chapter  9
22 Pages

Conclusion: A Changing Press Altering Society?

There were significant changes in some aspects of the eighteenth-century English press. Those in size and appearance were obvious. Prior to the first Stamp Act papers were two or four pages long, the distinctive newspaper of the 1700s being single leaf with two columns to the page. The failure of the Act of 1712 to consider papers consisting of more than one sheet encouraged the appearance of longer papers that were registered as pamphlets and

paid a lower duty. From 1712 to the second Stamp Act many London and all provincial papers were six pages or longer. The 1725 Act ended this loophole and thereafter most papers, in both London and the provinces, stuck to four pages, although, as the Acts had failed to establish a standard size for a sheet of paper, printers were able to treat increasingly large four-page papers as half-sheets. The basic physical appearance of papers was therefore set in 1725, although in the 1750s a variation was made with the appearance of tri-weekly ‘Chronicles’, in eight smaller pages, such as the long-lasting London Chronicle. The essential stability of the form established in 1725, which was not to be broken until the following century, was a testimony to the role of commercial considerations and possibly to the inherent conservatism of the newspaper world, as much as to the determining constraints of taxation. The 1725 Act did not prohibit the production of papers of more than four sheets, it simply made them more expensive. One interesting feature of the press was the unwillingness of papers to deviate from the price charged by other papers of the same type, and, after the unstamped papers were dealt with in the early 1740s and the penny tri-weeklies disappeared a decade later for reasons that are unclear, to vary in price to any significant extent. In the second half of the century the press, particularly the London press, offered a variety of products at similar prices and in similar forms. As very little is known concerning the internal arrangements of papers it is unclear whether different approaches were considered regularly, but the essentially static physical nature of the press at a time when there was no shortage of additional material and when, particularly for tri-weeklies and weeklies, it would have been easy to print longer papers, suggests a conservative attitude to the issue of size. Given the money spent on magazines, which were more expensive, it is difficult to believe that a market did not exist for weekly newspapers combining the news with magazine-type articles and costing more than most papers because they were longer.