February 1

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

“TO BE SOLD, at the POST-OFFICE … A Collection of valuable and useful BOOKS.”

Providence Gazette (January 31, 1767).

The methodology that guides the Adverts 250 Project sometimes makes it difficult to choose which advertisement to feature on certain days. Each advertisement must have been published 250 years ago that day. If no newspapers were printed in colonial America on any particular date, then the advertisement should come from the most recently published newspaper available anywhere in the colonies. This means that there are days – Thursdays in 2017 (Mondays in 1767) and Sundays in 2017 (Thursdays in 1767) – for choosing among multiple newspapers from colonial America’s largest urban ports, many overflowing with advertisements to the point that they sometimes issued supplements to contain then all.

On other days, however, only one newspaper was published anywhere in the colonies. For Fridays (Mondays in 1767) the project draws from South-Carolina and American General Gazette, on Saturdays (Tuesdays in 1767) from the Georgia Gazette, and on Tuesdays (Saturdays in 1767) from the Providence Gazette.

Note that the Providence Gazette was the only colonial American newspaper published on Saturdays in 1767. Recall that no newspapers were printed on Sundays. That means that on Wednesdays in 2017 (Sundays in 1767), featured advertisements must come from the Providence Gazette. As a result, this methodology privileges the Providence Gazette, a newspaper from a smaller port, over its counterparts in larger and busier cities. The Providence Gazette did not include nearly as many advertisements as the four newspapers printed in Boston, four others in New York, three in Philadelphia, and three in Charleston. This greatly constrains the choices when selecting which advertisements to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.

It does not help that the methodology also asserts that advertisements should not be featured twice, though exceptions can be made to demonstrate significant aspects of marketing practices in eighteenth-century America. Such is the case today. The featured advertisement previously appeared in the Providence Gazette on multiple occasions, sometimes as a single advertisement and other times divided into two parts. The few advertisements in the January 31 issue all appeared in earlier editions.

Advertisements inserted by the printers on the final page of the Providence Gazette (January 31, 1767).

Examining those advertisements to make that determination yields an interesting revelation: the printers of the Providence Gazette occupied most of the advertising space on the final page. This includes William Goddard. After all, the colophon indicates that the newspaper was “Printed (in the Absence of WILLIAM GODDARD) by SARAH GODDARD, and COMPANY.”

This gives that impression that the Providence Gazette may have been struggling to attract advertisers in 1767, unlike its counterparts in other larger port cities. Even the new Pennsylvania Chronicle, promoted in one of the advertisements inserted by the printers of the Providence Gazette in their own publication, ran copious advertisements within its first month. Sarah Goddard and Company made an editorial decision to fill the final page of their newspaper with advertisements, even if they were their own notices. In comparison, other printers in smaller towns opted to print news items almost exclusively and forego similar amounts of advertising. Such decisions merit additional investigation as the Adverts 250 Project continues.

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