March 15

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

New-London Gazette (March 15, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, planned to publish “A careful and strict Examination of the external Covenant, and of the Principles by which it is supported.  A REPLY To the Rev. Mr. Moses Mather’s Piece, intitled, The Visible Church on Covenant with God, further illustrated” in the spring of 1771.  Before taking the book to press, however, they sought to gauge demand in order to determine how many copies to print.  To that end, they distributed subscription notices, including “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in the March 15, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette.  The Greens requested that those interested in reserving copies become “Subscribers” by submitting their names by May 1.  In turn, the Greens guaranteed the price of the book to those who ordered copies in advance.  Other customers who purchased surplus copies risked paying higher prices.

In addition to seeking subscribers in New Haven, the Greens attempted to incite demand in other towns.  Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, not only inserted the “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in his newspaper but likely also served as a local agent who collected subscriptions and sent the list to the printing office in New Haven.  The Greens devoted most of subscription notice to the lengthy title of the book and a list of its contents, demonstrating to prospective subscribers the various theological arguments presented by Joseph Bellamy.  They also listed the price, one shilling and four pence, contingent on how many pages were in the book.  They anticipated printing on twelve sheets, but would adjust the price higher or lower if they used more or less paper.  The Greens also established a timeline for receiving subscriptions and printing the book, stating that subscribers and local agents should contact them by May 1 so “it may be known how many Books shall be ready for the Subscribers at the next Commencement in New-Haven.”  The Greens planned to distribute the book at the same time as graduates of Yale College gathered.

Colonial printers often relied on networks of booksellers, local agents, and fellow printers in the marketing and distribution of books they printed.  Two other notices in the same edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with such lists.  One, another subscription notice, listed seven local agents in seven towns in Connecticut.  The other, an advertisement for a book already published, named eleven local agents in seven towns as well as a postrider who served several of those places.  Subscription notices and local agents played a vital role in determining the viability of proposed books in eighteenth-century America.

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.

November 14

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

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

We here offer them a Specimen.”

Subscribers and others who regularly read the Connecticut Courant immediately notices something different about the November 13, 1770, edition.  Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson printed it on a larger sheet than usual.  They acknowledged that they had done so in a message from “The PRINTERS to the PUBLIC” that filled the entire first column on the first page, making it difficult for readers to overlook.  Published in Hartford since 1764, the Connecticut Courant had not been as extensive a newspaper as its counterparts published in bustling urban ports like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Many of those newspapers commenced publication decades earlier and evolved over time. Green and Watson desired for their newspaper to experience a similar evolution, acknowledging that they “have often been obliged, for Want of Room, either wholly to omit, or else give the Public but a very partial Account of many very interesting and important Articles of News which in larger Papers, are more fully and largely set forth.”

The printers intended to “remedy and redress” that “Inconvenience” by enlarging the Connecticut Courant.  In addition to the lengthy message from Green and Watson on the first page, the entire November 13 edition served as an advertisement of sorts, “a Specimen” printed on larger sheets for the public to examine.  The printers proclaimed that they were “determined to enlarge the Connecticut COURANT to a Size no less than that of the Boston or York Papers.”  Such an upgrade would aid them in their efforts “of furnishing out the Paper with such Collections of News as will render it as entertaining, useful and profitable as lies in our Power.”  Green and Watson further explained that the posts from Boston and New York both arrived in Hartford on Sundays, giving them sufficient time to review newspapers they received from those cities and reprint “the Whole of the most material and important Advices” in the Connecticut Courant on Tuesdays.

Access to more extensive coverage of news from other colonies and beyond came at a price.  The “Enlargement will necessarily subject us to an additional Expence,” the printers explained as they informed readers that subscription rates would increase only modestly by one shilling per year.  The new price, they assured the public, was no more expensive than printers of other newspapers of similar size charged their subscribers.  Those who already subscribed had five weeks to decide if they wished to continue their subscriptions before Green and Watson transitioned to larger sheets and increased the rates for the Connecticut Courant.  The printers also invited those who did not yet subscribe to consider doing so in order to receive the more extensive news coverage they would soon provide.  At the same time, they called on “our good Customers who are in Arrears for the Paper, Advertisements, or any other Account” to make payment before the enlargement took place.  Green and Watson needed the “Ready Cash” to purchase paper and pursue their goals for enhancing the newspaper.  Furthermore, they would not publish any new advertisements without receiving payment in advance.

