February 26

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

Essex Gazette (February 26, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by I. Thomas, Printer and Publisher … M.J. Hiller, Watch-maker in Salem.”

As Isaiah Thomas prepared to relaunch the Massachusetts Spy after a brief hiatus, he placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston.  On February 18, 1771, he inserted a notice in all three newspapers published that day, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In that notice, he revised the plan of publication he previously outlined.  Instead of publishing the Spy on Tuesdays, the day after new editions of the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Gazette and Post-Boy, he moved the day to Thursdays in order to take advantage of the post arriving from Hartford with newspapers and letters on Wednesdays.  That would allow him to disseminate whatever news arrived from the west.

With his original plan, he would have been the only printer in Boston who circulated a newspaper in Boston on Tuesdays.  The revised plan, however, put him in direct competition with the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Despite that fact, the Gazette and News-Letter carried Thomas’s advertisement for the Spy on February 21.  That notice featured copy identical to the advertisements in the other three newspapers except for the additions of a headline that labeled it “ANOTHER THURDAY’S PAPER” and “Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgwater” as a local agent who collected subscriptions on Thomas’s behalf.

Thomas did not confine his marketing of the revamped Spy to Boston’s newspapers.  The day after it first appeared, the printer inserted the advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  The notice about the Spy ran for several weeks in each newspaper that carried it, a strategy likely intended to create momentum in acquiring subscribers leading up to the relaunch on March 7.  Thomas carefully coordinated that advertising campaign.  Notices usually ran for three weeks for a set fee, with an additional charge for each subsequent insertion.  Thomas planned the appearance of his advertisements to occur in the three weeks prior to commencing publication of the improved Spy.  Those advertisements did not appear in other newspapers again on or after March 7.  Instead, new issues of the Spy did the work of advertising the newspaper as they circulated in Boston and beyond.

February 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 18, 1771).

“Massachusetts-Spy.”

Just over six months after the Massachusetts Spy commenced publication in July 1770, printer Isaiah Thomas temporarily suspended the newspaper in early February 1771.  Thomas warned both current and prospective subscribers of the hiatus in a series of notices in the Spy, pledging that he would relaunch the newspaper, with improvements, in March.  He hoped that the plans he outlined would attract new subscribers.

During the time that Thomas suspended publication, he turned to other newspapers to promote the Spy and seek subscribers.  On February 18, he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In each, he addressed “all LOVERS of NEWS, POLITICKS, TRUE LIBERTY, and the FREEDOM of the PRESS.”  He also declared that the Spy was “open to ALL Parties, but influenced by None,” though Thomas became an increasingly vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  Indeed, four years later he fled to the relative safety of Worcester and set up his press there because he feared retribution from British officials angered by coverage in his newspaper if he remained in Boston.

Rather than focus on politics in this advertisement, however, Thomas described the plan for publishing the improved Spy.  He originally intended to publish it on Tuesdays, the day after the newspaper that carried his advertisement, but reported that he would instead publish it on Thursdays “at the Request of a great Number of the Subscribers.”  In appearing to give the customers what they wanted, Thomas further enhanced the Spy by gaining “the Advantage of inserting what News may be brought by the Hartford-Post, who arrives on Wednesday Evenings.”  Like other newspapers, the Spy featured extracts of letters and items reprinted directly from other newspapers.

Thomas also listed other details, including the size and appearance of the newspaper and subscription rates.  The revitalized Spy “will be printed on Demy Paper, every Number to contain four Pages large Folio, and every Page four columns.”  While a couple of newspapers published in other towns at that time featured four columns per page, none of those published in Boston did.  In this manner, Thomas sought to distinguish his newspaper from the local competition.  If printers mentioned subscriptions rates in print at all, they most often did so in the plan of publication.  Thomas set the price at six shillings and eight pence per year, with half to be paid on delivery of the first issue and the other half paid at the end of the year.  Like other printers, he extended credit to subscribers.

The enterprising printer also gave instructions for subscribing, inviting “All those who are kind enough to encourage this Undertaking … to give in their Names as soon as they conveniently can.”  Thomas accepted subscriptions himself, but he also specified several agents in Boston.  They included fellow booksellers and printers, though none of the printers of other newspapers published in Boston.  He also had local agents in nearby Charlestown as well as the more distant Salem.  Thomas would eventually collect the “Subscription Papers” from his various agents and collate the names into a single subscription list.

Thomas envisioned significant improvements to the Massachusetts Spy, but he needed the support of subscribers to put his plans into effect.  He first outlined new aspects of his newspaper in the Spy before it temporarily halted publication, but then he turned to advertising in other newspapers to seek subscribers (and presumably advertisers) and generate interest as the public anticipated publication of the new Massachusetts Spy.

