopted the same method of making the subscription proposal fit on the page that John Green and Joseph Russell used in their newspaper.  Since it was wider than two standard columns, he created a narrower third column by rotating the type to run perpendicular to the rest of the page.  Draper also added a colophon, centered at the bottom of the subscription proposal.  This method of making the broadside fit on a newspaper page was not the only similarity between its appearance in two newspapers.  It looks as though the printing offices shared the type.  If that was the case, who produced the broadside?  Draper or Green and Russell?  Even if the subscription proposal did not circulate separately as a broadside or handbill, the printers almost certainly shared type between their offices.  That was not the first time in 1772 that Draper collaborated with other printers in that manner.  In May, Jolley Allen’s advertisements in the Boston-Gazetteand the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had identical copy and format.  At the same time, Andrew Dexter’s advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter also featured identical copy and format.  At various times, Draper apparently shared type already set with three other printing offices.  Yet he was not always involved in instances of sharing type.  Advertisements for a “Variety of Goods” that ran in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on October 12, for instance, appear identical, with the exception of the last two lines either added to the notice in the Boston-Gazette or removed from the one in the Boston Evening-Post to make it fit the page.  Examining advertisements reveals several other examples of printers in Boston seemingly sharing type in the early 1770s.

As I have noted on other occasions that I have identified what appears to be type transferred from one printing office to another, these observations are drawn from digitized copies of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Examining the original editions, including taking measurements, may yield additional details that either demonstrate that Boston’s printers did not share type for newspaper advertisements or that further suggest that they did indeed do so.  This question merits further investigation to learn more about business practices in printing offices that competed for both newspaper subscribers and advertisers.

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 22, 1772).

October 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 19, 1772).

“PROPOSALS For Re-Printing by Subscription … Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Spirit of Laws.”

It would have been hard for readers to miss the subscription proposal that dominated the final page of the October 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  John Boyles announced his intention to publish an “American Edition” of the “Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Sprit of the Laws,” a work of political philosophy “Which ought to be in EVERY MAN’s Hands.”  Boyles explained that the book had been “Translated from the French Original” as well as “translated and published in most of the civilized Nations of EUROPE.”  Colonizers who wished to participate in the transatlantic republic of letters needed to acquire copies of their own.  To make this particular edition even more attractive than imported alternatives, the publisher stated that it would include “a larger Account of the Life and Writings of the AUTHOR, than is in the European Editions.”

The format of the subscription proposal suggests that it may have been printed separately as a broadside or handbill, on paper of a different size, for distribution beyond subscribers to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  If that was indeed the case, the compositor did not wish to set the type once again in order to insert the subscription proposal in the newspaper.  Its width exceeded two newspaper columns, causing the compositor to create a narrow third column by rotating the type for additional advertisements to run perpendicular to the page.  In the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, advertisers sometimes arranged to have book catalogues, broadsides, or handbills incorporated into newspapers, expanding the reach of their marketing efforts.  That being the case, I suspect that more advertising ephemera circulated in early America than has been identified and preserved in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.  This subscription proposal in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy hints at a hidden history of early American advertising impossible to recover in its entirety.  Although newspaper notices constituted, by the far, the most voluminous form of advertising in early America, other printed media likely circulated more frequently than previously realized.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 19, 1772).

September 3

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 3, 1772).

“Funeral SERMON … preached by the Rev. Mr. ELI FORBES, of Brookfield.”

A few months after the death of Joshua Eaton in April 1772, a subscription notice for “SOME short Account of the LIFE and CHARACTER of the late Rev’d Mr. JOSHUA EATON, of Spencer” appeared in the September 3 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The proposed volume also included “Seven of his serious and useful SERMONS – together with his Funeral SERMON, preached the Sabbath after his Interment by the Rev. Mr. ELI FORBES, of Brookfield.”

Subscription proposals for books that publishers anticipated would have widespread interest often listed local agents in cities and towns in several colonies.  Sometimes the networks for collecting subscriptions were regional, such as those that extended throughout New England, while others incorporated all of the colonies, including the efforts of Robert Bell to establish an American literary marketplace.  In this instance, however, the publishers suspected that Eaton’s biography and sermons would generate primarily local interest in central Massachusetts.  The list of local agents who collected subscriptions included “Deacons Watson and Murry of Spencer” as well as men in the nearby towns of Brookfield, Worcester, Shrewsbury, and Westborough.  Richard Draper and John Boyles, printers in Boston, were the only local agents outside of central Massachusetts.  The proposals did not include other agents along the Massachusetts coastline or in neighboring colonies.  Even in such a compact market, the subscription notice helped to generate sufficient interest to take the book to press, perhaps aided by the commitment of Eaton’s friends to honor the deceased minister.  Draper and Boyles printed the book sometime the following year, with a preface that Forbes, the editor, dated October 20, 1772.

That the subscription notice that ran in a newspaper printed in Boston listed local agents in several towns in central Massachusetts demonstrates the reach of colonial newspapers as they circulated far beyond the towns where they were published.  Newspaper advertisements likely would not have been the only means of spreading word about the proposed volume in Spencer and nearby towns, but if the advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had been intended solely for prospective subscribers in and near Boston then it would not have been necessary to list more than half a dozen local agents in central Massachusetts.  In the absence of newspapers printed in that part of the colony prior to 1775, newspapers from Boston served as local publications.

