May 31

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette 3rd page
Third page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766).

Two weeks the Adverts 250 Project featured the entire first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to examine the extent of advertising that appeared in that newspaper when it commenced publication. Although Rind included a limited number of advertisements in that initial issue, he issued a call for prospective advertisers to submit announcements and commercial notices.

How did William Rind fare when it came to generating advertisements, an important source of revenue for those who printed newspapers in the colonial period? Unfortunately, no copies of the second issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette have survived, but the third issue (published two weeks after the first) suggests that advertising picked up relatively quickly. The entire final page was covered with advertising, as well as an entire column on the third page. While not as extensive as advertising in some long-established newspapers in urban ports, the amount of space devoted to advertising in the third issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette was on par with other newspapers in smaller towns in the 1760s. In other words, Rind seems to have attracted a critical mass of advertisers fairly quickly.

This issue carried a variety of different kinds of advertisements: some for consumer goods and services, some legal announcements, some lost and found (including stray livestock), a horse “to cover,” a runaway apprentice (but not yet any runaway slaves, unlike the those that dominated the advertising section in the competing Virginia Gazette), and some placed by the printer himself to promote his own enterprises. A least one advertisement previously appeared in the pages of the local competitor. It appears that John Mercer wanted to cover all his bases when it came to the beer, porter, and ale from his Marlborough Brewery.

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Final Page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766)

May 30

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 30 - 5:30:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 30, 1766).

“If not disposed of in 10 Days will be repacked.”

This advertisement announced the eighteenth-century version of a “limited time only” sale, a tactic meant to generate interest and prompt potential customers to make a purchase as soon as possible or else miss out on an opportunity.

Today’s advertisement played on scarcity in more than one way. It claimed that the “Beautiful variety of Chinces” that had just arrived from London were “never before exposed to Sale.” This appeal served more than one purpose. It reassured buyers that these printed textiles were not castoffs that did not sell in other markets, but it also made clear that colonists who bought from this shipment would gain something unique. They would be able to make garments and other items that were distinctive. They would be able to set themselves apart from other consumers participating in the same marketplace.

To maintain this sense of uniqueness and scarcity, the seller promised to sell these chintzes for a limited time. Any overstock would not linger; instead, it would be “repacked” and not available for sale. Don’t hesitate, this advertisement warned, or else risk missing out. The sense of urgency may have helped to get potential customers through the door just to see the patterns on the textiles that merited this special treatment.

May 29

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 29 - 5:29:1766 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (May 29, 1766).

Print played a significant role in the coming of the American Revolution. Some scholars argue for the primacy of newspapers in facilitating debate, giving a voice to protest, and shaping public opinion. Other printed items, however, also played a role, including pamphlets, sermons, almanacs, and engraved images (the eighteenth-century counterpart to modern political cartoons). Many of the advertisements selected for inclusion here directly addressed the discontent over the Stamp Act, some of them by marketing tracts that defended the colonies against the abuses of Parliament.

Printers and booksellers simultaneously expressed political views and sought to earn a living by advertising and selling items related to the crisis while the Stamp Act was still in effect. That did not change when the Stamp Act was repealed, though the rhetoric may have shifted slightly. Rather than promote a work condemning an overzealous and overreaching Parliament, today’s advertisement announced the publication of a “Thanksgiving-Discourse, on the REPEAL of the Stamp-Act.” That hated piece of legislation was gone, but printers continued to express their political beliefs – and they seized new opportunities to turn a profit as well.

In this case, politics might have slightly edged out profit. Three printing firms that otherwise would have been competitors joined together to advertise and sell the “Thanksgiving-Discourse”: Richard Draper and Samuel Draper (printers of the Massachusetts Gazette), Benjamin Edes and John Gill (printers of the Boston-Gazette) and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet (printers of the Boston Evening-Post).