February 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 1, 1771).

“If they will now Subscribe and pay Twelve Shillings, they shall have a Book at the same price of the Government.”

Advertisements helped to incite demand, but in the case of subscription notices they also helped to gauge demand.  Before taking books to press, printers distributed subscription notices in which they asked customers (or subscribers) to indicate the number of copies they wished to purchase and make a deposit in advance.  That allowed printers to estimate the total number to print, allowing for some surplus to sell to meet further demand among those who neglected to subscribe, but not so much as to cut into revenues too dramatically.  The deposits also helped to defray the costs of printing, thus making ventures less risky for printers.

Such was the case when Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a subscription notice for “a NEW EDITION of the PROVINCE LAWS” in the February 1, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The Fowles proclaimed that the books “have been ordered by the Government to be publish’d; and a certain Number to be printed.”  While that order was secure, the Fowles anticipated additional demand for this publication, stating that they believed those ordered “by the Government” likely “will not be sufficient for supplying every particular Person, who may be desirous of having a LAW BOOK.”  In their subscription notice, they called on other prospective customers to “now Subscribe and pay Twelve Shillings” in order to have a Book at the same price of the Government.”

The Fowles also issued a warning to interested parties who did not act quickly.  “Those who neglect giving in their Names and paying their Part at the Time of Subscribing,” the printers cautioned, “will not only run the risqué of not having a set, as very few will be printed, exclusive of what the Court and others take off, but also have a quarter part more to pay for those few, than Subscribers.”  In other words, the Fowles planned to print only a limited number of additional copies, creating a scarcity in the market after fulfilling the orders received in advance.  They also planned to charge a higher price, fifteen shillings instead of twelve, for those surplus copies.  Subscribers received a discount by ordering in advance so the Fowles would know how many copies to print.

The Fowles sought to achieve two goals simultaneously.  They hoped to incite demand in the book they would soon publish while also estimating demand in order to make informed decisions about how many copies to print.  Subscription notices allowed printers to conduct a rudimentary form of market research in the eighteenth century.

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 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 7, 1770).

“The late Rev. and pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work.”

In December 1770, John Fleeming distributed subscription notices for a publication that he described as “The First BIBLE ever printed in America.”  The proposed work included “the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS” as well as “Annotations and Parallel Scriptures By the late Rev. SAMUEL CLARK.”  Fleeming outlined the conditions, a standard part of any subscription notice, providing an overview of the type, paper, and publication schedule.  He also offered premiums to “Booksellers, Country Traders,” and others who collected at least one dozen subscriptions on his behalf and later distributed the bibles to the subscribers.  In addition, Fleeming informed prospective subscribers that their names “will be printed” among the ancillary materials that accompanied the bible, thus testifying to their commitment to the project and their role in making it possible.

Yet Fleeming devoted the greatest portion of his subscription notice to an innovative marketing strategy.  He included a lengthy testimonial from George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Fleeming noted that the “pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work, and a character of the Author,” Samuel Clark, “in a preface which he prefixed to an edition then publishing.”  Fleeming then quoted extensively from Whitefield, filling almost an entire column.  Indeed, the entire subscription notice filled two of three columns on the first page of the December 7 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

This was yet another instance of printers and booksellers seeking to capitalize on Whitefield’s death a few months earlier on September 30.  Since that time, newspaper printers published a steady stream of articles about the minister’s death and reactions throughout the colonies.  Even as those news items slowed down, they continued to print and reprint poems that eulogized Whitefield.  Almost as soon as the public received news of the minister’s death, printers and booksellers began hawking books and hymnals written by Whitefield as well as commemorative items that memorialized the minister.  Along with publishing poems in his memory, the commodification of Whitefield’s death continued after news reached even the most distant colonies.  Mobilizing the deceased minister’s preface from another edition in order to deliver a posthumous testimonial in a subscription notice that began circulating two months after his death was another means of combining outlets for expressing grief and opportunities to generate revenues.

December 2

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

Maryland Gazette (November 29, 1770).

“Requested the Favour of the following Gentlemen to take in Subscriptions.”

When Charles Leonard of Alexandria, Virginia, wished to publish “Six elegant Pieces of Musick” that he composed, he distributed a subscription notice that included the terms and listed local agents who accepted subscriptions on his behalf.  In an advertisement that ran in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, Leonard enumerated only two terms of publication.  In the first, he stated, “This Work is to be neatly engraved in the Copper-Plate Method, or in Manuscript; and ready to be delivered to Subscribers in Eighteen Months from this Date.”  The second term outlined the pricing structure.  Each copy cost two dollars, one paid at the time of subscribing and the other on delivery.  Publishing by subscription allowed Leonard to assess interest to determine whether moving forward with the venture was viable.  The advance payments defrayed expenses while keeping subscribers committed to the project.

