June 28

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

Maryland Gazette (June 25, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, of moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s.”

Many colonial printers did not regularly publish how much they charged for newspaper subscriptions or advertising, while some included that information in the colophon at the bottom of the final page of each issue.  A few transformed their colophons into extensive advertisements for all sorts of goods and services available at their printing offices.

Such was the case for Anne Catherine Green and Son, printers of the Maryland Gazette.  They did not merely state that they printed their newspaper in Annapolis.  Instead, they declared that “all Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year” or twelve shilling and six pence annually.  Green and Son published advertisements “of a moderate Length” for five shillings “the First Time” and an additional shilling “for each Week’s Continuance.”  Like many other printers, they charged more for “Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”  Some printers gave prices for only subscriptions or for only advertisements.  The more complete accounting from Green and Son demonstrates that a single advertisement that ran for a month generated almost as much revenue as a subscription for an entire year.

In addition to printing the Maryland Gazette, Green and Son also sold “most kinds of BLANKS” or printed forms for legal and financial transactions.  Throughout the colonies, printers hawked blanks.  Green and Son listed “COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of several Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; BILLS of EXCHANGE; [and] SHIPPING-BILLS.”  They appended “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had on hand, “ready Printed,” an even greater variety of blanks to meet the needs of their customers.  In addition, they did “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK … in the neatest and most expeditious Manner.”  That included broadsides for posting around town, handbills for distributing on the streets, catalogs for auctions, and other advertising materials.

Each issue of the Maryland Gazette concluded with an extensive advertisement for goods and services available at the printing office.  Green and Son significantly expanded the colophon beyond giving the name of the printer and the place of publication, reminding readers that the printing office offered far more than just copies of the newspaper.

March 21

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

The Censor (March 21, 1772).

“This Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”

The colophon for The Censor, a political newspaper-magazine published in Boston by Ezekiel Russell for a few months in late 1771 and early 1772, appeared immediately below the masthead on the front page rather than on the final page. While the placement was unusual, it was not unique.  Both newspapers printed in New York at the time adopted the same format, drawing attention to the printers as soon as readers glanced at the front page.  Starting with the March 7 issue, Russell did include more information in the colophon for The Censor than the New York printers listed in the colophons for their newspapers.  The colophon for the New-York Journal simply stated, “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, ON HUNTER’S-QUAY, ROTTON-ROW.”  The colophon for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was only slightly more elaborate: “Printed by HUGH GAINE, Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in HANOVER-SQUARE.”

Russell initially included the same information, printer and location, in a short colophon that declared “Published by E. RUSSELL, at his Printing-Office, in Marlborough-Street.”  He eventually added, “Where this Paper may be had once a Week, Price Two Pence per Number to Subscribers.”  Even though he recently began accepting advertising to publish in a supplement, the Postscript to the Censor, Russell did not indicate how much he charged to publish advertisements.  Although some printers mentioned subscription prices or advertising fees or both in their colophons, most did not regularly provide that information in their weekly publications.  The information that Russell incorporated into the colophon for The Censor indicated that he adopted a different business model than other printers.  Others charged annual subscription rates rather than by the issue or “per Number.”  Why did Russell choose a different method for his weekly publication?  Perhaps he wished to make The Censor seem less expensive to prospective subscribers.  After all, “Two Pence per Number” amounted to eight shillings and eight pence over a year.  None of the newspapers printed in Boston at the time published their subscription rates, but the colophon for the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, listed the price at “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.”  If printers in Boston charged similar amounts for their newspapers, that made an annual subscription to The Censor more expensive than any of the local newspapers.  The Censor quickly folded, largely because it rehearsed unpopular political opinions, but the cost “per Number” may have been a factor in the publication’s demise as well.

March 15

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

Maryland Gazette (March 12, 1772).

“All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year.”

Advertisements usually filled the final page of the Maryland Gazette in the early 1770s.  In addition, a colophon appeared at the bottom of the page.  Rather than merely announcing the names of the printers and place of publication, “ANNAPOLIS: Printed by ANNE CATHARINE GREEN and SON, at the PRINTING-OFFICE,” the lengthy colophon served as an advertisement for various goods and services.  Not all colonial printers used the colophon for such purposes, but a significant number did so.

