J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

“All the stamped paper for the Gazette was used”

Here’s another story that the respected master printer Isaiah Thomas told about his misadventures as a sixteen-year-old in Nova Scotia in 1765.

Back in Boston, the anti-Stamp Act demonstration and riot of 14 August ensured that no official was willing to distribute stamped paper. The imperial government avoided shipping any of the valuable commodity into the port. The law therefore never went into effect in Massachusetts as scheduled on 1 November. Newspapers continued to appear on ordinary paper.

In contrast, Thomas recalled, stamped paper was plentiful at Anthony Henry’s Halifax Gazette:
A short time before the exhibition of the effigy of the stampmaster, Henry had received from the stampoffice, the whole stock of paper that was sent ready stamped from England, for the use of the Gazette.
Thomas here recalled the printer receiving the stamped paper before the colony’s sole demonstration against the new law, which we know from other sources happened before the law went into effect. That’s a logical sequence, and more evidence that, as I discussed yesterday, Thomas was wrong to suggest his 5 December newspaper printed after the law had prompted the demonstration.

Back to the paper supply:
The quantity did not exceed six or eight reams; but, as only three quires were wanted weekly for the newspaper, it would have been sufficient, for the purpose intended, twelve months.
In the eighteenth century a quire was 24 pages, a ream 20 quires. So Thomas was saying that Henry had 3,000 to 3,500 sheets at hand but needed only 72 each week. At another point in his history of printing Thomas wrote, “Not more than seventy copies were issued weekly from the press.” Henry thus appeared to have about a year’s supply of paper with a stamp suitable for newspapers.

That calculation assumed each copy of the newspaper appeared on a full sheet. The earliest issues of the Halifax Gazette had been half-sheets of paper because there hadn’t been enough news, advertisements, or subscribers to justify more. But printing the newspaper on half a sheet of stamped paper would mean only half the copies would bear the necessary stamp.

Thomas wrote that the Stamp Act prompted Henry to expand the Gazette to a full sheet folded in two to make four pages—the standard size of a great North American newspaper. However, in A Bibliography of Canadian Imprints Marie Tremaine suggested that Henry was already publishing four-page issues.

In any event:
It was not many weeks after the sheriff, already mentioned [and doubted], made his exit from the printing house, when it was discovered that this paper was divested of the stamps; not one remained; they had been cut off, and destroyed. On this occasion, an article appeared in the Gazette, announcing that “all the stamped paper for the Gazette was used, and as no more could be had, it would, in future, be published without stamps.”
Such notices did appear in some other North American newspapers, but Tremaine didn’t report such a statement in any issue of the Halifax Gazette.

At another point in his history Thomas returned to the mysterious vanishing stamps, stating:
the stamps were [removed], unknown to him [Henry], by the assistance of a binder’s press and plough, cut from the paper; and, the Gazette appeared without the obnoxious stamp, and was again reduced to half a sheet.
Tremaine indeed found copies of the Halifax Gazette printed on half-sheets in mid-December 1765. Some of those copies had no stamps on them. However, at least one copy from that same period did have the stamp. Furthermore, James Melvin Lee’s History of American Journalism stated:
A copy of The Halifax Gazette for February 13, 1766, for example, has on the upper left-hand corner of the fourth page the red halfpenny stamp with the word "America" also in red above it.
That hard evidence suggests that Thomas sometimes cut the full sheets in half, and thus took the risk of issuing copies without stamps, but his story of some mysterious person slicing away all the stamps was an exaggeration. He was still printing on stamped paper months after that material had become taboo in Massachusetts.

TOMORROW: Isaiah Thomas’s own stamps.

6 comments:

Rick Subber said...

Glad we had a chance to talk at the Roundtable session on Monday night, I'm a retired newspaperman, so this column has special interest for me.
Especially noteworthy is the remark about the typical two- to four-page size of "great American newspapers" in the latter part of the 18th century. I guess that probably was enough to print all the news worth fitting.

J. L. Bell said...

All the news for a week, in most cases! Sometimes the larger newspapers would add an extra leaf for six pages total. The Harbottle Dorr collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society is an excellent way to get a sense of what pre-Revolutionary newspapers were like.

Mark said...

Nice coverage on Thomas in Halifax, J.L.. I keep thinking back to when Thomas was first summoned by Bulkeley and skewered for his actions. Note that Bulkeley said Thomas had no right to print such sentiments in the paper, NOT that such sentiments didn't exist. Of course such feelings existed, because in 1765 NS was FULL of newly-arrived New Englanders who felt exactly like their southerly cousins. Thomas was merely stating the obvious, no doubt emboldened by the demographics and fervor that existed there....

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, the 12 Oct 1765 effigy was solid evidence for Isaiah Thomas's November report that at least some people in Nova Scotia disliked the Stamp Act. Thomas's later recounting of those events reversed the chronology and, by implication, the cause and effect.

G. Lovely said...

Quibble: I believe a quire is 1/20th of a ream, or 25 sheets.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the quibble. It prompted me to recheck Dr. Johnson’s dictionary. In the mid-eighteenth century, a ream of paper was indeed twenty quires. But a quire was then defined as 24 sheets, making a ream 480. So I had to correct all the math above.