GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BLank bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney.”
Unlike other advertisements I examined this week, I found this particular advertisement fascinating because it focused on various products that were sold at the “Printing-Office” and nowhere else: all sorts of printed blanks (which Prof. Keyes explained was the eighteenth-century way of saying “blank forms”). As I analyzed this advertisement, I discovered that printing offices served as a central distribution centers for colonists to gather and acquire information as well as the forms they needed to pass along information.
According to William S. Reese, “Blank forms for business and law were a mainstay of job printing.” With this in mind, colonists were able to obtain forms, such as “Bills of sale, mortgages, [and] powers of attorney,” and then complete them by filling in the necessary information. These forms were used to facilitate legal and business transactions. Ultimately, this “job printing” of blank forms meant income for printers.
Another advantage of the “Printing-Office” was that printers were often postmasters too, which meant colonists gathered there to send and retrieve mail. Additionally, they could regularly receive local newspapers and newspapers sent from other cities. These newspapers, filled with current news and advertisements, encouraged colonists to explore and purchase what was available.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, inserted advertisements for the printed blanks he produced and sold on a fairly regularly basis. Like many other colonial printers, he sought to generate additional revenues through such job printing, supplementing the fees he received for newspaper subscriptions and advertisements.
In the November 12, 1766, issue of the Georgia Gazette Johnston used a separate advertisement, the one Carolyn selected for today, to list the various sorts of business and legal documents he sold. That advertisement appeared in addition to a regular feature of the newspaper: the colophon that listed the publication information across the bottom of the final page. The colophon did more than announce that the Georgia Gazette came from “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street.” It also announced that readers could go to the printing shop, “where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”
Here we see many sorts of work printers did to earn a living. Newspapers allowed for two streams of income: subscriptions and advertisements. To draw readers and attract subscribers for those newspapers, printers needed content. As Carolyn has indicated, some of it came through the post, either in letters or newspapers from other cities and towns. Some of it also came from local correspondents in the “Letters of Intelligence” solicited in the colophon. Johnston printed some or all of such letters when he received them, keeping his readers better informed.
In addition to printing newspapers, Johnston also did a variety of job printing, including the “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” that appeared every issue in the colophon and the assortment of printed blanks (at least fourteen different sorts of forms!) listed in the advertisement Carolyn selected. In this way, Johnston used the advertising space in his own newspaper to drum up additional business for his own shop. He did not merely provide advertising space for others who purchased it. He used his own newspaper to advertise other printed goods he sold to the public.