What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“To be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Providence, A VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books.”
Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, included an advertisement for their services in every issue of their newspaper. The colophon at the bottom of the final page did not list merely the particulars of publication, that the newspaper was “Printed by SARAH GODDARD, and JOHN CARTER, at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head.” Instead, the colophon also advised readers that “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence, are received for this Paper” and “all Manner of PRINTING WORK is performed, with Care and Expedition.” In adopting this method to market their services as job printers, Goddard and Carter became the most consistent advertisers in their own newspaper.
The partners did not, however, limit their advertising to the space reserved for them in the colophon. Like other colonial printers, they sometimes asserted their privileges as publishers to insert their own advertisements among the paid notices submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other colonists. In some cases, printers likely devised short advertisements out of necessity to fill pages that fell short of content. Whatever their reasons, Goddard and Carter inserted their own notice in the lower right corner on the third page of the March 26, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, they promoted a “VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books, among which are, the West-India Pilot, Mariner’s Compass, Calendar, and Daily Assistant.”
Often colonial printers cultivated multiple revenue streams by simultaneously working as booksellers and stationers. Yet Goddard and Carter stocked goods beyond paper, ink, and other accouterments for writing. Their advertisement listed navigation equipment, such as “Hadley’s and Davis’s best Quadrants, and a Variety of the best Gunter Scales and Dividers.” They carefully paired the specific titles they named in the first portion of their advertisement with some of the useful or necessary tools in the second, alerting prospective customers that they could conveniently acquire both reference works and equipment without visiting multiple shops.
Today’s advertisement and the colophon for each edition of the Providence Gazette reveal that “the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in Providence was a bustling place. Goddard and Carter did far more than edit and publish the local newspaper. They also earned their living and served the local community via job printing and selling books and navigation equipment. Like printers in other cities and towns, their printing office was a nexus for a variety of activities folded into a single enterprise.