Most commonly, printers promoted their newspapers – subscriptions, advertisements, or both – when they published extended colophons.  Green and Son informed prospective subscribers that they “may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year.”  In addition, “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance.”  Advertisers received a significant discount for running their notices more than once, but the higher fee for the initial insertion also covered setting type and bookkeeping.  Green and Son did not define what constituted a “moderate Length” for advertisements, but did state that they charged fees for “Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”  Advertisements generated significant revenue for most colonial printers.

Green and Son also used the colophon to hawk blanks or printed forms for commercial and legal transactions.  They had in stock, “ready Printed, most kinds of BLANKS,” including “COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of all Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; and BILLS of EXCHANGE; SHIPPING-BILLS, &c. &c.”  Repeating the abbreviation for et cetera underscored the range of blanks available at the printing office.  Finally, Green and Son did job printing, including broadsides and handbills, when colonizers placed orders.  They declared, “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK performed in the neatest and most expeditious Manner,” emphasizing skill and efficiency.

Once readers perused the paid notices that ran in the Maryland Gazette they encountered a final advertisement at the bottom of the last page.  Green and Son transformed the colophon into a marketing mechanism that remained consistent from issue to issue even as the other contents changed.  They listed many of the goods and services available at printing offices throughout the colonies, while also specifying the subscription and advertising fees for their own newspaper.

February 18

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

Essex Gazette (February 18, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”

How much did advertising cost?  How much did advertising cost compared to subscriptions?  These are some of the most common questions I encounter when discussing eighteenth-century advertising at conferences and public presentations.  The answer is complicated, in part because most eighteenth-century printers did not list advertising rates or subscription fees in their newspapers.  A significant minority, however, did regularly publish that information in the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page.

Such was the case with Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  Over the course of two lines, the colophon in their newspaper announced, “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 4s. 6d. if sent by the Post) to be paid at Entrance.  ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  The colophon revealed how much the Halls charged for subscriptions and advertising as well as other business practices.

Subscribers paid six shillings and eight pence per year, but that did not include postage for delivering the newspapers.  The printers expected subscribers to pay half, three shillings and four pence, in advance.  Like many other eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, the Halls extended credit to their customers.  Newspaper subscribers were notorious for not paying for their subscriptions, as demonstrated in the frequent notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts placed in newspapers throughout the colonies, prompting the Halls to require half from the start.  They asked for even more, four shillings and six pence, from subscribers who lived far enough away that they received their newspapers via the post, though the colophon does make clear if the additional shilling covered postage.  The Halls may have charged a higher deposit because they considered it more difficult to collect from subscribers at a distance.

Short advertisements, those “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” cost three shillings or nearly half what an annual subscription cost.  Other printers specified that they adjusted advertising rates “in proportion” to length.  The Halls likely did so as well, making the cost of an advertisement that extended twenty lines about the same as a subscription.  They did not specify in the colophon that they required payment before running advertisements.  Some printers made that their policy but apparently made exceptions.  When they inserted notices calling on subscribers to send payment, they sometimes addressed advertisers.  For many eighteenth-century printers, advertising generated significant revenue. Considering that a single advertisement could cost as much or more as an annual subscription in the Essex Gazette, the Halls had good reason to cultivate advertisers as well as subscribers.

October 14

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 14, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A WEEKLY NEWS-PAPER.”

Philadelphia was the most populous city among Britain’s mainland colonies in the early 1770s, large enough that John Dunlap determined that the market could support an additional newspaper in the fall of 1771.  Local readers already had access to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, but in early October Dunlap began distributing subscription notices for another weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, to commence on November 25.

