Discovery of Shared Printing Plates Between Patriot Publishers

in about Warren

Date:  Jan-Feb 1773

The Massachusetts Spy, Vol. II, issue 104, suppl; January 29, 1773;  Essex Gazette, Vol. V, Issue 136, pp. 1-2 suppl, February 9, 1773;  and Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary, Issue 3618, p. 1, February 4, 1773 – published the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ answer to Thomas Hutchinson’s New Year’s 1773 speech.  The first two appearances appear to be from the same set-up of moveable type, i.e. from the same printing plate, an observation suggesting an unusual, and formerly unrecognized, degree of cooperation between the publisher of the Massachusetts Spy in Boston and Samuel and Ebenezer Hall’s Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts.  The article also appears in whole or in part in additional Colonial newspapers: Providence Gazette, February 13, 1773;  New York Gazette, February 15, 1773;  and Newport Mercury Supplement, Issue 755, p.1, February 22, 1773.

This was an episode in the pre-Revolutionary War newspaper war of words that raged between Patriots and Loyalists.  I published Hutchinson’s speech and its refutations in full text due to Joseph Warren’s participation in this controversy, and for its reasoned and detailed arguments offered by both sides.  Find Hutchinson’s speech that inspired the fuss here.  Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and Benjamin Church, according to John Adams’ recollection, had outsized roles in the House of Representatives response.  I have divided that response, according to optimal website performance and modern attention spans, into four parts.  Click through here to parts I, parts II, parts III, and part IV.

I have since had a pleasant Twitter and telephone conversation about this publishing situation with Todd Andrlik, author of the informative and entertaining book Reporting The Revolutionary War – Before it was History it was News.  Andrlik, an authority on Colonial newspapers, had never come upon an instance of shared printing plates between ostensibly separate North American newspaper publishers.  Reprinting or extracting stories from one newspaper to another was a common practice, but sharing a single printing plate has been hitherto unknown.

More is yet to be done to put this observation in proper perspective.  J.L. Bell Tweeted to me his observation that Colonial newspapers sometimes issues special supplements enclosing an important piece that could have arisen elsewhere.  Yet, we do not recall an instance where such subsequent special supplements utilized the identical printing plate of moveable type as a first printing elsewhere.  And the House of Representatives’ answer to Thomas Hutchinson’s New Year’s 1773 speech, the instance in question here, appeared in a regular issue of the Essex Gazette, rather than as a special supplement.

A possibility remains that the Massachusetts Spy and Essex Gazette did not share printing plates, but rather happened to possess the same model typeface and fonts.  Perhaps what appears to me and Todd Andrlik as being uses of the same printing plate, is actually a result of the apprentices of the Essex Gazette typesetting their own printing plate independently, using their own pieces of moveable type, and reproducing the exact fonts and lay-out of the Massachusetts Spy. Doing so would take the guesswork out of laying out so long a piece and assure that the page would appear within its allotted space.  Todd intends to examine the original hard copy newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester in order to refute or confirm this possibility.  If the same printing plate had been used by both newspapers, miniscule imperfections in the individual pieces of moveable type will show up identically in both Boston and Salem impressions.  If the typeface was, in fact, from separate sets, then such imperfections will distinguish the two printings as not coming from the same printing plate.

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