November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:13:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1767).

“Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green launched a new newspaper, the Connecticut Journal; and New-Haven Post-Boy, on October 23, 1767. Like many other colonial printers, they used the colophon not only to provide the particulars concerning publication but also as an advertisement for the newspaper itself: “All Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Six-Shillings a Year.”

Yet colonial newspapers rarely had sufficient subscribers to make them sustainable business ventures. In addition to subscriptions, advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream. To that end, the Greens also issued a call for advertisers in the colophon. In the process, they provided a relatively rare indication of the costs of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.

How much did it cost Michael Todd to place an advertisement for the “GOOD Assortment of Winter Goods” at “his Store in New-Haven” in the November 13 issue? According to the colophon, “Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, and Six-Pence each Week afterwards; and long Ones in Proportion.” Todd’s advertisement was approximately half again as long as it was wide. He would have paid four shillings and six pence to run it for the first three weeks and then another nine pence for each week thereafter. (Todd and other advertisers received a discount for subsequent insertions because the labor of setting the type had already been completed.) If Todd ran his advertisement for only three weeks the cost would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a yearly subscription. Running it for a fourth week would have raised the shopkeeper’s cost (and the printers’ revenue) to the same as a subscription.

Advertisements were indeed good for business, especially the printing business. The amount of space devoted to advertising in the Connecticut Journal gradually expanded during its first month of publication, a development the Greens welcomed and sought to further cultivate in order to improve the prospects for their new publication. They met with some success. The Connecticut Journal continued publication for more than fifty years, issuing its final edition in December 1820. Advertising filled one-third of the space in that issue.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:5:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 5, 1766).

“He has as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Green’s notice that he intended to open a school does not look much different from other advertisements offering similar services in the decade prior to the Revolution, at least not until the final sentence. After rehearsing the subjects to be taught and assuring parents that their “Scholars” and “small Readers” that he would instruct his charges “with the greatest Alacrity,” he also announced that “He has, as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS, &c. at a reasonable Rate.”

How did Green earn his living? Was he primarily a shopkeeper who sought to supplement his income by trying his hand at teaching? Or was he a teacher or tutor who sold some imported goods on the side to help make ends meet when he his school was not fully enrolled? This advertisement does not offer any definitive answers, but Newport was a small enough town in 1766 (even though it ranked as one of the most significant ports in British mainland North America) that most readers would have been familiar with his occupation(s). In his reference to retailing imported goods, he noted he did so “as usual,” suggesting that readers were already aware of his business activities.

As many American towns and cities continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the residents increasingly lived among strangers. “THOMAS GREEN, In Banister’s Row” did not seem to think of himself as a stranger to others in Newport. Just the opposite, his advertisement suggests that he believed the majority of residents were at least acquainted with him in some fashion.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:10:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 10, 1766).

“Just Published … The Necessity of Repealing the American STAMP-ACT.”

Protesting the Stamp Act continued to occupy many American colonists in March 1766. It was certainly a primary concern of the printer of the Connecticut Courant and many of that newspaper’s readers. The Connecticut Courant was a more modest publication than some of its counterparts in larger cities – its four pages featured only two columns rather than three – but it opposed the Stamp Act with the same vigor as many more robust publications.

The first two (of four total) pages of the March 10, 1766, issue were devoted to coverage of the Stamp Act, including a letter from London (dated November 1 and reprinted from the Public Ledger), an extract of another letter from London (dated December 14 and reprinted from a Boston newspaper published February 27), and several shorter reports about the reactions of colonial officials near and far.

Advertisements of any sort did not appear until the third page. Today’s featured advertisement demonstrates that the commercial notices took on a political valence during the Stamp Act crisis. Printers, authors, and other members of the book trades marketed books and pamphlets about “The Necessity of Repealing the American STAMP-ACT.” And this particular advertisement should not be considered an isolated example. It appeared immediately above a similar advertisement for a pamphlet about “THE RIGHTS of the COLONIES TO THE PRIVILEGES Of British SUBJECTS.” The former was published in Boston and the latter in New York.

Mar 11 - Connecticut Courant Third Page 3:10:1766
Third page of the Connecticut Courant (March 10, 1766).

Both appeared in a column headed with an announcement that “THE last Tuesday of this Month (being the 25th Day) there is to be a General Congress of the SONS OF LIBERTY, in this Colony, to meet in Hartford, by their Representatives chosen for that Purpose.” (Was this an advertisement? It appeared alongside other advertisements, but given the printer’s political proclivities it is quire possible he inserted this notice gratis.) News coverage of the Stamp Act continued in the column to the left.

The content of the newspaper provides important context for understanding today’s advertisement. The other items formed a narrative that may have influenced potential customers to purchase one or both of the pamphlets offered for sale.

Boycotts of imported goods certainly gave decisions about which goods to purchase (or not) political valence in the 1760s and 1770s, but advertisements for books and pamphlets defending the “RIGHTS of the COLONIES” encouraged colonists to become readers who were better informed and who could better articulate why the actions of Parliament were so dangerous.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)

“To be sold at the Heart and Crown, Hartford:  Ames, Hutchins, and Ellsworth’s Almanacks.”

Historians who study newspapers in colonial America usually argue that if printers made any money at all from publishing newspapers that the profits derived from the advertisements rather than subscriptions.  Given the number of advertisements that appeared in many colonial newspapers, this is not hard to believe.

That being the case, did Thomas Green make any money when he printed this issue of the Connecticut Courant?  Only two advertisements appeared in the broadsheet folded in half to create four pages.  One was a legal notice; the other was this advertisement for almanacs, seemingly placed by the printer himself and thus not generating any revenue except for whatever sales might result from its inclusion.  Still, it is an odd advertisement:  presumably most consumers would have purchased almanacs much earlier, not nearly three weeks into the new year.  In addition, the lower edge of the advertisement is not even with the column on the left (unlike the two columns on the other three pages in this issue), suggesting that the advertisement was included as filler, and hastily at that.  Did Green have a bit of extra space and decide to fill it with an attempt to get rid of merchandise that was going out of date with each passing week?

Much of this is speculation.  This advertisement interests me because it raises so many questions about printers and their practices in the 1760s.

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 - Connectictu Courant - full page
Final Page of Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)