Like subscription notices for other publications, whether books, magazines, or newspapers, Dunlap’s notice included both an overview of the purpose and a list of conditions.  Those conditions specified subscription prices and advertising fees that many printers rarely published after launching their newspapers, though some regularly incorporated one or both into their colophon alongside other details of publication.  “The Price to Subscribers,” Dunlap informed readers, “will be Ten Shillings per year.”  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  In that regard, Dunlap deviated from the standard pricing structure; most printers set the base price to include inserting advertisements for either three or four weeks before charging for “each continuance.”    Dunlap did adopt the familiar practice of charging more for longer advertisements, stating that “those of greater length” would appear “at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”

As was the case for other newspapers, advertisements for the Pennsylvania Packet were relatively expensive compared to subscriptions.  Three advertisements running for just one week cost nearly as much as a single subscription.  Paid notices represented significant revenue for most colonial printers who published newspapers.  That may have influenced Dunlap to list advertising fees ahead of subscription prices in the conditions in his subscription notice.  Although the advertisement ended with a list of local agents who accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf in several towns, he sought advertisers for his new endeavor as well as subscribers.  He needed both kinds of support for the Pennsylvania Packet to become a successful enterprise.

June 22

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

Providence Gazette (June 22, 1771).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”

Today marks two thousand days of production for the Adverts 250 Project.  Every day for two thousand consecutive days, I have examined an advertisement originally published in an eighteenth-century newspaper.  Students enrolled in my Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Public History, and Research Methods classes at Assumption University have also contributed to the Adverts 250 Project as guest curators.

This milestone seems like a good opportunity to address two of the questions I most commonly encounter.  How much did a subscription to an eighteenth-century newspaper cost?  How much did an advertisement cost?  Most printers did not regularly publish subscription rates or advertising rates in their newspapers, but some did include that information in the colophon at the bottom of the final page.  Of the twenty-two newspapers published during the week of Sunday, June 16 through Saturday, June 22, 1771, that have been digitized and made available for scholars and other readers, seven listed subscription rates and six indicated advertising rates.  Four of those, the Essex Gazette, the Maryland Gazette, Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, and Rind’s Virginia Gazette, included both subscription rates and advertising rates in the colophon. That nearly as many identified advertising rates as the cost of subscriptions testifies to the importance of advertising for generating revenue.

Here is an overview of subscription rates and advertising rates inserted in the colophons of colonial newspapers during the last week of spring in 1771.

SUBSCRIPTION RATES:

  • Essex Gazette (June 18): “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 3s. 6d. if sent by Post) to be paid at Entrance.”
  • Maryland Gazette (June 20): “Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year.”
  • Massachusetts Spy (June 20): “Persons may be supplied with this paper at Six Shillings and Eight Pence, Lawful Money, per Annum.”
  • Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 17): “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this Paper.”
  • Pennsylvania Journal (June 20): “Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Ten Shillings a Year.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (June 20): “ALL Persons may be supplied with this PAPER at 12s. 6d. a Year.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 20): “All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s6 per Year.”

ADVERTISING RATES:

  • Essex Gazette (June 18): “ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”
  • Maryland Gazette (June 20): “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted for the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance.  Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”
  • New-York Journal (June 20): “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”
  • Providence Gazette (June 22): “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (June 20): “ALL Persons may … have ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted in it for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 20): “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3s. the First Week, and 2s. each Time after; and long ones in Proportion.”

Those newspapers that specified both subscription rates and advertising rates demonstrate the potential for generating significant revenue by publishing advertisements.  The competing newspapers in Williamsburg, Virginia, each charged twelve shillings and six pence per year for a subscription and collected three shillings for the first insertion of an advertisement and two shillings for every subsequent insertion.  William Rind declared that he set rates “in Proportion” for longer advertisements.  An advertisement that ran for six weeks cost more than an annual subscription.  Anne Catherine Green set the same price, twelve shillings and six pence, for a subscription to the Maryland Gazette, but charged five shillings the first time an advertisement ran.  Samuel Hall charged six shillings and eight pence for a subscription to the Essex Gazette and three shillings for each appearance of an advertisement of “eight or ten Lines.”  Some significantly exceeded that length, costing as much as a subscription for a single insertion.  Other printers presumable set similar rates, a pricing structure that meant that advertising played a substantial role in funding the dissemination of the news even in the colonial era.

March 6

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

Newport Mercury (March 6, 1771).

“Advertisements, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines … will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9.”