August 26

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 26, 1772).

“Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

In the summer of 1772, John Dunlap informed the public that he “JUST PUBLISHED … POEMS on SEVERAL OCCASIONS, with some other COMPOSITIONS; by NATHANIEL EVANS.”  He called on subscribers who previously reserved copies to collect them from his printing office on Market Street in Philadelphia while also encouraging others “who design to become Purchasers … as there are but few Copies thrown off above those subscribed for.”  In addition to promoting the author as a former “Missionary (appointed by the Society for propogating the Gospel) for Gloucester County, in New-Jersey; and Chaplain to the Lord Viscount Kilmorey, of the Kingdom ofIreland,” Dunlap asserted that the book was “Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

That short advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette reiterated several of the appeals that Dunlap previously deployed in marketing the book.  He distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that gave prospective buyers a chance to examine both the paper and the type.  At the beginning of a lengthy description of the project on one side, Dunlap declared that the book would be “printed on the same Pennsylvania manufactured Paper as this Advertisement, and the same Type as the Poem annexed.”  During the imperial crisis, many colonizers express their appreciation for domestic manufactures, items produced in the colonies, making “Pennsylvania manufactured Paper” an attractive alternative to imported paper.  The printer devoted the other side of the broadsheet to “AN ODE, Written by the AUTHOR on compleating the Twenty-First Year of his Age” that doubled as a “A SPECIMEN OF THE TYPE.”  That preview of the content simultaneously allowed buyers to see what they could expect in terms of the material qualities of the book.

An excerpt from the “PREFACE,” including a history of collecting and preparing the poems for publication following the death of the author, appeared on the other side of the broadsheet.  Dunlap appended a note that “the List of Subscribers will be committed to the press,” instructing “all who are desirous of encouraging this Publication, and who may not yet have subscribed [to] send their names.”  He also advised “those who have taken subscriptions of others” to send their lists as quickly as possible so he could include all subscribers in the list and print enough copies to match the advance orders.  In the newspaper advertisement, Dunlap promised that non-subscribers who bought any of the surplus copies would have their name “printed in the List of Subscribers to the 2d Edition.”  They would eventually be recognized among the ranks of those who supported the project.

Dunlap did not rely solely on newspaper advertisements in marketing his edition of Evans’s Poems.  Instead, he printed and distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that incorporated excerpts to entice prospective subscribers.  He also promised public recognition in the form of a printed subscription list.  Unlike newspaper advertisements, the broadsheet utilized the paper and the type for the project, allowing prospective customers to assess the material conditions of the proposed book when they decided if they wished to subscribe.  Although newspaper notices accounted for most advertising in eighteenth century America, entrepreneurs circulated many other kinds of marketing media, including trade cards, catalogs, and subscription notices with excerpts and type specimens.

John Dunlap, Type Specimen from Subscription Notice (Philadelphia, 1772). Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

August 21

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 21, 1772).

“PROPOSED to Print by SUBSCRIPTION.”

In the summer of 1772, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, distributed a proposal for printing “A rational Interpretation of the prophetic Visions of St. John … By SAMUEL LANGDON, D.D. Pastor of the first Church in Portsmouth.”  Before taking the work to press, they first sought subscribers who pledged in advance that they would purchase it.  Printing by subscription was a common business model in eighteenth-century America. Subscription proposals allowed printers to encourage interest in their projects and assess demand before investing time, materials, and other resources in ventures unlikely to succeed.  The Fowles claimed that they considered publishing Langdon’s “Series of expository Discourses … at the earnest Request of many Gentlemen acquainted with it,” suggesting that some demand already existed.  Savvy consumers, however, may have suspected that claim was merely a ploy to get them to jump on the bandwagon.  Regardless of how many “Gentlemen” already subscribed, the Fowles declared that they would not move forward with the project unless “proper Encouragement is given by a full Subscription.”  Furthermore, “No more will be printed than what are engaged by Subscribers.”  The printers attempted to create a sense of urgency around subscribing to what they portrayed as a popular project as soon as possible or miss out on having their names printed among the list of subscribers.

