August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:24:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (August 24, 1770).

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.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 6, 1769).

Just Re-printed, and to be sold by T. & S. GREEN … The Connecticut Colony LAW-BOOK.”

Compared to many other colonial newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried relatively few advertisements. Thomas Green and Samuel Green founded the publication in 1767. Two years later, advertising remained sparse, comprising less space than in many other newspapers. In that regard, the Connecticut Journal was not much different than other newspapers published in smaller towns in the late colonial era. While newspapers in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia – overflowed with advertising and even those in places like Portsmouth, Providence, and Savannah usually filled at least an entire page with advertising, the Connecticut Journal, the Essex Gazette, and the New-London Gazette regularly devoted less space to advertising than their counterparts in larger cities and towns.

Consider the October 6, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Only ten advertisements appeared in that issue, all of them on the final page. They did not even fill that page. Of the three columns, two consisted of advertising. One short advertisement ran at the bottom of the first column. Revenues from advertising, rather than subscriptions, often made publishing newspapers viable business ventures for colonial printers. The Greens, however, did not cultivate the same culture of advertising in the Connecticut Journal that emerged in other publications. On the other had, they did pursue a strategy that put their business practices in line with those of other printers: they took advantage of their access to the press to promote their own wares. Newspaper printers frequently inserted one or more advertisements for books, pamphlets, blanks, and other merchandise, simultaneously seeking to stimulate demand for other segments of their operations and attempting to convince prospective advertisers of the advantages of advertising. Of the ten advertisements in the October 6 issue, two announced that the Greens sold books at their printing office. Not all of the advertisements in that issue were paid notices that generated revenues for the Connecticut Journal; the Greens used that space to bolster their business in other ways. With relatively few advertisements submitted by others, they resorted to publishing their own.

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 9, 1768).

“Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier.”

True Crime! In early September of 1768, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, sold a pamphlet about an execution of a burglar that had just taken place. “Just published, and to be sold by the Printers hereof,” the Greens announced, “Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier, (Who was executed at Fairfield, on the 7th of September, 1768) penned from his own Mouth, and signed by him, a few Days before his Execution.” This advertisement first ran in the September 9 issue, just two days after the execution and presumably less than a week after the infamous thief had dictated his life’s story.

The Greens marketed memorabilia about an event currently in the news. To help sustain the attention Frasier and his trial and execution had generated, they ran a short article about the burglar, offering prospective customers a preview of the pamphlet. “Last Wednesday,” the Connecticut Journal reported, “Isaac Frasier, was executed at Fairfield, pursuant to the Sentence of the Superior Court, for the Third Offence of Burglary; the lenitive Laws of this Colony, only Punishing the first and second Offences with whipping, cropping, and branding. He was born at North-Kingston, in the Colony of Rhode-Island. It is said, he seem’d a good deal unconcerned, till a few Hours before he was turn’d off—and it is conjectured, by his Conduct, that he had some secret Hope of being cleared, some Way or other.” The Greens likely intended that this teaser provoke even more interest in Frasier, stimulating sales of the pamphlet.

To that end, all of the news from within the colony focused on thieves and burglars who had been captured and punished. Two days before Frasier’s execution, David Powers had been “cropt, branded and whipt” in New Haven after being discovered “breaking open a House.” He had previously experienced the same punishment in Hartford, where James Hardig was “whipt ten stripes at the public whipping post … for stealing.” The Greens described Hardig as “an old offender, as it appears he has already been cropt, branded and whipt.” If they did not change their ways, Powers and Hardig would find themselves “Candidate[s] for a greater Promotion” at their own executions. Frasier’s case offered a cautionary tale for anyone who chose to purchase and read his pamphlet.

Although Frasier was executed upon his third conviction for burglary, he recorded more than fifty burglaries and thefts in the Brief Account. According to Anthony Vaver, Frasier had “toured all over New England and into New York, covering hundreds of miles at a time and committing burglaries all along the way.” Vaver provides and overview of Frasier’s case at Early American Crime, including the circumstances of all three burglaries that led to his execution and a map of the route he followed on his crime spree.