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.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (January 18, 1770).

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

How much did it cost to place an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper? That question does not always yield ready answers. Most printers did not regularly publish their advertising rates. Those that did publish them usually did so in one of two places: the plan in the first issue of a new publication and the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page of each issue. Some printers commenced publication of their newspapers with a plan or overview of their purpose and the kinds of information they intended to publish as well as details that included the quality of the paper and type and subscription and advertising rates. Other printers treated the colophon as a place for recording more than just their names and place of publication. They used the colophon as a mechanism for marketing the various operations at the printing office. There they sometimes indicated subscription fees, advertising rates, or both.

Such was the case in the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catharine Green and William Green in Annapolis in 1770. The colophon listed the costs of both subscribing and advertising. The Greens declared that “all Persons 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. Long ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.” The Greens followed standard practices, yet also introduced one modification. Most printers who published their advertising rates had both an initial fee and then an additional fee for “each Week’s Continuance.” However, for most printers that initial fee included publishing the advertisement for several weeks, usually three or four, before incurring additional costs. The Greens did not offer any sort of package deal that included multiple insertions. This had the benefit of lowering the initial cost, but may have prevented prospective advertisers from feeling as though they got a bargain on the second and third insertions. Still, the fee structure suggests that the Greens charged four shillings for setting type and another shilling for the space the advertisement occupied the first time. After that, they charged only a shilling for each additional insertion, the type having already been set. Like other printers, they increased the rates for lengthy advertisements that took up more space. Prices for advertisements much larger than a “square” were assessed “in Proportion to their Number of Lines” rather than by the number of words.

That the Greens published the price of an annual subscription, twelve shillings and six pence, allows for comparison of the relative costs of subscribing and advertising. At five shillings for the first insertion, an advertisement cost 40% of a subscription. Advertisements that ran for multiple weeks steadily gained on the price of subscriptions, only needing to run for nine weeks for the former to exceed the latter. The financial viability of many colonial newspapers often depended much more on their ability to attract advertisers rather than subscribers.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 15, 1769).

“All Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms.”

The colophons that appeared on the final pages of colonial newspapers ranged from simple to elaborate. Consider the colophons for newspapers published in July 1769. The colophon for the New-London Gazette, for instance, briefly stated, “Printed by TIMOTHY GREEN.” Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post succinctly informed readers of the printers and place of publication: “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.” Yet the colophons for other newspapers filled several lines and provided much more information about the business of printing in early America, as seen in these examples:

Boston Chronicle:BOSTON: PRINTED every MONDAY and THURSDAY, (Price only SIX SHILLINGS and EIGHT PENCE Lawful, per Annum) by MEIN and FLEEMING, at their PRINTING-OFFICE in Newbury-Street, where, and at the LONDON BOOK-STORE North-side of King-Street, Subscriptions[,] ADVERTISEMENTS, ARTICLES and LETTERS OF INTELLIGENCE, are gratefully received.—All Manner PRINTING Work performed at the most reasonable Rates.”

Essex Gazette:SALEM: Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House; where Subscriptions for this GAZETTE, at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, are taken in;–3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.”

Georgia Gazette: “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

Newport Mercury: “NEWPORT, RHODE-ISLAND: Printed by SOLOMON SOUTHWICK, in Marlborough-Street, at the Third House below the Gaol: Where may be had all Kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

New-York Chronicle: “NEW-YORK: Printed by ALEXANDER and JAMES ROBERTSON, at the Corner of Beaver-Street, nearly opposite General GAGE’S, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of no more Length and breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”

New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy:NEW-YORK: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street, where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are Taken in.”

New-York Journal: “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad-Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. 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.”

Pennsylvania Chronicle:PHILADELPHIA: Printed by WILLIAM GODDARD, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Market-Street, near the Post-Office, and opposite Mr. John Wister’s, where Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum)[,] Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this Paper, and where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care, Fidelity and Expedition.—Blanks and Hand-Bills in particular are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat, correct and conspicuous Manner.”

Providence Gazette:PROVIDENCE, in New-England: Printed by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head; where Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper, and where all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms, in a neat and correct Manner with Fidelity and Expedition.”

Virginia Gazette: “WILLIAMSBURG: Printed by WILLIAM RIND, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE on the Main-Street. All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s 6 per Year. ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3s. the First Week, and 2s. each Time after: And long ones in Proportion.”

