January 31

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

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Providence Gazette (January 31, 1767).

“Good sober Workmen are wanted.”

Charles Read cast his net widely in search of “Good sober Workmen” to employ at the “New Forge or Bloomery” located midway between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey. In an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, he sought various sorts of laborers, including Good Master Colliers,” “Wood-Cutters,” and a manager “who will have a more general Oversight,” in addition to “Good sober Workmen.” Prospective workers could apply at the “Tanton and Atsion Forges, which are near to each other.”

These forges were part of an expanding domestic industry that included the furnace operated by William Hawxhurst in Sterling, New York, and advertised the same week that Read placed his notice. In his History of Manufactures in the United States, Victor Selden Clark notes that a “line of furnace and forges extended from New Hampshire to South Carolina.” Indeed, Clark states, “At the outbreak of hostilities [in the 1770s] the colonies already produced enough iron for civil and military engagements.” In fact, the proprietors of the forges collectively contributed to an export industry. Many of the forges had been established to meet the needs of British markets that demanded iron “pigs and bars” as raw materials. Clark describes a decline in production during the years of the military conflict, caused by disruptions to commerce, ironmasters with British sympathies departing the colonies, and, perhaps most significantly, lack of laborers since so many workmen were “drawn off to the army.”[1]

Forge operators like Read and Hawxhurst did not face those particular challenges in the 1760s, but that did not mean that it required little effort to keep their forges fully staffed. In his attempts to recruit qualified workmen, Read inserted advertisements in the Providence Gazette, more than two-hundred miles from the Tanton forge he was preparing to open in New Jersey. Compared to the contents of the rest of the newspaper (“the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” according to the Providence Gazette’s masthead), most advertisements tended to concern relatively local matters in the 1760s. Occasionally, however, local readers encountered advertisements placed from a distance, sometimes encouraging them to purchase certain goods (such as William Goddard’s proposal for printing the Pennsylvania Chronicle), other times presenting them new opportunities.

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[1] Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, 1607-1860 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1916), 221.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

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Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831).

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

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Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

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Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 268th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 30

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

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD … ALL the estate of said deceased.”

Today’s advertisement had an exceptionally unusual layout: four columns of about twelve lines each, rotated counterclockwise relative to other items, positioned on the left side of the final page of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Another advertisement on the other side of the sheet had a similar layout, rotated clockwise and positioned on the right side of the page.

When I first encountered similar layouts in the New-Hampshire Gazette I hoped to make an argument that advertisers played a role in the graphic design decisions, that they attempted to draw attention to their notices through creative and jarring layouts that departed from readers’ expectations. Upon consulting original copies of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, I discovered that the printers’ paper supply had apparently been disrupted temporarily and they compensated by finding means to squeeze as much type as had already been set to completely fill smaller broadsheets.

Something similar seems to have happened here. Unfortunately, my local archive does not have copies of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette in its collections and Accessible Archives, like other databases of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, does not provide metadata concerning the dimensions of each page. Still, based on experience working with other newspapers printed in the 1760s as well as their digital surrogates in multiple databases, I can advance a reasonable explanation for the unusual layout of today’s advertisement.

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Final page of South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

Most issues of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, like newspapers printed throughout the colonies, were four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page had four columns of news, advertisements, and other content. For the January 30, 1767, issue, these pages were numbered [19] through 22. Pages 23 and 24, featuring the unique layout, appeared to be printed on smaller sheets with just enough room for two regular columns and a third made from dividing an advertisement into four shorter columns and rotating each. Both of the advertisements given this treatment had appeared in a single column in the previous issue. The type had been set, making it relatively easy to reposition it for the smaller sheet. The previous issue also had two extra pages, but apparently on a slightly larger sheet that allowed for three full columns on each side. In neither case were these additional sheets entitled a supplement.

Most likely pages 23 and 24 did not appear sequentially when delivered to, or read by, subscribers. Instead, the smaller sheet would have been tucked inside the larger newspapers. These extra pages featured advertising exclusively, as did the extra pages in the previous issue. Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, may have taken in so many advertisements that he considered it necessary to provide the extra sheet as a means of not falling behind in their publication. After all, the colophon encouraged readers to submit advertisements, an important revenue stream for any newspaper publisher in eighteenth-century America. If Wells, who competed with printers of two other newspapers in Charleston, wanted to continue to receive advertisements then he needed to publish and distribute them quickly rather than resorting to an apology sometimes issued by printers: “advertisement omitted will appear in our next.”

In the end, Samuel Wise most likely had little control over the unique layout of today’s advertisement. Still, he and all the other advertisers whose notices appeared on the supplemental sheet perhaps benefitted from the extra attention it may have garnered among readers.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 30, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

January 29

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

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Supplement to the New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

WILLIAM HAWXHURST, HAS lately erected a Finer and great hammer, for refining the Sterling pig iron, into bar.”

By the end of January 1767 William Hawxhurst had been placing this advertisement – with its detailed woodcut – in the New-York Journal for several weeks. The woodcut depicts a furnace “for refining he Sterling pig iron, into bar” surrounded by five workers undertaking several tasks. To the right, three pack animals seems to be loaded with supplies to deliver to Hawxhurst. With the exception of the stock images in notices for slave auctions or runaway slaves and indentured servants, few woodcuts in eighteenth-century advertisements depicted people. Andrew Gautier’s advertisement in the same issue of the New-York Journal, for instance, included a woodcut of a Windsor chair, giving potential customers a glimpse of the product offered for sale rather than the artisan who produced it. Hawxhurst testified to the industriousness of American colonists by showing men at work.

Hawxhurst also offered assurances about his domestically produced iron and the array of products made from it. He promised “reasonable terms” and a “considerable abatement … to those that purchase quantities.” He also offered a guarantee, pledging that his hammers and anvils were “warranted for three months (or any reasonable time).” In addition, “the castings will also be warranted to stand the fire any reasonable time.” He even compared his iron goods he produced favorably to any “imported … from Europe,” stating customers could purchase from him “at a lower rate.” Hawxhurst combined an image of American industriousness with guarantees about the quality of his merchandise and comparisons to the prices of European imports as he encouraged potential customers to purchase items manufactured locally. Although he did not make any explicitly political comments in his advertisement, these attributes fit within marketing discourses developed by the first generation of advertisers who adopted “Buy American” campaigns during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution.

As an aside, I am pleased to finally share this advertisement with readers of the Adverts 250 Project. The woodcut has drawn my attention, as it must have drawn the attention of eighteenth-century readers, every time it appeared in the New-York Journal. However, no previous iterations of this advertisement included an image of the woodcut clear enough to merit inclusion in the project. For the 1760s, it was an exceptionally detailed image, one executed by an artist of modest abilities. Between the original printing and poor photography much later, the woodcut often appears as a dark square in the digitized surrogates available to modern historians. I made a deliberate decision not to examine this advertisement until it featured an image that did justice to the original woodcut.

For more on William Hawxhurst’s advertising efforts, see his public dispute with competitor Daniel Offley in Philadelphia.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 29, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

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New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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Supplement to the New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

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Pennsylvania Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Pennsylvania Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Virginia Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Virginia Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Virginia Gazette (January 29, 1767).

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Virginia Gazette (January 29, 1767).