First Newspaper Ads Appear Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the spread of literacy in the seventeenth century, a nonelite class of wealthy merchants and tradespeople with some discretionary income and the ability to read print began to emerge in England. Printers began to realize the potential for lengthier, routinely published news sheets and the audience they held, and print ads began to appear in these news sheets, marketing commodities to the new—and newly literate—middle class.

Summary of Event

Early English newspaper advertising grew out of three simultaneously evolving cultural forces. First, literacy began to spread in the seventeenth century. No longer was it a skill restricted to society’s elite, such as the nobility. Instead, others, such as merchants, began to emphasize reading and writing. Printing Printing;England , although controlled by the Stationers’ Guild, was considered a skilled, prestigious trade. Furthermore, it required literacy of its practitioners. Therefore, while the overall rate of literacy remained low from a modern perspective, most people from the middle classes knew someone who could read. Also, there developed ways for the illiterate to participate in the audience for printed materials. Coffeehouses, for example, carried reading material such as pamphlets or early newspapers. Patrons would frequently read these materials aloud, thus bringing illiterate coffeehouse patrons into the audience for printed words. [kw]First Newspaper Ads Appear (beginning 1658) [kw]Ads Appear, First Newspaper (beginning 1658) [kw]Newspaper Ads Appear, First (beginning 1658) Communications;Beginning 1658: First Newspaper Ads Appear[1930] Trade and commerce;Beginning 1658: First Newspaper Ads Appear[1930] Economics;Beginning 1658: First Newspaper Ads Appear[1930] Cultural and intellectual history;Beginning 1658: First Newspaper Ads Appear[1930] England;Beginning 1658: First Newspaper Ads Appear[1930] Advertisements, in English newspapers Newspapers;England

Second, printed materials themselves evolved in ways designed to appeal increasingly to a distinctively seventeenth century audience. The near-constant political upheaval in England during the period of the Civil Wars, Interregnum of Oliver Cromwell, and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy under Charles II, made many anxious to know what was happening in the country. Printers and would-be correspondents catered to this desire with a variety of materials, including pamphlets, newsletters, corantos, newsbooks, and ultimately newspapers. Literature;England

While these various forms overlapped, each had specific, distinguishing characteristics. News pamphlets were published occasionally, usually in response to specific events. They tended to be brief, sensationalized, or moralistic and focused on that one news event. Newsletters were actual letters, written by one person and sent to a list of subscribers. They would contain a range of foreign and domestic news depending on the audience. Often, they would include corantos.

Corantos began in Belgium, the Netherlands, and elsewhere on the Continent but gradually became available in England. They contained foreign news. At this time, English news was restricted from domestic circulation, so foreign corantos often provided the only way for curious English subjects to learn of events in their own country. For a period, some were printed in England, but most ended by the early 1630’s as English society and printing laws shifted. Corantos were published at rough intervals and did contain foreign news, and they demonstrated how news materials could be disseminated from London through the provinces, following the patterns of the book trade.

The newsbooks of the 1640’s established a new genre. They were eight-page periodicals with a strong domestic focus. Newsbooks were easily available through the publisher, and they were easily identified by their consistent titles, such as Mercurius Britannicus. They were published regularly—every Monday, for example. While most published on Mondays and captured the news, especially Parliamentary, of the previous week, some publishers published on different days. In doing so, these publishers were able to set themselves apart by having slightly different news from that appearing in the regular Monday newsbooks. The staff of the newsbook—publisher and editors—were generally salaried; for example, Marchamont Nedham Nedham, Marchamont edited Mercurius Politicus. Thus newsbooks were the immediate precursors of newspapers.

The newspaper incorporated the successful features of each of its precursors. Newspapers retained the occasional sensational or moral news item, a characteristic of the pamphlet. Learning from corantos, they included foreign news. Like newsbooks, they contained mostly domestic news. Newspapers were published periodically, generally on schedules synchronous with the postal routes leaving London, so that the newspapers could be delivered to the provinces in a timely manner. Newspapers were also available in coffeehouses, where people were accustomed to reading material out loud. Thus, newspapers made themselves into the most relevant, reliable, and accessible source of news.