These ten colophons did more than record the printer and place of publication for their respective newspapers. Some of them specified subscription rates while others set advertising rates. Some called on readers to become subscribers or submit items for publication. Some promoted goods and services available at the printing office, including printing advertisements in other formats (like handbills and broadsides). In each case, the colophon appeared on the final page of their newspaper, running across all the columns, just as a masthead appeared on the first page and ran across all the columns. Each of these colophons served as an advertisement for the printer and the newspaper at the end of an edition. No matter how many advertisements an issue of any of these newspapers carried, it concluded with the printer promoting his own business to subscribers and other readers.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 23, 1769).

“3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.”

Eighteenth-century newspaper printers often treated the colophon as advertising space, promoting the goods and services they provided at the printing office. They encouraged readers to purchase subscriptions and place advertisements, though most remained silent about the costs for doing so. In May 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, updated his colophon to indicate the price for subscriptions: “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum.” Previously the colophon simply stated that the Essex Gazette was “Printed by S. HALL, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House” in Salem.

When he updated his colophon, Hall actually reverted to the style that more closely resembled what had been in place at the beginning of the year. This time, however, instead of simply listing the yearly subscription fee he also specified “3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” In other words, subscribers had to pay half of the subscription fee up front; Hall extended credit for a portion of the subscription, but he did not assume the risk for it entirely. Given how frequently printers throughout the colonies published notices calling on debtors to settle accounts, Hall may have wished to avoid some of that difficulty as well as the somewhat unseemly practice of threatening legal action against customers.

Consider also that he commenced publication of the Essex Gazette less than a year earlier. He managed to attract advertisers, but not nearly as many as placed notices in the several newspapers published in Boston. The number of advertisements in some even overflowed into half sheet supplements. Like other printers who understood the market for newspapers, Hall realized that he would likely attract more advertisers and revenue to sustain his enterprise if he expanded his roster of subscribers. After all, greater circulation meant a better return on investment for advertisers who placed their notices in front of more prospective customers. Hall likely sought to balance several concerns when he required only partial payment from subscribers: he enticed subscribers with credit, simultaneously took in some revenue and reduced his own risk, and made his newspaper more attractive to advertisers who would supply even more revenue.

March 25

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 25, 1768).

“May be supplied with the NEW HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE &c. &c. for NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.”

Today’s advertisement provides a relatively rare glimpse of the subscription rates for an eighteenth-century newspaper. While a few printers inserted both subscription and advertising rates in the colophon on the final page, transforming the publication information into a final advertisement that appeared in each issue, most did not. Printers rarely mentioned the subscription rates in the pages of their newspapers, even as they frequently published notices calling on subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts.

An advertisement in the March 25, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included the subscription and delivery costs for residents of “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Rochester, Dover, Durhan, Newmarkett, and … Stratham.” In it, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the newspaper, informed readers that “a Carrier or Post Rider” would begin delivering newspapers in those towns the following week. Those who wished to subscribe would be charged “NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.” They were expected to pay “at Entrance” rather than later become the subjects of subsequent notices calling on subscribers to pay their overdue accounts. While this notice indicated the total fees charged to subscribers serviced by the carrier who covered this route, it still obscured the base rate for subscriptions. The Fowles listed a fee with “Carriage included.” Was it the same rate as residents of Portsmouth paid for their annual subscriptions? Or had it been topped off to cover delivery expenses? Either way, the notice revealed the price of a subscription for residents of towns in Portsmouth’s hinterland, information that did not frequently appear in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

This notice also testified to the current and continuing dissemination of the newspaper beyond Portsmouth. Dated March 25, a Friday, and appearing in an issue of the same date, it advised that “FRIDAY next” the carrier would begin making deliveries along the proposed route. The Fowles invited “Those who incline to encourage so useful and advantagious a Person as a Carrier” to submit their names for a list “at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.” The printers expected that readers in those towns already had sufficient access to the New-Hampshire Gazette that they would see this notice and respond in less than a week. Even before the Fowles employed “a Carrier or Post Rider” for this particular route the news and advertising contained in the pages of their newspaper had wide distribution beyond Portsmouth. Establishing this new route only extended their efficiency and reach in disseminating information in the era of the American Revolution.