What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Send the Subscription Papers, to the Printing Office.”
An advertisement for A Treatise on Regeneration by Peter Van Mastricht ran in the August 24, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Thomas Green and Samuel Green announced that the book was “In the Press, and a few Days will be published.” The Greens had multiple audiences in mind when they composed their advertisement. They hoped to attract new customers, but they also addressed existing customers as well as associates who collected subscriptions on their behalf. A manicule drew attention to a short note at the conclusion of the advertisement: “Those Gentlemen that took in Subscriptions for printing the above Piece, are desired to send the Subscription Papers, to the Printing Office, in New Haven, the first Opportunity.”
Publishing by subscription, a popular practice prior to the American Revolution, meant taking orders in advance of printing a proposed book. This allowed printers to gauge interest so they could determine if sufficient demand existed to merit moving forward with the project. If so, this also gave them a good sense of how many copies to print in order to meet demand and have a small surplus for additional customers, but not so many that any that did not sell caused the venture to be a financial failure rather than success. Printers did not always take advance orders themselves. Instead, they distributed subscription papers to networks of associates who collected names on their behalf. Those subscription papers included an overview of the proposed book, the conditions, an enumerated list of what subscribers could expect in terms of the material qualities of the publication, and space for subscribers to sign their names. Prospective subscribers could also see which of their friends and neighbors had already subscribed.
When the Greens called on the “Gentlemen that took in Subscriptions” to return their subscription papers, they did so because they needed to determine a complete count of how many customers had already committed to purchasing Van Mastricht’s Treatise on Regeneration. They could then print an appropriate number of copies to fulfill the subscriptions and still have a reasonable number for new customers.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”
Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.
Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” reprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.
The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”
The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)
Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.
Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.
Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.
Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He proposes to begin the publication of a NEWSPAPER on Friday next.”
William Rind was preparing to publish a newspaper. In fact, he was a week away from launching a rival newspaper to the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and Company. Rind also published his newspaper in Williamsburg on Fridays, but to avoid confusion he named it Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to distinguish it from its competitor as much as possible. (I wonder if Purdie and Company engaged in similar sarcasm as they set type for this advertisement promoting a rival publication, an advertisement that appeared in their own newspaper.)
Rind needed to estimate how many copies of the first and subsequent issues he should print. His advertisement included a call for “those Gentlemen with whom he has left subscription papers, to return the lists of those who have already signed.” What did he mean by subscription papers? To assess and encourage interest in his newspaper Rind, like others who printed books and periodicals in the eighteenth century, first distributed another form of advertising known as subscription papers or subscription notices: printed announcements that included a prospectus describing the purpose and intentions of the proposed publication as well as a list of terms for subscribing (such as cost and frequency of publication). Rind likely made arrangements with local merchants and shopkeepers to post his subscription papers. The subscription papers may have had space for new subscribers to write their names; alternately, the merchants and shopkeepers aiding Rind may have kept lists of their own. Whichever method was employed, Rind called on “those Gentlemen with who he has left subscription papers” to forward the lists of subscribers to him.