Bonus: Newspapers carried more than editorials and advertisements that commented on politics. This “ODE On the Repeal of the Stamp-Act” appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette in the same week as the advertisement for the “Thanksgiving-Discourse, on the REPEAL of the Stamp-Act.”

May 29 - 5:29:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 29, 1766).

May 28

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 28 - 5:28:1766 Georgia Gazette 4th page
Georgia Gazette (May 28, 1766).
May 28 - 5:28:1766 Georgia Gazette 1st page
Georgia Gazette (May 28, 1766).

Domestic strife from the M’Carty household found its way into the advertisements that appeared in the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements for runaway wives, warning shopkeepers and others not to extend credit because abandoned and disgruntled husbands refused to pay any charges on their behalf, were quite common in eighteenth-century America. Most were of a similar length as today’s advertisement by Cornelius M’Carty about his wife Lydia.

Responses to such advertisements appeared much less regularly, though they were not unknown. For instance, see an advertisement by Robert Hebbard published in the New-London Gazette in January and a response refuting Hebbard from the next issue. (Intrigued by this exchange, J.L. Bell conducted additional research on the messy marriage of Joanna and Robert Hebbard.) Similarly, Jonathan Remington published an advertisement that explained, at least in part, why Cornelius M’Carty claimed that he “suffered too much” at the hands of Lydia.

It seems that Remington (as well as his wife and children) had been a boarder in the M’Carty household for eighteen months. Cornelius was present for some of that time but apparently away during a portion of it. It sounds as though Cornelius suspected that Remington had an affair with his wife, but the boarder declared that “he has never had, directly or indirectly, any indecent freedom or criminal conversation” with Lydia. He published his advertisement to dispel gossip, having heard “a report … greatly prejudicial to the character and conduct” of Lydia.

Remington defended Lydia’s reputation, but in the process he also defended his own, taking the extraordinary step of appearing before two justices of the peace to swear to the veracity of hic claim’s about Lydia’s character. Remington, a tailor, likely feared the social and economic repercussions of the rift between Cornelius and Lydia M’Carty. This advertisement thus served more than one end by proclaiming publicly that neither Lydia M’Carty nor Jonathan Remington had engaged in any unsavory activities in the absence of Cornelius M’Carty.

May 27

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

May 27 - 5:26:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 26, 1766).

With the Help of divine Providence, and his Remedy, perfectly cured me.”

Mechell Lamy, physician and surgeon, was new to the town of Newport. He needed to inform local residents about the services he provided, but he did not have much to say on his own behalf. Instead, he crafted an advertisement that consisted almost entirely of testimonials from former patients. Why try to convince the public of his skills and expertise when the endorsements of others might have much more influence? Each former patient lauded Lamy’s skill. Most of them underscored that his treatments worked quickly, that they were cured in a short amount of time. Lamy, they suggested, did not offer false promises or attempt to extend his care over ever increasing amounts of time in order to continue charging fees. In short, Lamy was not a quack or a charlatan, at least not according to his former patients.

All of the testimonials came from the island of Martha’s Vineyard, most of them from the village of Edgarton. With one exception, each was dated within the past two months, indicating that Lamy had actively pursued his occupation on Martha’s Vineyard fairly recently. At most, Lamy had resided on the mainland for a month when this advertisement appeared. He could not depend on his reputation being spread via word-of-mouth and extended acquaintance. Instead, he had to jumpstart local assessments of his services, skill, and expertise.

In Which the Materiality of Texts Shapes Research Methodologies

This week’s extended commentary post is scheduled to publish as a virtual text just as my panel, “Beyond the Book,” commences at the Early American Material Texts conference in Philadelphia. I will be speaking about “Eighteenth-Century Advertising Ephemera: Paratexts that Framed Early American Magazines.” The material that follows below is an excerpt from my pre-circulated paper, the portion that discusses the challenges of conducting archival work on magazines as material texts whose form changed dramatically, both in the eighteenth century as the result of interventions by the original subscribers and throughout subsequent centuries as the result of archival and digitization practices.