Third, economic developments in England meant that more people, such as members of the middle and upper-middle classes, had some level of discretionary funds, which could be used for occasional luxuries, such as coffee or tea. Therefore, instead of simply targeting their goods to the elite, merchants wished to find new ways to attract the attention of these new potential buyers. Previously, merchants had relied on a product’s reputation, customer word of mouth, people in the street calling out about the new product, or handbills distributed in the street. The printed news offered new opportunities.

These opportunities were quietly explored, at first. In the mid-1620’, for example, a newsbook carried a notice of publication, announcing a book to be published by newsbook’s own printers. It was not until 1648, though, that a newsbook carried regular advertisements. Even then, an advertisement was considered to be the same as a notice, such as a court notice. Over the next decade, however, the term “advertisement” came to have the narrower meaning represented by the 1658 Mercurius Politicus announcement of tea, with specific endorsements by physicians, for sale at a specific place.

Advertising, unless inserted by a member of the publication’s staff, was always paid. However, even though paid advertisements could supplement a newspaper publisher’s revenue, most periodicals limited the number they accepted. For example, in 1653, the Perfect Diurnall accepted about five or six advertisements per issue, but the Oxford Gazette in 1665 refused to accept any, because it felt they had no place in the periodical. The types of advertisements run were generally for commodities—new books in print, coffee, tea, medicines, and so forth.

Advertising prices were set by the printer. The rate depended upon how often the ad would run, where on the page it would be, and what kind of illustrations or embellishments would be used. Eventually, many newspapers developed the practice of separating out advertisements, usually by a heading or a horizontal rule, to distinguish news from ads.

Despite the growing demand for news, few newspapers survived the Interregnum. As a whole, most published a few issues—perhaps one, perhaps a dozen. The best published a few hundred. Then, the Licensing Act of 1662 Licensing Acts (1662-1695) limited the number of periodicals, granting monopolies on periodical publication to certain court favorites such as Roger L’Estrange Estrange, Sir Roger L’ and Henry Muddiman Muddiman, Henry . Not until the final lapse of the act in 1695 were periodicals and their advertisers again able to print the kinds of news and advertisements they had printed in the 1650’.


Despite the political turmoil of the Interregnum and the Restoration, an increasing number of the middle and upper-middle classes were literate and engaged in work from which they earned more than subsistence wages. In two generations or less, these people became the core of the rapidly expanding middle class in eighteenth century Britain. The development of newspaper advertising represented both an effect and a cause of this nascent English middle class. It was an effect of the economic forces creating a new group of people with disposable income. It was a cause in the sense that advertising was one of the first forms of discourse that attempted to treat this class as an audience. It was therefore one of the first forms of discourse to impart or impose a unified, class identity upon the disparate individuals composing the middle class.

This early advertising recognized the emerging middle class as a group able to make purchases beyond what they needed for subsistence. In doing so, advertising helped develop the consumer culture of the eighteenth century, the culture that led to pianos in the parlors of farmhouses and to visits to Wedgwood’s warehouses to inspect the china.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cranfield, G. A. The Press and Society: From Caxton to Northcliffe. New York: Longman, 1978. Reviews the first centuries of printing, specifically the development of “the press,” in England.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Handover, P. A. Printing in London from 1476 to Modern Times. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960. Examines developments in printing from the early modern period forward.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harris, Michael. “Timely Notices: The Uses of Advertising and Its Relationship to News During the Late Seventeenth Century.” In News, Newspapers, and Society in Early Modern Britain, edited by Joad Raymond. Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 1999. Essay collection focuses on particular stages or features of newspapers and their audiences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Raymond, Joad. The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks, 1641-1649. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1996. Investigates the roots of the English newspaper. Comprehensive examination of the English newsbook.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sommerville, C. John. The News Revolution in England: Cultural Dynamics of Daily Information. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Examines the development of the reading audiences of newspapers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sutherland, James. The Restoration Newspaper and Its Development. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Investigates newspapers published between 1660 and 1720.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walker, R. B. “Advertising in London Newspapers, 1650-1750.” Business History 15 (1973): 112-130. Comprehensively analyzes advertising in London newspapers.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

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