Green and Watson devoted a significant portion of the November 13 edition of the Connecticut Courant to promoting the newspaper itself.  They outlined improvements in the works that would soon be implemented, while also demonstrating those enhancements to current and prospective subscribers.  The entire issue was “a Specimen” intended to showcase the features of the new Connecticut Courant and convince readers that an extra shilling each year for a subscription would be money well spent.

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

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 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 20, 1769).

Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried significantly less advertising than its counterparts printed in the largest port cities. Newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising, sometimes prompting printers to issue supplements in order to include all of the paid notices. The Connecticut Journal, on the other hand, rarely had enough advertising to fill an entire page.

On occasion, however, printers Thomas Green and Samuel Green found themselves with too many advertisements to fit in the standard issue. That was the case during the week of October 20, 1769. Advertisements comprised the entire final page of the newspaper’s standard four-page issue. The Greens had more advertisements, but they opted not to distribute a supplement with the issue. Instead, they inserted a note at the bottom of the third page: “(The new Advertisements are in the last Page. Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.)” A headline on the final page proclaimed, “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” (not unlike the headline Peter Timothy inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette two days earlier), though not every notice that appeared below it ran for the first time in the October 20 edition. The Greens alerted readers to the presence of new content, an important service considering that most advertisements usually ran for several weeks, but the “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” headline did not provide much assistance in navigating the notices on the final page.

The note that “Advertisements omitted, will be in our next” invited readers to peruse the next issue of the Connecticut Journal, but it also served another practical purpose for the printers. Rather than correspond with each advertiser whose notice did not appear in that issue, the Greens issued a blanket statement to reassure their clients that their advertisements had not been overlooked or forgotten. This note also encouraged prospective advertisers to consider placing their own paid notices in the Connecticut Journal or else find themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who already submitted so many advertisements that the Greens did not have space to feature all of them. Many colonial printers depended on revenue generated by advertising to make publishing newspapers viable enterprises. Brief notices like this one from the Connecticut Journal demonstrate some of the practices adopted by printers in managing that aspect of the newspaper business.

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 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 8, 1769).

“A Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven by Thomas Green and Samuel Green, carried significantly less advertisements that most newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies. Such was the case for some of the newspapers from smaller towns. For instance, the September 8, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal contained only four advertisements. The printers placed two of those advertisements themselves. In one, they announced “A Plan of Exercise, fro the Militia of the Colony of Connecticut” for sale at their printing office. In the other, they promoted two tracts concerning religion, one that would be available soon and the other already in stock.

The other two advertisements merit particular notice. Both offered enslaved people for sale. One described “a healthy, strong NEGRO FELLOW, 22 or 23 Years old” who had “had the Small-Pox” and thus was not at risk of contracting it again. The other listed “a likely Negro Wench, aged about 23 Years” and also “a Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.” Nicholas Street, the colonist who held them in bondage, described the woman as “strong and healthy,” not unlike the “NEGRO FELLOW” in the other advertisement, and specified that she was “well-skilled in all Business suitable for a Wench.” He did not indicate the relationship between the woman and the girl, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about whether Street compounded the violence being done by separating family members. He certainly did not express any compunction about selling the woman and girl separately.

Advertisements were an important source of revenue for printers. Paid notices made newspapers viable ventures; they funded the circulation of the news far and wide during the era of the American Revolution. Advertisements concerning enslaved people, whether offering them for sale or seeking the capture of those who attempted to seize their liberty by escaping, accounted for a significant portion of the paid notices that made it possible for printers to continue publishing newspapers. These two advertisements in the Connecticut Journal are especially striking because they represent the only advertising revenue the Greens accrued for the September 8 edition. Even in New England, enslavement was enmeshed in print culture. The two served as bulwarks for each other. Newspapers perpetuated slavery through the frequent publication of advertisements concerning enslaved people, while the advertising fees collected from enslavers contributed to the continuing operations of every newspaper published in colonial America.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 17, 1769).

“Almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.”