Colonial printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, did so in the March 6, 1771, edition, enclosing his notice in a decorative border to draw attention.  He advised that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for this Paper, Advertisements, or otherwise, are earnestly requested to make immediate Payment.”  Unlike some of his counterparts who published newspapers in other towns, he did not threaten legal action against those who ignored his notice.

Southwick did take the opportunity to invite others to become subscribers or place advertisements.  Some printers listed their subscription rates, advertising fees, or both in the colophon on the final page, but otherwise most rarely mentioned how much they charged.  Southwick’s notice listed the prices for both subscriptions and advertisements.  He specified that “Any Person may be supplied with this Paper at 6s9 Lawful Money per Year.”  That six shillings and nine pence did not include postage.  Southwick expected subscribers to pay “One Half on subscribing, and the other at the End of the Year.”  Extending credit for a portion of the subscription was standard practice among printers.

Southwick charged advertisers by the amount of space their notices occupied, not the number of words.  “Advertisement, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines,” he declared, “will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9, and be continued, if required, at 1s per week.”  Once again adhering to standard practices in the printing trade, Southwick charged proportionally more for longer advertisements, contingent on their length.  If inserting an advertisement for an additional week cost one shilling, then the initial cost of running an advertisement for three weeks amounted to three shillings for the space in the newspaper and nine pence for setting type, bookkeeping, and other labor undertaken in the printing office.

Running an advertisement for only three weeks cost more than half as much as an annual subscription, demonstrating the significance of advertising revenue for early American printers.  Perhaps because that revenue helped to make publishing the Newport Mercury a viable enterprise, Southwick stated that advertisements should be “accompanied with the Pay” when delivered to his printing office.  He apparently extended credit for advertisements prior to March 1771, but then discouraged that practice in his notice that simultaneously requested that current customers submit payment and outlined the subscription and advertising fees for new customers.

December 26

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

Connecticut Courant (December 25, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of not more than ten Lines, are taken in and inserted for THREE SHILLINGS three weeks.”

On November 13, 1770, Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson, printers of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, announced that they planned to enlarge the newspaper and make other improvements before the end of the year.  The November 13 edition served as a specimen copy for current and prospective subscribers, though it did not feature a new colophon on the final page.  Green and Watson inaugurated that aspect of the newspaper on December 25 when the new size became official.  Compared to the previous colophon, “HARTFORD: Printed by GREEN & WATSON,” the new colophon was much more extensive, befitting a publication that sought to join the ranks of those from Boston and New York.

The new colophon included information about the costs of subscriptions and advertisements that not all printers made readily available to readers.  If subscription fees or advertising rates did appear in print, they were usually part of a colophon.  Some colophons incorporated one or the other, but usually not both.  When they enlarged and enhanced the Connecticut Courant, Green and Watson provided both in the colophon.  They set two prices for subscriptions, “NINE SHILLINGS, Lawful Money per Year, if sent by the special Post, or SEVEN SHILLINGS without Postage.”  That provided important insight into Green and Watson’s business practices, especially their means of circulating the Connecticut Courant to distant subscribers.  In the late 1760s and early 1770s, other printers who listed their subscription rates, most of them in busy and crowded urban ports, did not take the fees for post riders into consideration.  Separate advertisements sometimes tended to those concerns, though they typically offered services without specifying prices.  The colophon for the enlarged Connecticut Courant made the total costs for subscribing visible to customers.

In terms of advertising rates, Green and Watson charged three shillings to publish notices of ten lines or less for three weeks.  Prices increased “in Proportion” for longer advertisements.  As was typical, the initial fee included setting type, bookkeeping, and multiple insertions.  Some printers allowed for four insertions, but most opted for three, then charged additional fees for subsequent insertions.  Advertisers could continue running their notices in the Connecticut Courant for an additional six pence per week.  That meant that half of the initial fee, three shillings or thirty-six pence, covered setting type and bookkeeping because three weeks of inserting a notice amounted to eighteen pence.  Most newspaper printers derived greater revenues from advertising than subscriptions.  In the case of the Connecticut Courant, three advertisements cost the same as an annual subscription that included “the special Post.”