Leonard devoted as much space in his advertisement to listing local agents who accepted subscriptions as he did to outlining the terms.  In Virginia, he identified four in Alexandria, two in Dunfries, one in Georgetown, and three in Bladensburg.  Another five represented him in Maryland, including two in Upper Marlborough and one each in Piscataway, Port Tobacco, and Annapolis.  Leonard also had two local agents who accepted subscriptions in Philadelphia.  In total, eighteen “Gentlemen … take in Subscriptions” in three colonies.  Leonard created an extensive network, hoping that this would garner success in attracting sufficient subscribers for publishing his book of music.

In addition to newspaper advertisements, Leonard may have also had subscription papers printed and distributed to his local agents.  Subscription papers included both the terms of publication and space for subscribers to sign their names and indicate the number of copies they wished to order.  Local agents sometimes displayed subscription papers, allowing prospective subscribers to see who else had already committed to the project.  No matter the means of keeping records of subscribers, local agents eventually sent their lists to Leonard to collate and determine how many copies to publish.  His newspaper advertisement was only one part of a larger coordinated campaign designed to generate interest in publishing his “Six elegant Pieces of Musick.”

November 17

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

Providence Gazette (November 17, 1770).

“A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the weeks after George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others supplied the grieving public with commemorative items that honored the memory of one of the most influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death was widespread.  Advertisements for broadsides and books appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  As colonists joined together in mourning the minister, they also joined together to participate in a culture of consumption inspired by his death.

Garrat Noel, a bookseller in New York, advertised titles by Whitefield already in his inventory.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to turn a profit by reprinting Whitefield’s popular Collection of Hymns for Social Worship.  He inserted a subscription notice in the November 17 edition of the Providence Gazette, calling on prospective buyers to indicate their interest by “subscribing” for their own copies.  Subscription notices helped printers assess demand for proposed publications.  As Carter explained in his advertisement, “As soon as a Sufficiency of Subscriptions are obtained barely to defray the Charge of Printing, the Work will be prepared for the Press.”  If he did not attract enough subscribers then he would not lose money on the enterprise.  As a means of confirming their commitment, Carter asked subscribers to pay half “at subscribing” and the other half upon delivery.

Carter made several marketing appeals to entice subscribers to reserve their copies.  They should acquire it, he argued, as a means of religious edification.  “This valuable Work,” the printer stated, “forms of itself a Body of Divinity, and ought to be in the Hands of every Christian.”  Furthermore, it was a bargain.  The previous twelve editions printed in London sold for twice as much as Carter charged for his American edition.  If that was not reason enough, then prospective subscribers needed to take into account the politics of making this purchase.  Carter asserted that the hymnal would be printed on “good Paper, of the Manufacture of America,” rather than imported paper that had been subject to duties under the Townshend Acts until only very recently.  Subscribers could demonstrate their righteousness in honoring the memory of Whitefield while simultaneously encouraging domestic production that served as an alternative to relying on imported goods.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 31, 1770).

“The Gentlemen who please to favour us with their Subscriptions, shall have their Names carefully published in an alphabetical List.”

Like many books, maps were often published by subscription in the eighteenth-century.  Mapmakers published subscription notices to incite demand as well as gauge interest in their projects.  Doing so also allowed them to avoid some of the risk inherent in the enterprise.  Upon attracting a sufficient number of subscribers, they moved forward with confidence in the financial viability of the project.  On occasions that they lacked subscribers, they knew that it was not worth the time and resources required to publish a book or print a map.  Subscription lists also gave them a sense of how many copies to produce in order to avoid producing a large quantity that did not sell and counted against the financial success of the venture.

In the summer of 1770, James Cook and Tacitus Gaillard published “PROPOSALS FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS FOR THE DRAUGHTS Of SOUTH-CAROLOINA,” their subscription notice for a map of the colony.  They presented this undertaking as a community endeavor, first noting that their work “has met with the Approbation of the Honourable the COMMONS HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY” and stating that they hoped their “Proposals will merit the Favour of the Public.”  Subscribers did not need to contact Cook and Gaillard directly.  Instead, they designated local agents who gathered names on their behalf, listing them at the conclusion of the advertisement.  Those agents included several prominent merchants and planters as well as Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette.  In addition, “sundry other Gentlemen of each Parish” also accepted subscriptions and reported them to Cook and Gaillard.  The mapmakers gave the impression that their project already had the support – and the financial backing through subscriptions of their own – of some of the most prominent men in the colony.