Many scholars have examined the cultural, political, and intellectual content of the late-eighteenth-century magazines that poured off the presses in the major port cities of the new United States, yet they have placed little emphasis on the magazine as a commercial medium, in part because almost no advertising appeared within the pages of those magazines and in part because most magazines are today found preserved in bound volumes without the supplementary media, including wrappers and inserts, that featured each issue’s advertising. Here it is important to underscore that the magazines we encounter in digitized form in the American Periodical Series and, indeed, even most that are preserved in archives no longer take the material form they had when they first came into the possession of eighteenth-century readers. A variety of factors have contributed to this. For instance, many subscribers typically took multiple issues, most often six months at a time, to a bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. In the process, ancillary materials were removed, leaving magazines that were largely sanitized of commercial notices, even when they included essays on commerce and economics. As a result, most of the eighteenth-century magazines examined by modern scholars look quite different, take starkly different material form, and, as a result, transmit very different messages than when they were first issued more than two centuries ago.

American Museum Wrapper
An intact wrapper accompanying The Universal Asylum, and Columbian Magazine, For April, 1790 (Philadelphia:  William Young, 1790).  William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

To what extent were they different? Although commercial notices were largely absent from the body of the issue for any given week or month, those few magazines that are intact demonstrate that contemporary subscribers typically received issues that were delivery systems for advertising. Many of them arrived enclosed in wrappers made of blue paper that featured between two and seven pages of advertising as well as the magazine’s title page, accompanying notes about how to subscribe, and a list of booksellers who sold the magazines. Usually the title and related information took up only one page; sometimes they spread out over two pages, but rarely did they extend onto a third. This typically left three pages for advertising in most magazines but as many as six or seven pages of advertising in each issue of those publications that doubled up the number of sheets used as wrappers and devoted to advertising, including some of the century’s most successful magazines, such as the Columbian Magazine and the American Museum. Although the lack of advertising interspersed with articles does not reflect current strategies, in other ways the material forms of eighteenth-century magazines were not much different from their modern counterparts that overflow with subscription cards and other materials that flutter out when flipping through the pages. Printers and publishers stuffed a variety of inserts, trade cards, book catalogues, and subscription notices inside those blue wrappers that accompanied each monthly issue. Subscribers may have purchased magazines for the edification they provided concerning history, economics, and belles lettres, but those magazines still extant in their original form suggest that printers and other providers of goods and services used literary magazines for their own purposes of making a living and generating revenues.

This argument depends on identifying and examining eighteenth-century magazines still extant in their original form, sometimes a difficult task that merits a few words about both modern methodology and the power of archives over time. First, however, consider how the material circumstances of magazines were transformed almost immediately after publication and distribution to subscribers. Printers and publishers did not intend for supplementary advertising materials that accompanied magazines to remain with the bodies of the magazines indefinitely or even for more than a few months. Publishers and subscribers both understood that once an entire volume, typically six issues over that many months, had been published that the separate issues would be gathered and bound together. Some advertising wrappers included explicit instructions for bookbinders to remove all the supplementary material before binding the volume. Wrappers, trade cards, subscription notices, and book catalogues were out, but title pages, tables of contents, and other materials were added. The final product that ended up on subscribers’ shelves – and in modern archives – did not much resemble the original material form eighteenth-century magazines took when first delivered.

May 27 - Trade Card
Joseph Anthony’s trade card, inserted in the American Museum (Philadelphia:  Mathew Carey, August 1789).  Society Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