Thomas Green inserted a lengthy advertisement for “All Sorts of English, India, West-India, and Homespun Goods” in the July 17, 1769, edition of the Newport Mercury. Although the advertisement listed hundred of items available at his shop at the Sign of the Roe Buck, Green concluded with a note that he also carried “almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.” Prospective customers could hardly have doubted that this shopkeeper offered choices to suit their own tastes.

Green did “enumerate” so many items that his advertisement extended more than a column, which was relatively rare even for the most extensive list-style advertisements of the period. At a glance, however, it may not have looked as dense and difficult to navigate as other advertisements. The compositor, likely with instructions from Green, devised a unique format that gave much of the advertisement the appearance of a series of shorter notices. Each section concluded with a line that ran across the remainder of the column, creating a visual effect similar to the lines that separated notices from each other. In addition each new section commenced with one or two lines in a larger font, similar to the format for the headers for other advertisements. This technique highlighted particular goods for sale while also breaking this advertisement into shorter segments that readers could more easily peruse.

Compare Green’s advertisement to another lengthy advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury. Gideon Sisson sold similar merchandise at his shop on Thames Street. His advertisement fell a few lines shy of filling an entire column. Below the header, it featured only two sections of equal length, approximately half a column each. Many readers likely found the format imposing compared to the inviting layout of Green’s advertisement. Sisson required prospective customers to work harder when examining his inventory of goods.

Without close examination, many readers may have found it difficult to determine where Green’s advertisement ended. Encountering a series of shorter segments forced readers whose attention fixed on any particular section to scan backwards until they determined that it was part of Green’s lengthy advertisement. This exposed them to the rest of the advertisement, sometimes repeatedly if they happened to note more than one section of Green’s advertisement as they made their way through the newspaper. Such reiterative viewing would have introduced prospective customers to even more merchandise Green stocked at the Sign of the Roe Buck while simultaneously underscoring the extent of the choices he presented to consumers.

The format of Green’s advertisement played an important role in introducing prospective customers to his wares and increasing the likelihood that they took notice of his advertisement. Copy and layout played off each other to increase the effectiveness of both.

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.

March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 21, 1768).

“(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)”

Compared to newspapers published in most other towns and cities, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant featured relatively little advertising. The March 21, 1768, edition devoted even less space to advertisements than usual, presumably because the printer, Thomas Green, opted to insert “Letter X” of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” in its entirety. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, a short notice from the “Treasury-Office” immediately below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page and four others that comprised less than a column on the third page.

Samuel Gilbert’s notice concerning “A good, convenient Dwelling-House and Garden” for sale or rent was the last of those advertisements. “Letter X” filled the remainder of the issue, but Green first inserted an announcement at the conclusion of Gilbert’s advertisement: “(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)” These directions suggest that Green did indeed have other paid notices to disseminate to the public, but the copy of the Connecticut Courant photographed and digitized by Readex for its America’s Historical Newspapers database does not include a supplement. The database does include, however, a nearly complete run of that newspaper for 1768, lacking only two of the issues printed on each Monday of the year. (Gaps in the issue numbers make it clear that two are indeed missing.) Readex reproduced supplements to other issues when they were among the collections of the libraries and archives that partnered with the company in making these historical sources more widely available and accessible. That the database does not include the supplement for the March 21, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Courant suggests that no extant copy had been located. This is disappointing but hardly surprising. We are fortunate to have an almost complete archive of the Connecticut Courant, a situation that demonstrates that newspapers were less ephemeral than other printed media that disseminated advertising in eighteenth-century America. The traces of other forms of advertising, including broadsides and catalogs, mentioned in early American newspapers, printers’ ledgers, and other sources indicate that our collections of newspapers and their advertisements will always be much more complete than our collections of other advertising media from the period.

An ephemeral advertising supplement that disappeared over time, however, might not be the only explanation. Alternately, Green may have gotten ahead of himself when he advised readers to consult the supplement for other advertisements. The printer may have intended to publish and distribute an additional half sheet, a common practice for other newspapers but less common for the Connecticut Courant, but ultimately ran out of time or determined that he did not have sufficient advertising content to merit the expenditure of resources. Green may have announced a supplement that has not survived to the twenty-first century because it never actually existed in the eighteenth century. Our archive of the Connecticut Courant may be more complete than the evidence from the period otherwise suggests. The announcement concerning an advertising supplement may testify to the aspirations of the printer rather than the work he accomplished.