What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”
All of the advertisements on the final page of the August 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette would have looked familiar to readers who perused that newspaper regularly. They included advertisements that Joseph Russell and William Russell had inserted in every issue for the past two months as well as a notice by Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark announcing that they had “set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.” In addition to earning their livelihood, Bucklin and Clark argued that they served the public by reducing dependence on imported knives and other cutlery. Another advertisement detailed the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” intended to raise funds “for amending the Great North Road heading from Providence to Plainfield.” It also called on readers to consider the benefits to the general public when making decisions about how to spend their money.
The final advertisement in the August 6 edition would have looked the most familiar since it appeared often but not necessarily in every issue. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, regularly published a short notice that reminded readers “BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.” Printed blanks (better known as forms today) included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. Goddard and Carter’s notice served a dual purpose. It promoted items sold at their printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, yet it also played a role in the production of that issue of the newspaper itself. The brief advertisement completed the final column on the final page, a column filled almost entirely with the lengthy advertisements placed by Bucklin and Clark and the directors of the Great North Road Lottery. It was not imperative for it to appear in that issue of the Providence Gazette. After all, the colophon advertised “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” done at the printing office. The compositor inserted the brief advertisement for printed blanks as necessary to fill the page. Its purpose was as much to streamline production of the newspaper as to facilitate sales of widely used legal and commercial forms.