This creates challenges for researchers interested in paratexts as much as (or more than) the essays, poems, and other items that appeared in the bodies of magazines. To compound the difficulty, best practices among an earlier generation of librarians and catalogers sometimes called for dismantling single issues that had not been bound. They sought to better organize an institution’s collections by housing various components with others of their genre – book catalogues with other book catalogues or trade cards in the trade cards collection, for instance – rather than leaving them intact. Such practices did not anticipate the modes of paratextual analysis undertaken by scholars at work today. Even in instances that eighteenth-century magazines and their supplementary materials have remained intact, the companies that have produced digital surrogates have sometimes neglected to photograph and reproduce the ancillary materials, incorrectly assuming that anybody who wished to examine, say, the American Museum would be interested in only the body of that publication and not other materials delivered with it. As Kenneth Carpenter and Michael Winship cautioned in their keynote address at the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Antiquarian Conference last May, digital surrogates should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original documents. As we increasingly consult virtual texts we must remember that material texts sometimes tell unique stories that are not always captured in the digitization process.

We must keep eighteenth-century practices and circumstances in mind as we examine magazines in modern libraries and archives. Occasionally, the original subscribers or their bookbinders neglected to remove the advertising materials or overlooked a wrapper or insert here or there. As a result, looking at one supposedly “representative” issue of a magazine usually does not reveal the material circumstances of the original publication. Tracking down the advertisements that accompanied eighteenth-century magazines requires examining as many copies as possible to discover advertising paratexts inadvertently left behind, in both bound volumes and, when they survive, single issues. Indeed, it is often the single issues that include advertising media and testify to the original form of these publications. I have been exceptionally fortunate that curators, librarians, and other staff at several research institutions have generously allowed me to examine every issue, page by page, of eighteenth-century magazines in their collections once they have become familiar with my project and understand why this methodology is imperative. For good reason, archival staff often prefer to limit access to original materials in order to preserve it. When an institution possesses more than one copy of a magazine, for instance, one is often designated for use by researchers in order to preserve the others in their original condition as much as possible. Increasingly, researchers are asked to consult digital surrogates, which also present a “representative” copy, whenever possible. Such sources are often flawed due to the circumstances already described or, in some instances, incomplete because vendors unilaterally decided not to film or digitize ancillary materials because they did not understand the value of these paratexts for researchers. Eighteenth-century magazines exist in a variety of material and digital forms that in and of themselves shape our understanding of their original formats and purposes, sometimes misleading scholars because we do not see, touch, or read the same texts as the early Americans who originally subscribed to these magazines.

May 26

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 26 - 5:26:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (May 26).

“The said Eustis has to sell (being a Consignment) a few Setts Pamela.”

A revolution in reading took place during the eighteenth century. Early Americans shifted away from intensive reading of the bible and theological and devotional materials in favor of extensive reading of a variety of different genres, including history, poetry and genre, travel narratives, political philosophy, and even novels.

Critics almost immediately lamented the rise of the novel, claiming that the characters and plots challenged traditional virtues and could corrupt readers. In particular, critics worried about the effect reading novels might have on young women. In today’s advertisement, Jane Eustis offered a copy of Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded, an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson first published in 1740, and Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, another epistolary novel by Richardson, published eight years after Pamela. Both novels were extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but they were also criticized for what was considered an improper sensuality. The plot of Pamela, for instance, includes an attempted seduction and rape. Although the cover page claimed the novel had been published “In order to cultivate the Principles of VIRTUE and RELIGION in the Minds of the YOUTH of BOTH SEXES,” some critics charged that scenes considered too graphic actually had the opposite effect.

Jane Eustis, a woman operating a business in a commercial world dominated by men, made it clear in her advertisement that although she sold Pamela and Clarissa she did so on consignment. She did not indicate whether she had actually read either book but allowed for sufficient doubt. Customers who wished to purchase and read Pamela and Clarissa may not have cared how familiar Eustis was with their contents, but customers who objected to the novels might wonder about a she-merchant’s interest in those books and chose not to patronize her shop at all. By stating that she sold the books on consignment for another party, Eustis steered a middle course that protected her reputation while allowing her to participate in the marketplace.

Note:  When Eustis announced that she sold “a few Setts Pamela with Cuts” she was not referring to an abridged version with material cut out.  Instead, she meant that images — either woodcuts or engravings — accompanied each volume.