Production of the book, on the other hand, would take quite a bit of time.  Rather than take the entire volume to press, the Fowles proposed a serial publication that would “come out in month Numbers, containing about 32 Octavo Pages, on good Paper and a new Type.”  Subscribers paid only when they received new installments of the series.  The Fowles estimated that it would take about two years to publish the entire work, “each Year making a Volume of about 380 Pages.”  They promised that the “Numbers will be duely sent, free of Charge, to all the principal Towns where Subscriptions are taken in.”  They listed nearly a dozen local agents in towns in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Philadelphia, stating that they sent subscription papers to them.  In addition, the Fowles explained that each number would be “advertised in the publick Prints as soon as publish’d.”  Those who resided “at too great a distance to receive the Numbers seasonably” could instead choose “to subscribe for the whole in Volumes, stitched or bound,” as long as they “specify their Desire, in the Subscription.”  The Fowles asserted that they would send each annual volume “as soon as published.”  They did not, however, indicate how often such subscribers were expected to submit payment.  Overall, they outlined a complicated system of distributing and collecting subscription proposals as well as distributing serialized “numbers” and collecting payments each month.  The logistics may have been too complicated.  It does not appear that they printed and distributed the first “number” in November 1772 as intended.  They did publish a pamphlet by Langdon, “A Rational Explication of St. John’s Vision of the Two Beasts,” thirty-two pages on octavo paper, in 1774.  They may have published other essays by Langdon separately as well, but not the entire project as originally envisioned and presented to prospective subscribers.  If few subscribers responded to their proposals, that likely played a significant role in their decision not to pursue the project.

July 1

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

Boston-Gazette (June 29, 1772).

“The Gentlemen who subscribed … for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries … are desired to apply for the second Volume.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column of the June 29, 1772, edition.  “The Gentlemen who subscribed with Edes and Gill for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries on the Laws of England,” they announced, are desired to apply for the second Volume.”  In addition, “A few of the First Volume may be had by applying as above.”  Edes and Gill did not publish this “American Edition.”  Instead, they served as local agents for Robert Bell, a printer and bookseller based in Philadelphia.

Over the course of many months, Bell inserted subscription notices for an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  He also distributed handbills to promote the project.  Bell sought to cultivate an American literary market that supplied American readers with American editions instead of books imported from London.  In addition to Blackstone’s Commentaries, he advertised an American edition of David Hume’s History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688.  Bell suggested that consumers had a civic obligation to purchase these volumes, addressing his subscription notices to “all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications in AMERICA.”

Bell also stated that those who assisted him in this venture engaged in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”  In case that was not enough to recruit local agents like Edes and Gill in Boston, he also pledged that “All Persons who collect the Names and Residence, and deliver the Books to twelve Subscribers, have a Claim of Right, and are allowed fourteen to the Dozen for their Assiduity.”  In other words, local agents received two copies gratis for each dozen they sold to subscribers.  The copies of the first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries that Edes and Gill offered for sale when they announced that subscribers could pick up the second volume may have been copies they received for gathering subscriptions in Boston.  Bell devised marketing strategies to entice both reader-consumers and local agents.

May 24

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

“Send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 21, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included “PROPOSALS FOR PUBLISHING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A MAP of the INTERIOR PARTS OF NORTH-AMERICA.  By THOMAS HUTCHINS, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal American Regiment, and Engineer.”  Hutchins explained that the map depicted a region “which must soon become a most important and very interesting part of the British empire in America.”  It included “the great rivers of Missisippi and Ohio, with the newest smaller streams which empty into them” as well as “Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan.”  Hutchins asserted that the map “accurately delineated” the region, “a great part of the country and most of the rivers and lakes … laid down from surveys, corrected by the observation of latitudes, carefully executed by himself” during the Seven Years War and “since the final treaty with the western and northern Indians in 1764.”  The map also incorporated “every considerable town of the various Indian Nations, who inhabit these regions.”  The “extent of their respective claims,” Hutchins noted, “are also particularly pointed out.”  Land speculators and settler colonizers certainly had their eyes on those “respective claims,” despite the Proclamation Line of 1763 that reserved that territory for indigenous peoples.

Hutchins declared that he would publish and deliver the map “as soon as the Subscribers amount to a number adequate to defray the unavoidable expence of the publication.”  Like so many others who wished to publish books and maps, he did not intend to assume the financial risk without assurances that the project would meet with success.  To that end, he invited “those in SOUTH-CAROLINA who may think proper to encourage” publishing the map to “as soon as possible, send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”  Powell, Hughes and Company acted as local agents for subscribers.  Hutching did not, however, restrict his marketing efforts to newspaper notices.  He also distributed broadside subscription proposals that featured almost identical text.  Measuring approximately thirteen inches by eight inches, a copy at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania includes blank space to insert the name of a local agent who could have posted the subscription notice in a retail shop or printing office.  That accounts for the first variation in the text compared to the advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette, an invitation for subscribers to “send their names to [blank]” rather than “send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”  A short paragraph unique to the broadside notice followed that blank: “WE the Subscribers do agree to pay Lieutenant THOMAS HUTCHINS, or Order, for the above-mentioned Map and Analysis, ONE PISTOLE, on the receipt thereof, according to the Number affixed to our respective Names.”  Additional blank space provided room for subscribers to add their names and indicate how many copies they wished to order.  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s copy does not have any manuscript additions; no subscribers signed it to reserve their maps.

Newspaper advertisements provided the best opportunity to circulate subscription notices to the greatest number of prospective customers, but they were not the only means of inciting interest in books and maps.  Hutchins and other entrepreneurs also distributed broadsides to local agents to facilitate recording the names of subscribers.  I suspect that a greater number of those broadsides circulated in early America than survive today, increasing the frequency that colonizers encountered advertising media.

Broadside Subscription Proposal with Space for Subscribers to Add Names. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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).