What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THOSE LADIES and GENTLEMEN who are desirous of seeing the curious ART of PRINTING, are hereby informed that on MONDAY next the Printing Office, will be opened for their reception.”
When Isaiah Thomas and Henry-Walter Tinges formed a partnership to publish the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet: Or, the Massachusetts and New-Hampshire General Advertiser in the fall of 1773, they devised a savvy marketing campaign. Thomas already published the Massachusetts Spy in Boston. He continued overseeing that newspaper, while Tinges ran the printing office in Newburyport. To generate interest in the new publication, the partners inserted a notice in the November 26 edition of the Massachusetts Spy, informing both prospective subscribers and prospective advertisers that they would distribute the inaugural issue of the Essex Journal “GRATIS” on December 4. They envisioned “a very large Number will be printed off, and distributed throughout the Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New-Hampshire.”
Thomas and Tinges used that first issue as a vehicle for further promoting the newspaper as well as several ventures Thomas already had underway. An extensive address “To the PUBLIC” from the printers and “PROPOSALS For CONTINUING the ESSEX JOURNAL” filled most of the first page, appearing below a masthead that included woodcuts of the arms of the colony, an indigenous man holding an arrow in one hand and a bow in the other, on the left and a packet ship under sail, presumably carrying newspapers and letters, on the right. The title of the newspaper ran between the images. At short advertisement for a magazine that Thomas already marketed extensively completed the final column: “SUBSCRIPTIONS for the ROYAL AMERICAN MAGAZINE, which will speedily be published by I. THOMAS, in Boston, are taken in at the Printing-Office.” A longer advertisement addressed to “the generous Patrons and Promoters of useful KNOWLEDGE, throughout AMERICA,” a notice that previously appeared in several newspapers published in Boston, appeared on the final page of the inaugural issue. In it, Thomas solicited articles for the Royal American Magazine and warned prospective subscribers to submit their names soon or risk missing the first issue. A shorter advertisement on the final page promoted “Thomas’s Boston Sheet ALMANACK for the year ensuing, proper for all Merchants, Shopkeepers, &c. to paste or hang up in their Stores or Shops.”
On the third page, the first advertisement immediately following the news invited “LADIES and GENTLEMEN who are desirous of seeing the curious ART of PRINTING” to visit the printing office on the following Monday. The printers planned to open their shop to the public, prepared to “wait on all who will do them the honour of their company.” Thomas and Tinges highlighted demonstrations scheduled for “eleven o’clock in the forenoon, and at three in the afternoon.” They hoped that such exhibitions would help convince prospective subscribers and prospective advertisers to do business with them. Opening the printing office to the public “for their reception” anticipated open houses that many businesses now host to draw attention to new endeavors. Another advertisement, this one on the final page, asked “GENTLEMEN and LADIES in this and the neighbouring towns who will encourage the Publication of this Paper” to “send in their names with all convenient speed.” Thomas and Tinges suggested that publishing subsequent issues of the Essex Journal was not a foregone conclusion. Instead, they needed prospective subscribers to confirm their commitment before the next issue would go to press. A second issue depended on “a sufficient number of Subscribers.” As a final bonus, a supplement accompanied the inaugural issue. It featured news about “the detestable TEA sent out by the East-India Company, part of which being just arrived in [Boston] harbour,” that made its way to Newburyport the previous day via “Friday’s Post.” With the supplement, Thomas and Tinges made the point that subscribers to the Essex Journal could expect to receive the latest news as soon as it arrived in Newburyport rather than waiting for the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth, or any of the newspapers published in Boston.
Despite these efforts, it took a few weeks for Thomas and Tinges to collect enough subscriptions to convince them of the viability of publishing the Essex Journal. The various marketing strategies incorporated into the inaugural issue, from distributing free copies to the extensive subscription proposals to the open house at the printing office to the news supplement, likely helped generate interest, but the process took time. Thomas and Tinges did not publish the second issue of the Essex Journal for more than three weeks. It appeared on December 29, once again carrying the proposals and conditions to entice readers who had not yet subscribed.