AAS Visit

One of the items that really caught my eye in our visit to AAS was the advertisement for the post office by the American Letter Mail Company.[1] It was a piece of historical evidence about how the post office sought to convey its purpose and abilities to Americans in the 19th century.[2] The usage of the post office was, of course, critical to the history of media and communications in the United States, making this advertisement all the more important as a piece of history. It was a valuable experience to see this advertisement as a material object, because the size of type that was used for different parts of the advertisement told us a lot about what it really wanted Americans to know. The largest type was at the top; the words “Post Office” were written in massive letters, probably to draw people’s attention to what this advertisement was about.[3] The beginning of the advertisement’s message, which featured its title, “The American Letter Mail Company” began with relatively large type, and eventually descended into smaller letters.[4] This part of the advertisement had important information about where the post offices operated, and about the cost of using them.[5] The bottom half of the advertisement featured the smallest level of type from the top half (which was still pretty big) as the headings for each paragraph.[6] This may have been to draw people’s attention to what each paragraph was about so that they could clue in on information relative to them, without having to read the entire paragraph. The content of these paragraphs was written in the smallest letters of the advertisement, apart from some information at the bottom about how it was produced.[7]

I thought it was fascinating to see an early print of “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine, given the pamphlet’s role in the history of the American Revolution. At AAS, we could see how small and light the pamphlet was, despite the amount of information it contained. This really gave me a sense about how easy it would have been to carry it around. As I think we mentioned in class at some point, it would have been easier to produce “Common Sense” than an actual book, so it would have been more widely available to people. This was particularly noticeable at AAS, especially since there were other hardcover books from the 18th century there for comparison. Should I have been an American in 1776 (when this copy was produced) I could imagine myself casually flipping through the pamphlet, reflecting on the ideas of Thomas Paine.[8]

An edition of the Halifax Gazette was one of at least two newspapers we saw that featured the stamp from the Stamp Act.[9] Of course, we had discussed the Stamp Act before, and how it outraged Americans, but I think seeing the stamp on this newspaper helped enrich my understanding of this, even if this particular newspaper was Canadian. It was bright red in color, standing in contrast to the black lettering in which the rest of the newspaper was printed.[10] It would have been impossible to miss if someone was reading this paper, or even if they were to just see it at a glance. It must have been an indelible reminder of the costs of the act for anyone who read the paper. I think this would have been the first thing one would see upon purchasing this issue of the Halifax Gazette, or an American newspaper bearing the stamp. I could imagine a colonist’s thoughts at this moment; they might have felt great frustration at this symbol of British subjugation. I could also imagine 18th century Americans reading a paper like this, all the while their eyes flitting back and forth between the text and the stamp. The conjunction of materials, such as this paper, and “Common Sense,” helps us to imagine what colonists might have felt like around the time of the American Revolution. So in that sense, I think our visit to AAS helped us understand how media impacted that time in American history.

[1] “American post office. : The American Letter Mail Company have established post offices in New-York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston,” (n.p., 1844).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Thomas Paine, 1737-1809, Common sense; : addressed to the inhabitants of America, on the following interesting subjects. [Salem, Mass.] : Philadelphia printed: Salem, re-printed and sold by E. Russell, at his printing-office next to John Turner, Esq; in the Main-Street., M,DCC,LXXVI. [1776].

[9] The Halifax Gazette, Halifax, NS, 1752-1765.

[10] Ibid.

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