June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1768 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 30, 1768).
“THE VIRGINIA ALMANACK, AND LADIES DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1769.”

William Rind got a jump on the market for almanacs for 1769, publishing The Virginia Almanack, and Ladies Diary, for the Year of Our Lord 1769 in June of 1768. He began advertising the almanac more than six months before the new year commenced, deviating significantly from the practices of most printers who published almanacs. Usually advertisements for almanacs began appearing in September and October, often announcing plans for publishing specific titles and promising that they would go to press soon. Such advertisements attempted to incite demand for products that were not yet available for purchase, seeking to predispose customers to specific titles long before they needed to acquire an almanac for the coming year. Advertisements announcing that almanacs had indeed been published and calling on customers to obtain their copies usually began appearing in November and December, increasing in number and frequency as January approached. Some of those advertisements continued after the first of the year as printers sought to relieve themselves of surplus copies, but they steadily tapered off. Most disappeared by the middle of February, though some advertisements continued to pop up at irregular intervals. The day before Rind promoted the Virginia Almanack in the Virginia Gazette, Charles Crouch inserted a brief advertisement in his South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that simply announced, “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768, to be sold by the Printer.” Attempts to sell leftover almanacs for the current year continued even as the earliest of advertisements marketed almanacs for the coming year.

Rind realized that the end of June 1768 was indeed early for distributing an almanac for 1769. Accordingly, his advertisement did not include the usual information about the accuracy of the astronomical calculations or other aspects of the calendar specific to certain days or months. Instead, he focused on the “Variety of improving and entertaining Particulars” contained within the almanac, contents that could be consulted and enjoyed no matter the season or year. These included “Enigmas, Acrosticks, Rebusses, Queries, Paradoxes, … [and] Mathematical Questions” that were “Designed for the Instruction, Use and Diversion of BOTH SEXES.” Rind also listed “Nosegays of Flowers” and “Plates of Fruit.” Although these could have refered to illustrations, the American Antiquarian Society’s entry for the Virginia Almanack indicates that “[t]he Anatomy … is the only illustration.” Rind likely meant “Nosegays of Flowers” and “Plates of Fruit” figuratively, evoking the pleasures to be derived from perusing the many and varied contents of the almanac. Considering the schedule followed by most other printers, it was indeed early for publishing and advertising an almanac, but Rind adjusted his marketing to compensate and perhaps even generate greater demand than if he had waited until the fall.

March 20

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

Mar 20 - 3:17:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (March 17, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted in it for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.”

Alexander Purdie and John Dixon published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1768. William Rind also published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1768, though it was not the same newspaper despite bearing the same name. The printers competed for subscribers, readers, and advertisers as well as customers for job printing. Most eighteenth-century printers did not regularly list their rates for subscriptions or advertisements in their newspapers, but Purdie and Dixon did so in the colophon of their Virginia Gazette, as did Rind in the colophon of his Virginia Gazette.

Not surprisingly, the competitors set the same rates. An annual subscription cost 12 shillings and 6 pence. Advertisements were much more lucrative for printers. Purdie and Dixon specified that colonists could have “ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted … for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.” Rind named the same prices, though he also offered a further clarification: “long ones in Proportion.” Among eighteenth-century printers who did publish their advertising rates that was a standard practice. Purdie and Dixon most likely adopted the same practice even if they did not underscore it in the colophon of their Virginia Gazette. What qualified as an advertisement “of a moderate Length” likely depended on negotiations between printer and advertiser. Neither Purdie and Dixon nor Rind indicated whether they defined length by the number of words or the amount of space on the page or both. Although the two would have been roughly proportional, inserting woodcuts or deploying several lines of type set in larger font did occupy more space.

These rates reveal that advertising could generate significant revenues that contributed to making it possible for printers to publish their newspapers and disseminate news and other content, including editorial pieces like the tenth missive in the “LETTERS From a FARMER in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British colonies” that appeared in both Virginia Gazettes on March 17, 1768. In “Letter X,” John Dickinson warned about the progression of tyranny that colonists could expect if the current abuses by Parliament were not challenged but instead became precedent for future governance from the other side of the Atlantic.

At 12 pence per shilling, a subscription to either Virginia Gazette cost 150 pence total, just under 3 pence per issue. An advertisement, however, cost twelve times as much, three shillings, just for its first insertion. This model, advertising funding the distribution of other content, continued into the nineteenth century and beyond with the introduction of new media made possible by advancing technologies. Although we take this system for granted today and even lament the intrusion of advertising into practically every aspect of daily life, colonists depended on advertising for its role in delivering the news at a crucial point in American history. Advertising provided an important alternate revenue stream for printers, helping them to spread news and editorial content during the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in the American Revolution.

May 16

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

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”

Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Advert Extra 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinaryreprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.

May 16 - Lee 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”

May 16 - 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)

May 16 - Stray Horse 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Colophon 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.

Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:9:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 9, 1766).

“He proposes to begin the publication of a NEWSPAPER on Friday next.”

William Rind was preparing to publish a newspaper. In fact, he was a week away from launching a rival newspaper to the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and Company. Rind also published his newspaper in Williamsburg on Fridays, but to avoid confusion he named it Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to distinguish it from its competitor as much as possible. (I wonder if Purdie and Company engaged in similar sarcasm as they set type for this advertisement promoting a rival publication, an advertisement that appeared in their own newspaper.)

Rind needed to estimate how many copies of the first and subsequent issues he should print. His advertisement included a call for “those Gentlemen with whom he has left subscription papers, to return the lists of those who have already signed.” What did he mean by subscription papers? To assess and encourage interest in his newspaper Rind, like others who printed books and periodicals in the eighteenth century, first distributed another form of advertising known as subscription papers or subscription notices: printed announcements that included a prospectus describing the purpose and intentions of the proposed publication as well as a list of terms for subscribing (such as cost and frequency of publication). Rind likely made arrangements with local merchants and shopkeepers to post his subscription papers. The subscription papers may have had space for new subscribers to write their names; alternately, the merchants and shopkeepers aiding Rind may have kept lists of their own. Whichever method was employed, Rind called on “those Gentlemen with who he has left subscription papers” to forward the lists of subscribers to him.