Subscription rates and advertising fees were an aspect of early American printers’ business practices that did not regularly find their way into print in eighteenth-century newspapers.  For many years Green and Watson did not incorporate this information into the Connecticut Courant, but when they enlarged the newspaper at the end of 1770, they added a new colophon as one of the improvements.  In so doing, they provided important information about the production of their newspaper.

September 21

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

New-London Gazette (September 21, 1770).

“The Paper will then be one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”

Newspaper printers collected two revenue streams: subscriptions and advertising.  Most did not, however, frequently note in print how much they charged for either subscriptions or advertising.  A few inserted such information in the colophon on the final page of each issue, but even those printers tended to list the prices for one or the other but not both.  Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, was among those printers who did not regularly publish his prices for either subscriptions or advertising.  In a notice in the September 21, 1770, edition, however, he informed readers that he was raising the price for subscriptions.

Following an “Enlargement” of the New-London Gazette to a larger sheet, Green determined that “the Labour and Expence of Paper is so greatly Augmented” that he could not continue to operate the newspaper at the current rates except at “a manifest Loss.”  Accordingly, he planned to raise the price by eight pence per year, bringing the total to six shillings and eight pence.  This represented an increase of eleven percent, yet Green presented it as “so small that it’s presumed no one will think much of allowing it.”  To further convince current subscribers and future customers that they should not think much of the new price, Green explained that the New-London Gazette would still be “one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”  Compared to other newspapers, the New-London Gazette was still a bargain at a total of eighty pence per year.  Still, Green realized that not all subscribers would be satisfied with this explanation.  He pledged that “Some further Improvements will shortly be made in the Paper,” though he did not offer any particulars.  He concluded by pledging “the greatest Care constantly taken to render” the New-London Gazette “beneficial to the Customers.”

Apparently Green did not consider it necessary to raise his rates for advertising to help defray the expenses of acquiring larger sheets and setting more type for the enlarged New-London Gazette.  Even if he at least listed his current rates, that would have revealed the relative prices for subscriptions and advertising.  Still, notices like this one help to reconstruct some of the expenses incurred by readers who subscribed to newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

February 12

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

Feb 12 - 2:12:1770 Connecticut Currant
Connecticut Courant (February 12, 1770).

“The business of supplying them with papers.”

William Stanton placed an advertisement in the February 12, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant to follow up on a “former Advertisement” that most recently appeared on January 22. In that previous notice, Stanton noted that he had “rode post for almost four years” and in that time many newspaper subscribers fell behind on paying him for his services. He requested that his clients settle accounts, but also expressed his interest in continuing in the business with some alterations to the current method of delivering their newspapers. Having devised a new plan, he placed a second advertisement to “further inform them of the method, proposed for the future.”

Stanton proposed riding from Litchfield to Hartford every week. The printers distributed new issues of the Connecticut Courant on Mondays. Stanton planned to collect them as soon as they were available and set off as quickly as possible, returning to Litchfield “on Tuesday of each week.” The masthead proclaimed that the Connecticut Courant contained “the freshest Advices Both Foreign and Domestick.” Stanton aimed to make those “freshest Advices” available to readers without delay. Rather than deliver the newspapers to subscribers, Stanton would deposit them in a shop near the courthouse for “gentlemen … from the several towns round the country” to collect at their convenience. “[C]onstant attendance will be given” at the shop, Stanton promised, for customers to retrieve their newspapers. For subscribers unable to make their way to Litchfield, Stanton proposed delivering the Connecticut Courant “by a special post … once a fortnight.”

For these services, Stanton charged eight shillings per year, “which is but two shillings more than the printers have of their customers in Hartford.” He considered this a bargain “so very favourable to the customers” that it “cannot fail of being agreeable.” In deploying such language, he encouraged readers to adopt his perspective that they did indeed get a good deal for the package of newspaper and delivery. He also revealed information that the printers did not publish in the Connecticut Courant, the cost of an annual subscription. Stanton’s advertisement provides noteworthy details about the mechanics of disseminating information in rural Connecticut on the eve of the American Revolution.