Cook and Gaillard offered subscribers an opportunity to join the ranks of those prominent men … and to enjoy public recognition that they had done so.  “The Gentlemen who please to favour us with their Subscriptions,” the mapmakers promised, “shall have their Names carefully published in an alphabetical List, unless they desire the contrary.”  Books and maps published by subscription often featured such lists that acknowledged the benefactors that made the projects possible.  Publishing subscription lists drew together in one place all the members of the community that supported these projects, giving subscribers the chance to associate with others in a manner that remained visible to the public long after they subscribed, paid for, and collected their books and maps.  These lists became lasting records of which colonists supported the publication of books and maps.  Cook and Gaillard’s marketing strategy suggested that securing a spot on their subscription list was nearly as alluring as acquiring a copy of their beautifully rendered map.  Subscribers purchased prestige along with the map.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 23, 1770).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by the Printer of this Paper.”

The many and various advertisements for consumer goods and services in the January 23, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included a subscription notice for “Essays on … the Indians, on the Continent of North-America” by James Adair, who had resided “the greater Part of 33 Years among the Indians themselves.” Those essays focused “Particularly” on the Catawbas, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws “inhabiting the western Parts of the Colonies of Virginia, North and South-Carolina, and Georgia.” Given their proximity, the author or publisher expected that the proposed book would resonate with prospective subscribers in South Carolina … and in Georgia. The same subscription notice ran on several occasions in the Georgia Gazette in late 1769 and early 1770.

Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, acted as local agents on behalf of the author or publisher. The book would not go to press until enough “subscribers” expressed interest and confirmed their intention to buy it by putting down a deposit in advance. By enlisting local agents and seeking subscribers in South Carolina, Georgia, and likely other places as well, the author or publisher aimed to enlarge the market and make the proposed book a viable endeavor.

The advertisements in the two newspapers contained exactly the same copy (except for the final word, “Paper” instead of “Gazette”). The author or publisher may have written out the advertisement once and then carefully copied it into letters directed to multiple printing offices. Alternately, the subscription notice may have appeared once in one newspaper and then the author or publisher forwarded clippings along with requests to insert the notice in other newspapers when soliciting the cooperation of additional local agents. Depending on the sophistication of the marketing efforts, the author or publisher may even have distributed broadside subscription notices with space for subscribers to sign their names. The copy for newspaper advertisements could have been drawn directly from such broadsides.

Regardless of how the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the Georgia Gazette ended up publishing advertisements with identical copy, readers in the two colonies encountered the same subscription notice within a single week. This contributed to the creation of an imagined community among colonists, a common identity as readers and consumers, as the press presented the same news items, reprinted from one newspaper to another to yet another, and, sometimes, the same advertisements as well.

December 10

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

Dec 10 - 12:7:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (December 7, 1769).

“LONDON MAGAZINE.”

Nicholas Langford, “Bookseller, on the Bay,” inserted an advertisement for the London Magazine in the December 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. At a time when many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest taxes that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea, most continued to seek redress of grievances rather than political separation from the most powerful empire in the world. Even as they came to think of themselves as Americans with unique concerns within that empire, most still embraced their British identity, not just politically but also culturally. Langford had a reasonable expectation that he would find subscribers for the London Magazine on the eve of the 1770s.

Commencing publication in 1731, the London Magazine had a long history and a notable reputation. According to Langford, the “present Proprietors … are resolved to spare no Cost to continue its Pre-eminence” by “collecting from their extensive Correspondence, such Pieces of Literary Knowledge and Amusement, as may best deserve the Public’s Notice.” They also composed original pieces, “each taking upon him that Department which best suits his Genius.” This sort of cultural production did not have a counterpart or competitor in the colonies. Lewis Nicola had recently tried to launch the American General Magazine, placing subscription notices in several newspapers throughout the colonies, but the magazine quickly folded. Like most other American magazine published before the Revolution, it lasted less than a year. The first issue appeared in January 1769 and the last in September. Nicola modeled the magazine after successful publications produced on the other side of the Atlantic, but did not manage to cultivate a roster of subscribers extensive enough to make the American General Magazine a viable venture. Consumers with the resources to afford magazines and the leisure time to read them had well-established alternatives, including the London Magazine with its “Copper-Plate Embellishments.” Langford also offered The Critical Review “for any Gentleman who may be desirous of having it with the Magazine.”

As colonists expressed their disdain for Parliament and its various abuses, many also continued to embrace their British identity. The politics of the period did not prevent them from marketing or consuming cultural productions that emanated from the center of the empire. For some, staying informed by reading the London Magazine did not seem incongruous with participating in acts of political resistance that included boycotting a vast array of consumer goods imported from Britain.